Daibutsu, Kamakura

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Last Shogun

I just finished reading the book "The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu". This book explains what led to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun in 1868 and the restoration of the Emperor.

The Tokugawa Bakufu or Shoganate lasted over 250 years until its collapse in 1868. As many know, the foreign intrusion was a major factor in its demise. But by itself it was not the reason for the collapse. It was the culmination of several things that finally occurred at the same time that led to it. From the foreigners to fiscal and economic crisis to political crisis and lack of strong leadership. The foreign intrusion just provided the spark. There were many people in Japan who felt the Bakufu had disgraced Japan by giving into the barbarians. The coalition of samurai, some powerful domains, and the Imperial Court finally defeated the Tokugawa Bakufu.

The fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate was one of the great events in Asian and world history. It changed Japan from a nation of isolation to a nation that now had to not only prevent its subjugation at the hands of world powers but to become a world power themselves.

I have read several books on Japanese history. What I have come to believe is the linkage from the fall of the Tokugawa Shoguns all the way through Japan's eventual destruction in 1945. This may be an oversimplification but this is how I see how Japan moved from 1868 to 1945.

In the 1860s, Japan was officially isolated from the rest of the world. But the world was changing. Foreign powers were exerting their influence in Asia. America, France, Russia, England and others were using their power to control China and other parts of Asia. Then in 1853, the American's came to Japan in their black ships. Later, England and France threatened, and sometimes used, force to get the Shogunate to open up and forcing the Bakufu to sign unequal treaties.

With the fall of the Shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor in 1868, Japan went on a rapid program of economic and military development in order to withstand the foreign powers and eventually to grow Japan's influence in Asia.

This led to Japan's first major confrontation with a foreign power in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. Japan defeated Russia in that war and gained the title of a world power. All this in a little over 30 years.

From that, Japan continued its goal of competing against the other powers by subjugating Korea, China and the rest of Asia and all of this ultimately led to World War II.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Epic Financial Crisis

The massive financial crisis in the US affects the entire world including Japan.

This quote below from MSNBC pretty much sums it up:

Our greed, folly and ineptitude are to blame. So is a willful refusal to acknowledge that there is no free lunch and that what goes up must come down. We have officially ruined what it took us a hundred years to build: the credibility of Wall Street and dollar-centric commerce.

We have seen this before in the Savings and Loan crisis of the 80's and other booms and busts.  But this is the mother of all examples of the incredible amount of greed.  It is disgusting, especially when we read about the corporate execs from these companies getting millions in bonuses or golden parachutes.  Sickening.

Monday, September 22, 2008

About Nikko - Two places to eat

If you visit Nikko, and would like to have some good ramen before you head up to the temples and shrines, there is a good ramen restaurant across the street from Sunkus on the main street through town.  The blue marker on the map below shows where the restaurant is located.  I don't recall the name of the restaurant but it is at the back of a small parking area.  You can zoom the map in and see it better.  It is only a couple blocks from the train station.

View Larger Map

Also, if you like Indian food, there is a really good Indian restaurant across the street from the Nikko train station.  I did not put a marker for it on the map because I don't recall which corner it is on but it is across the street from the station and it is really good.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nikko's Volcano

High above the town of Nikko and at the end of a steep road with too many switchbacks to count, lies Lake Chuzenji. This is one of the must see locations when visiting Nikko National Park. This high mountain lake is surrounded by beautiful mountains and forests.

Lake Chuzenji with Mt. Nantai

The tallest mountain above the lake, and one of the most famous in Japan, is Mount Nantai, a dormant volcano. Lake Chuzenji was formed about 20,000 years ago after the eruption of the now dormant Mount Nantai. At least it was thought that Nantai was dormant.

A recent article in the Japan Times states that Nantai may still be an active volcano after experts discovered evidence of much more recent eruptions. The Japan Meteorological Agency will now have to decide whether to designate Mount Nantai as Japan's 109th active volcano.

This area is one of my favorite parts of Nikko. If you love mountains, forests, lakes, water falls, and high mountain meadows, then this is where you want to come. As usual, try and avoid coming here during holidays. A great time to come is during the Fall when the trees are changing colors but once again, thousands of other tourists will be coming here to see the Fall colors as well.

The road leading up to Chuzenji is called Irohazaka Winding Road. There are actually two roads, one going up and a separate Irohazaka road going down. This was done to keep opposite traffic safely separate due to how sharp the switchbacks are.

There are many waterfalls surrounding the lake including the famous Kegon Falls. Above the lake is Ryuzu Falls which I visited. There is a good viewing location below the falls as well as a small store for tourists. The falls are popular to photograph in the Fall when the leaves are changing colors.

Ryuzu Falls

Lake Chuzenji also has long been popular among diplomats from foreign nations who built cottages surrounding the lake. Several nations still have cottages at Chuzenji including France and Belgium.

The drive up and down the mountain is certainly hair raising but definitely worth it. One thing I would love to do someday is ride my bike from the top all the way down to the town of Nikko. That would be a blast and better then any roller coaster ride.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Greatest Shogun

You may have heard of the name Shogun. The Shogun was a military ruler of Japan and they came into existence approximately over 800 years ago. The last Shogun to rule was in 1868 when the Emperor regained power. Essentially the Emperor of Japan has always been the leader of the nation but for practically all of the 800 years, it was the Shogun that had the actual power. The title Shogun was conferred by the Emperor but of course the Emperor had little choice to grant this to whoever was the pre-eminent military ruler of the nation at that time.

