Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tokugawa Ieyasu and Nikko Shrine

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Ieyasu Tokugawa was born in the warring states period. He survived the chaos, defeated his rivals and unified the entire nation. Ieyasu was assigned the title Seii-taishogun (Great generalissimo) in 1603 by the Emperor and established the Tokugawa Shogunate (Bakufu) in Edo (Tokyo). In 1605, Ieyasu retired and his son Hidetada became shogun. However, Ieyasu watched the nation closely even after he retired.

Prior to his death, Ieyasu left a last instruction for after he passed. "Enshrine my dead body in Mt. Kuno (His hometown in Shizuoka prefecture) for the first year after my death. Then, build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as a God. I will be the guardian of Japan."

Ieyasu was dead on April 17th, 1616, when he was 75 years old. The Shrine was constructed in Nikko and the divine designation "Tosho-Daigongen" was given to it by the Imperial court. He was enshrined in accordance with his last will.

Ieyasu aimed to be the guardian of Japan. Nikko is located north of Edo and the north was considered as a taboo direction, where demons would come from. Therefore, Ieyasu wanted to place himself in the taboo direction in order to protect Japan from the evil things. He hoped for a long life of the Tokugawa government and for eternal peace.

Although, Ieyasu wanted "a small shrine," the third shogun Iemitsu, Ieyasu's grandson, reformed the shrine into today's opulent buildings. Most of the existing buildings were built in this period of reformation. According to the Tokugawa government reports, it cost 40,000,000,000 yen in the equivalent of today's currency. It took tens of thousands of artisans approximately two years to complete construction. Thirty-five buildings were reformed in that period which ended in 1636.

Yomeimon Gate

Ieyasu's remains are enshrined in this bronze pagoda.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Original Kamikaze

Pretty much everyone has heard of the name Kamikaze and of the suicide pilots of World War II that went by that name. Many people also know that the name Kamikaze, which means divine wind, comes from the typhoon that destroyed the Mongol fleet in 1274 and 1281. The Mongols were attempting to invade Japan but their massive fleets carrying tens of thousands of warriors were destroyed by typhoons. The Japanese came to call these miracle winds the "Divine Wind".

However, the suicide pilots of WWII were not the first suicide attackers to use that name. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, many samurai were angry with how the new Meiji government was acting. The government had abolished their privileged status under the old feudal order, eliminated their financial stipend, and created a conscript army of commoners.

The final and ultimate insult for most samurai came when the government outlawed the wearing of swords. The wearing of swords was probably the most sacred symbol of the samurai. These acts lead to several minor and major rebellions against the new imperial Meiji government. One of the most famous and bizarre was that of the Shimpuren Rebellion.

The Shimpuren was an extremist and xenophobic political society of ex-samurai led by Otaguro Tomoo. The group also was called "The League of the Divine Wind". They wanted to not only halt the changes in the country, they wanted to turn back the clock and eradicate everything western such as western clothes, the western calendar, and even the use of western weapons.

The group believed that they were givin divine authorization to lead an uprising. On October 24, 1876, Otaguro led 200 men in revolt. They attacked the government garrison at the Kumamoto castle and showing no mercy to the new conscript government soldiers, the Kamikaze slaughtered some 300 men of the garrison using only their samurai swords. Another group attacked and killed the governor of the prefecture.

However, after the remaining garrison soldiers overcame their surprise at the attack, superior numbers and the superior firepower of the defenders modern weapons turned the tide. The rebels were decimated and Otaguro was badly wounded. He asked one of his followers to cut off his head. Many of Otaguro's followers followed by committing seppuku.

Many of the rebels that died were in their teens or early twenties, indicating that their devotion to samurai traditions was based more on a romanticism of an imaginary past rather then on actual experience. The same could also be said of the last Kamikaze in 1945 who also based their ideals on the romantic images of bushido and the samurai from centuries before.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Palanquin Exhibition at Edo-Tokyo Museum

The Edo-Tokyo Museum is currently holding an exhibition of palanquins from the Edo period.  This coincides with the exhibition of the famous Atsuhime's palanquin at the Sackler Museum in Washington D.C.

This exhibition will display palanquins used in the Edo period, particularly for women. These palanquins of the Edo period go by the names such as “Kago”, “Koshi”.

Palanquins for women had never been collected and displayed together before until this exhibition.  This in spite of the fact that they are also of a large size and artistically outstanding. Ten palanquins, including five from the Edo-Tokyo museum collection, will be displayed in this exhibition.

Not surprisingly, the owners of these palanquins were exalted persons. Parades of these palanquins used to symbolize their owner’s power. This was experienced in all the castle towns throughout the country. However, Edo had much larger numbers of palanquins and the parade of these palanquins is not comparable with the ones at the provincial castle towns.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori

The movie of the same name is loosely based on these events from the rebellion that Saigo led.

The book is about one of the most important samurai during the time of the Meiji Restoration. Other than Sakamoto Ryoma, Saigo was possibly the person more responsible then any other for the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Saigo Takamori was a low level samurai from Satsuma domain. He rose to importance and eventually was one of the leaders of the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogun. Saigo led the imperial armies to victory over the Tokugawa forces in 1868. Later, he was one of the top statesmen in the new Meiji government.

Saigo retired in the early 1870's and returned to rural life in Satsuma. Saigo was a proponent of the Confucian philosophy of benevolent and caring governance. He promoted a mix of traditional values and the adoption of the good aspects of modern society from the west.

However, Saigo began to become disillusioned with the new Meiji government. He felt they were not sufficiently preserving the cultural values of Japan in their race to modernize and adopt western cultural practices. The final blow came when the the Meiji government stripped the samurai of all that made them samurai--tradition, honor, glory, and feudal privilege.

When the government outlawed the carrying of swords, many samurai throughout Japan, and especially in Satsuma, could take no more and they rebelled. The largest and last of the rebellions was led by Saigo Takamori in 1877. Saigo's rebels fought the Imperial army throughout the southern Kyushu area.

But their fight was hopeless from the beginning. The Imperial army was to large and to well equipped. Saigo and his last band of holdouts were defeated on a hill outside of Kagoshima city. In true samurai spirit, with defeat certain and Saigo wounded, he had his head cutoff by one of his last samurai fighters.

This was a good book. It not only describes the history of the time but also goes in to some detail Saigo's philosophy.

The book I read about Aizu referenced this rebellion.  Many of the Aizu samurai revelled in the government crushing Saigo's Rebellion.  Many Aizu samurai joined the Meiji Government forces to fight Saigo and his rebels.  They felt that this was their chance to avenge what happened to Aizu.  When in it was announced that the rebellion was crushed and Saigo was dead, there was much celebrating among the former Aizu samurai.

Japanese seek to scrap Google's Street View

A group of Japanese journalists, professors and lawyers demanded Friday that the US Internet search giant Google scrap its "Street View" service in Japan, saying it violates people's privacy.

Google launched Street View in the United States last year, providing pictures of panoramic all-around street-level views at locations on its online maps.

The service was expanded to 12 major cities in Japan in August and six cities in France in October.

The group said it sent a petition to Google's Japanese subsidiary, demanding an end to the Street View service in Japan.

They wrote that Street View "constitutes violent infringement on citizens' privacy by photographing residential areas, including community roads, and publishing their images without the consent of communities and citizens."

They complained that via the Internet, Street View was distributing private information "more easily, widely, massively and permanently than ordinary cameras and surveillance cameras do."

Local municipalities in Tokyo and Osaka have already appealed to the national government to take action against the site.

The Google Japanese unit earlier said it was blurring the faces of people seen in Street View scenes by special technology and that it would delete the pictures of people and buildings upon request.

Japan has stricter protections on privacy in public than in the United States, with Japanese able to stop their pictures from being used against their will. 


 Violent infringement on citizens privacy?  A bit extreme I think.  I like the street view.  Since people are out on a public street, it should not matter.  Just don't pick your nose out on a public street, especially if you see a vehicle with a camera on top of it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Atsuhime's palanquin in Washington D.C.

Princess Atsu's (Atsuhime) palanquin will be displayed at the Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Palanquins were used as transportation during the Tokugawa period of Japanese history, which ended in 1868. High-ranking Japanese nobility sat in the fancy compartments, and as many as six bearers carried it through the streets.

The palanquin was purchased in 1984 by curator Ann Yonemura. Yonemura knew that the palanquin belonged to a high-ranking noblewoman, since only the elite were permitted such rich transportation. But it wasn’t until this year, as reported in the January issue of Smithsonian magazine, that she figured out who the palanquin was made for.

A document found in the Japanese National Archives listed the items that had been made for the 1856 marriage between shogun Tokugawa Iesada and Princess Atsuhime. She would have sat in it, and six bearers would have carried her through the streets from her parents’ home to her new husband’s.

But Atsuhume was more than just a shogun’s third wife. Her husband died two years after their marriage, making her a widow at 23. Undaunted, Atsuhime renamed herself Tenshoin. When the Tokugawa clan resigned the shogunate and imperial rule resumed, Princess Atsuhime remained a force in politics, advancing her family’s position. Her life spanned the birth of a modern, powerful Japan. Atsuhime’s fascinating story is the subject of a 50-episode drama, currently airing on the Japanese public TV network NHK.

Below is description of the upcoming exhibition at the Sackler Gallery of Art from the museum website:

March 21–April 9, 2009
Freer Gallery of Art
In 1856 Princess Atsuhime married Tokugawa Iesada (1824–58), the thirteenth shogun of the Tokugawa family that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1867. The princess rode in this Japanese ceremonial palanquin, carried by six bearers, as part of her wedding procession. Its fifteen-foot beam and wood exterior are coated in black lacquer and lavishly decorated in gold using the maki-e technique. Gold and silver powders were applied to the lacquer to create designs, such as the circular family crests that identify the prestigious families of the bride and groom. Decorated like a miniature palace room, the interior space was a private area intended primarily for the bride's appreciation. Paintings on gold-leafed paper embellish the interior walls. Three paintings depict scenes from the Japanese literary classic The Tale of Genji, written in the eleventh century by Murasaki Shikibu, a noblewoman like the bride herself.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery acquired this palanquin in 1985, but the identity of the bride for whom it was created remained unknown. Princess Atsuhime's connection to the palanquin was not discovered until this year, when Shin'ichi Saito, curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, completed extensive research of historical documents in the Japanese National Archives. The first recent international showing of the palanquin will be at the Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum (December 16–February 1, 2009). The palanquin then returns to the Sackler Gallery in the spring of 2009 and will be on view during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 28–April 12, 2009).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Remembering Aizu - The Testament of Shiba Goro

I recently finished this book which describes the years following the Meiji Restoration through the eyes of a young Aizu samurai boy, Shiba Goro. Aizu was a domain that was extremely loyal to the Tokugawa Shogun. Aizu was located in present day Fukushima prefecture. You can see the rebuilt replica of the old castle of the Lord of Aizu in the city of Aizuwakamatsu.

I visited this castle in 2004 (see previous post). At the time I did not know the history of the castle or of Aizu. It was after reading about the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun's and the restoration of the Emperor that I realized the importance of the Aizu domain. The domain of Aizu was actually one of the principal players during the turmoil of the 1860s and the Meiji Restoration. Aizu was on the losing side.

Too bad this goofy looking guy got in the picture.

However, Aizu fared much worse than other domains that had sided with the Shogun. After the fall of the Shogun at the hands of the Imperial forces, most domains pledged there allegiance to the Emperor. A few Northern domains resisted longer but they to eventually surrendered. None of these domains were treated harshly however. Except that of Aizu.

Why was Aizu treated so harshly? During the turbulent 1860s, the heart of the conflict between the Loyalist for the Emperor and the supporters of the Shogun was centered in Kyoto. Violence was spiraling out of control. Assassinations were an almost daily occurrence. And most of the violence was directed at the supporters and officials of the Shogun.

Aizu, as a most loyal supporter of the Shogun, was asked by the Shogunate to become the "Protector of Kyoto". It was Aizu's job to bring order to the ancient capital. Aizu decided to fight fire with fire. One of the things they did was create a special police force under the direction of the Lord of Aizu. This force was called the Shinsengumi. The Shinsengumi and other forces under the command of the Lord of Aizu used whatever means were necessary to crush the rebellious ronin that were roaming the streets of Kyoto. Many hundreds were killed at the hands of these police squads during this time.

For this reason, the victorious Imperial forces, and in particular the domains of Choshu and Satsuma, had bitter hatred for Aizu and they punished them severely.

This is a relatively short book but it was enjoyable. Shiba was only 10 when the Imperial armies came to Aizu. He escaped to his aunts home where he later learned that as Aizu was being overrun, his mother and sisters committed seppuku. Shiba's samurai brothers and father were fighting at Aizu castle. He thought they all had been lost. But the castle defenders actually eventually surrendered.

All the Aizu samurai men including ten year-old Shiba and his father and brothers were sent off to prison camps. Later, they were given a new domain in the far North. But it was inhospitable and the Aizu samurai were not prepared to be farmers and endure the harsh winters. According to the book, many died from starvation. No other domain that fought against the Imperial forces had to be subjected to this treatment. Over the years, many of the former Aizu returned to their old domain which had become Fukushima prefecture.

I have read in various places that even into the 20th century, there were those in Aizuwakamatsu that still held bitter feelings toward the Choshu and Satsuma people for how they treated the Aizu.

Shiba later entered military training school. He then had a long career in the Japanese military serving in the Sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese war. And later retiring from the military.

In August 1945 after Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, Shiba Goro attempted suicide and died 4 months later from his wounds.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two Important Moments In Japanese History

The Choshu/Satsuma alliance and the abdication of the Shogun.

Katsura Kogoro, the military chief of Choshu han, and Saigo Takamori, the commander in chief of Satsuma forces, shook hands. The once bitter rivals had united.

The Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, the first union between any of the clans since the establishment of the Tokugawa Bakufu two and a half centuries before, was finally realized on January 21, 1866, the result of a yearlong struggle by Sakamoto Ryoma. The alliance, which formed the most powerful military force in the nation, was a turning point in Japanese history, and the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa Bakufu.

October 1867. The Shogun had met with dozens of feudal lords. Ryoma and his followers were waitng at their hideout. What would the Shogun do? Finally, a letter was delivered. Everyone watched anxiously as Ryoma opened it and read it to himself. He held the letter so close to his face that the others could not see his expression but they could tell he was weeping.

"What does it say?" they gasped. Ryoma read the letter out loud in stunned amazement, 'The Shogun has indicated that he will restore the political power to the Imperial Court."

Everyone remained silent, mesmerized by what they had just heard. Ryoma handed the letter to the others. "Now I understand the true intentions of the Shogun," he said in a loud wail. "He's really made the right decision. I swear I would die for him now." Ryoma was ready to give his life for the man whom until moments before he had been prepared to kill, because it was this man, the former Shogun, whom Ryoma now considered the savior of the nation. For Ryoma, he now felt that a bloody civil war had been avoided.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

J TV Dramas: Atsuhime & Shinsengumi

I have been watching the NHK drama "Atsuhime". Here in Los Angeles it is playing on a local cable channel. Before I had even heard of the show, I had been reading about the time period in Japanese history that the show covers.

The first episode was pretty cool because I kept saying to myself, "I know that character". I have read about the people portrayed in the show including Sakamoto Ryoma, Saigo Takamori, Katsu Kaishu, Tokugawa Yoshinobu and others. It seems to be a pretty amazing coincidence that this show is airing at the same time as I have been reading so much about this time period in Japanese history.

The show is pretty good but some of the characters do not live up to what I expect. They have been made to seem silly or a little goofy. I think this is common in these types of Japanese dramas. The actor portrays Sakamoto Ryoma in a fairly silly or goofy way. Even more so Saigo Takamori. The real Saigo was a man over 6 feet tall and with a strong but quiet or reserved personality. But the actor also portrays him in funny and silly way. And the actor is short. Not what I would expect from what I have read about Saigo, who was the inspiration for the movie "The Last Samurai."

However, I still like these Japanese historical dramas. Of course since I am interested in history, especially Japanese history, that is why they are interesting.

I also watched most of the year-long TV drama "Shinsengumi" from several years ago. I think the characters and the story lines and the costumes are all really interesting. But, also with the Shinsengumi drama, the characters were certainly not portrayed very accurately in my opinion. It is pretty much a historical fact that Kondo Isami, the leader of the Shinsengumi, was a brutal man that was responsible for the violent and bloody deaths of many enemies of the Shogun. But the television show portrayed him as a friendly, ethical, honorable man. Certainly not based completely in reality. It is true that Kondo was very loyal to the Shogun. An honorable trait. But, of course, he displayed that loyalty with brutal violence.

I know Korean dramas have also been popular in Japan. I watched a Korean drama a couple of years ago that was also really popular in Japan. I really got into it. It was called "Dae Jang Geum" or "Jewel in the Palace". I first saw it while visiting Japan for several weeks in 2006. But it was dubbed in Japanese. Even so it looked interesting.

What I did not like is that the show was dubbed in Japanese. I don't like dubbing. I prefer subtitles and I prefer to hear the actors real voice. You get a much better feeling of the character if you hear the actors actual voice rather then a dubbed voice.

I lucked out though. After returning to Los Angeles, the show started playing on an Asian cable channel with English subtitles. They were doing marathon weekend showings and I DVR'd it and watched the entire series. Great show.

(12/15/08) Note:
I believe the TV show made an error regarding the scene where Ryoma was killed. It showed Ryoma with his handgun. But according to the books I have read, Ryoma did not have it. He had given it to his sister. He was without his gun when he was attacked the second and final time where he died.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Trade: My Sword for your Gun

The Samurai Sakamoto Ryoma attended a meeting along with his comrade Ito Shinosuke with the Consul General of Britain as well as several other samurai. Following the meeting, they all stood up to shake each others hands and Ryoma followed suit.

Ryoma, extending his hand to the British official, and with a wide smile uttered with an incomprehensible pronunciation the English word "trade." As he spoke he reached for his sword, and offered it in exchange for the Smith and Wesson, at which the Englishmen naturally stepped back and drew his revolver; but as Ryoma had still not drawn his blade, the dumbfounded Briton soon realized that this smiling samurai meant no harm.

Ryoma broke out in laughter, and said, "Ito-san, ask him if he'll trade his pistol for my sword."

The Englishman declined Ryoma's offer, but was nevertheless impressed with this odd samurai who would trade what other men of the two-sworded class considered their soul for a Smith and Wesson.

Sometime later, Ryoma was presented with a gift from Takasugi Shinsaku, the founder of a corps of Loyalists from Choshu domain called the Extraordinary Corps. The gift. A Smith and Wesson revolver Model #2. Ryoma spun the cylinder, wild-eyed, like a child playing with a much longed-after toy.

"Is it loaded?" he asked. "I think so," said Takasugi. Ryoma stood up, walked over to the window. "It's funny," he said, cocking the hammer, closing one eye, and taking careful aim at the sky. "All those years we've spent practicing with the sword, when this thing is so much easier to use, and more effective too." Ryoma fired a shot. "It is loaded!" he roared. "I'm sure it will come in very useful someday."

It did come in useful as Ryoma used it to fight off would be assassins in the first attack on his life. Unfortunately it would not help him the second time he was attacked. He did not have his revolver as he had given it to his sister as a gift after seeing her for the first time in many years since he left Tosa.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crazy pictures of crazy Japanese people

If you have followed or lived in Japan for a while, you have probably seen many crazy and disturbing pictures or witnessed firsthand some pretty bizarre "only in Japan" things.  Paul Hartrick over at paulhartrick.com has posted some pretty funny AND disturbing pictures of people in Japan.  Definitely some of the most hilarious and bizarre pictures I have seen yet and I have seen some pretty strange people in Japan.

The eyelash lady reminds me of some horror movie like Sadako from Ringu.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keanu Reeves as a samurai?

It is being reported that Keanu Reeves may become a samurai in a new movie about the famous Japanese story of the 47 Ronin.  I don't know about this choice.  Keanu was ok as a "chosen one" in the Matrix movies but I don't see him as a samurai.  Couldn't they have found a more appropriate actor then he.  

What I liked about The Last Samurai or Letters from Iwo Jima was that the Japanese characters spoke Japanese.  I can't really get into historical movies about non-English speaking figures where all the characters in the movie speak English such as the new Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie where all the Germans speak English.  I assume that Keanu does not speak Japanese so the movie will be in English.

Can anybody think of some other actors that would be more appropriate for this movie?  Below is a brief description of the 47 Ronin story.  I am currently reading a book about the 5th Tokugawa Shogun Tsunayoshi.  It was during his reign that this event occurred and the book covers it so I will write more about the 47 Ronin later.

The revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin, also known as the Forty-seven Samurai,took place in Japan at the start of the eighteenth century. The tale has been described as the country's "national legend." It recounts the most famous case involving the samurai code of honor, bushidō.

The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless (became ronin) after their daimyo (feudal lord) was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was Kōzuke no Suke. The ronin avenged their master's honor after patiently waiting and planning for over a year to kill Kira. In turn, the ronin were themselves forced to commit seppuku — as they had known they would be — for committing the crime of murder. With little embellishment, this true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that all good people should persevere in their daily lives. The popularity of the almost mythical tale was only enhanced by rapid modernization during the Meiji era of Japanese history, when many people in Japan longed for a return to their cultural roots.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Old School Haikyo

I found these cool haikyo photos from here.

They are from an old school somewhere in the Kanto area. What is interesting are some of the objects that were left behind long ago.

A pair of shoes and other items.

Appears to be tablets of medication.

An old record player.

A microscope oddly placed on an old bed.

A music amplifier.

An old projector.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

U.S. is no Japan

At least when it comes to the current economic problems faced by the United States when compared to Japan's economic crisis during the Lost Decade of the 1990's.  This is according to economist Carl Weinberg

I have heard this comparison before and they are similar.  Both Japan and the United States had massive real estate bubbles.  I believe Japan's was more in the commercial sector while in the USA, it was based in the residential real estate sector.  They both spread to the financial sector resulting in massive losses and failures in the banking and financial industry.

But what I have also heard and read several times recently, and repeated by Mr. Weinberg, is that how Japan and the United States dealt with their economic and banking problem was and is quite different.  Below are some quotes from Mr. Weinberg that explains the differences in how Japan and the US dealt with the crisis.

"What happened in Japan was a more serious crippling of its banking sector followed by inept policies aimed at covering up imbalances in the system, not addressing them," Mr. Weinberg wrote. "Policy makers today are doing the right thing, which is to bridge the credit crunch and to rehabilitate the institutions. Today's episode will be long — longer by far than a normal downturn — but it will not be catastrophic."

The Japanese  banks were sitting on a mountain of non-performing loans that was as big as GDP, Mr. Weinberg wrote. They couldn't write off the loans or they would go bust. The government provided new accounting rules instead of new capital to support the system. Banks couldn't lend, borrowers couldn't get any money.

"In the current financial crisis, bank problems are being addressed by both generous liquidity to keep them afloat and public and private capital injections to speed up the healing of balance sheets," he added. Borrowers remain generally creditworthy and there is important fiscal stimulus coming on stream which Japan did not get around to until well into the collapse.

"The enormous insolvencies and policy errors Japan endured in the 1990s are not being repeated, so we do not see many parallels between them and what everyone is experiencing today," he said. 

The problems in the US are bad, worse than in decades.  But they probably won't be as bad as what happened in Japan and it will be nowhere near as bad as it was in the Great Depression.  People and the media need to stop throwing around the big D word because it is not going to happen and only creates more fear.  But of course fear is what sells newspapers.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

About Nikko - The Ishidorii

The Ishidorii is a stone torii gate that was originally dedicated in 1618. It is 9 meters tall and the pillars at the base have a diameter of 3.6 meters. The Ishidorii is considered one of the three best stone torii gates in Japan. It is the biggest among the stone-made torii gates from the Edo period. The other two gates are located at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto and the Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura.

Emperor Gomizunoo (1596-1680) wrote "Tosho-daigongen" (Divine designation of Ieyasu Tokugawa) which is on the frame on the upper part of the Ishidorii. The main material for the gate is granite which was produced in Fukuoka prefecture. The gate is made up of 15 pieces of the stone material. Each piece is connected by an axle, and the crossmembers have cavities to reduce the weight. The gate also was designed with earthquake resistant features. The joint of the cross members slipped during a 1949 earthquake but they shifted back into place during subsequent aftershocks. (Nikko Tourist Association)

This is a pretty impressive gate. It is at the top of a long series of wide steps which are at the top end of a short dirt road within the Toshogu temple complex. In 2004, I attended the annual 1000 Samurai Procession Festival. I was at the bottom end of the road looking back up towards the Ishidorii. The 1000 samurai bagan their procession near the gate and proceeded down the road. This event occurred on a Sunday. On Saturday, there was a demonstration where horse-mounted samurai road full-speed up the road without using their hands to guide the horse. They were using both of their hands to fire a bow and arrow at targets as they flew by at full speed. They guided their horses with their legs. (Previous post on this festival).