Probably the greatest, and certainly the most famous Shogun was Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu became the supreme ruler of Japan after his victory in the famous battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In 1603 he took the title of Shogun and this began the longest period of peace in Japanese history. The Shogun's of the Tokugawa family ruled Japan for over 260 years, from 1603 until 1868 and the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Restoration returned the power to the Emperor, Emperor Meiji.

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture has been an important religious area since the 700's with the establishment of the first temples and shrines. But it was in the early 1600's that Nikko gained its highest level of prominence when the Toshogu Shrines were constructed there.

The Toshogu is the shrine and mausoleum that was built for Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was built in 1617 by Ieyasu's son, Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada and enlarged by the third Shogun, Ieyasu's grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu. It was Iemitsu who had the shrines and temples constructed in the grand and opulant style we see today, a style that is not very common of temples and shrines in Japan. This is one reason that the shrines and temples of Nikko are so unique and interesting and why I recommend to anyone visiting Japan should go and see.

Here is the Urn that contains the ashes of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The Tokugawa Shogun's carried out annual processions to Nikko to honor Ieyasu. These processions are recreated today in the spring and fall and are called the Procession of a Thousand Samurai. I attended the Spring Thousand Samurai festival several years ago and it was a great experience. You can read about my attending this event here.

Photo I took at the Thousand Samurai Procession

Nikko is one of my favorite places to visit in Japan. Both for its natural beauty and for its history and amazing temples and shrines.

Yomeimon Gate, Toshogu


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sumo Wrestler Admits getting Marijuana in LA

According to the Japan Times, a recently disgraced sumo wrestler originally admitted that he used marijuana and also admitted that he obtained it while visiting Los Angeles. Apparantly he made this statement to a member of the Japan Sumo Association preventative measures deliberation committee.

"I obtained marijuana from a black singer during the tour of Los Angeles" the wrestler was quoted as saying.

Interesting that he allegedly stated it was a "black" singer rather then just a singer. I wonder if that was unitentional or if he had some other motivation for mentioning the marijuana suppliers race.

On Monday, the wrestler and his sumo wrestling brother each made a statement to the committee and both wrestlers stated that they were innocent.

Regarding his confession about obtaining marijuana in Los Angeles, the wrestler reportedly said "I don't remember it," and was quoted as saying, "I only understand about 80 percent Japanese."

So he is 80% fluent in Japanese but the 20% of the language he is not fluent in included his confession. Very interesting. So when he was asked where he got the marijuana, he must have thought he was saying "I did not get it from a black singer in Los Angeles". An easy mistake I'm sure.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Prime Minister Fukuda's final email.

Well, Prime Minister Fukuda has resigned.  The reasons he has given for resigning have been somewhat vague.  However, Mr. Fukuda has sent me one last email before he leaves office.

Here is some of what he says in his email message:

"In the old days, some Japanese people were fond of the expression "the eternal now."

"People despise past things by saying that such things are old and they praise contemporary things by declaring that they are new. However, if today's novelty is truly new, that novelty must surely persist through time and remain forever new."

Say what?

"I often used to think of "the eternal now" when drawing up policy."

I can picture Mr. Fukuda, sitting in his PM office, thinking of the enternal now.  Hmm, I'm strating to understand why he was not successful.  Too much daydreaming, not enough working.

"We should retain policies that show compassion to all. For the wellbeing of everyone, new policies must constantly be introduced. We must not neglect to take care so that our policies never grow old and stale but stay new and fresh."

He is giving some good advice to Taro Aso, only fresh ideas, no stale one.  We don't want stale ideas.

"In my capacity, I am frequently asked what politics is about. My answer is always the same -- To pursue ordinary things sincerely in an ordinary way."

Mr. Fukuda was a very odinary man.  This was another one of his problems, he was just a very ordinary Prime Minister.

On Monday of this week, I made the decision to resign from the post of Prime Minister. I did so because I believe that a new system should be put in place in order to proceed even more powerfully with policy for the people.

That was very ordinary of him, I mean, that was very big of him.

I am just filled with a sense of gratitude toward you -- the readers of this e-mail magazine. I would like to thank you all very much for paying me the courtesy of reading my words over the past year.

You're welcome Mr. Fukuda.  We won't forget you, for at least a few days. 

Thursday, September 04, 2008

About Nikko - Rinno-ji Temple

Nikko is one of my favorite places in Japan. I have a guide booklet from the temples that I got during one of my visits. I wanted to post some information from the booklet.

Page one: An Introduction to Rinno-ji Temple, Nikko

The temples in Nikko were founded in 766, during the Nara period, by Shodo -Shonin, a high Buddhist priest. To honor Kannon Buddha, Shodo crossed the Daiya River, climbed the mountain and built a hermitage, which he named Shihon-ryuji Temple. This is the origin of the temples of Nikko.

During the Heian period, Tamura-maro Sakanoue, a brave warrior, gave prayers at the temple. Later, Kobo Daishi, a high Buddhist priest, founded Takinoo Gongen and a few other temples. During the Kamakura period, successive lords of the Genji clan, Yoriyoshi, Yoritomo, and Sanetomo were devoted to Buddhism, and Prince Nincho was appointed abbot of the temples. It was the first time that a member of the Imperial family was appointed abbot. Imperial princes were also appointed abbots during later times through the Edo period. The interest of the Imperial family in Buddhism accelerated the prosperity of the temples.

The Nikko Mausoleum was erected during the Tokugawa period. The fifty-third Abbot, Jingen Daishi, enjoyed the deep confidence of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. After the death of the Shogun, the priest, according to the Shogun's will, removed his ashes from Kuno-san Temple and moved them to Nikko and founded the mausoleum of Toshogu Shrine. Later, he built another one, Taiyuin, in Nikko, for the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iyemitsu. The ex-Emperor, Gomizuno, granted the title of Rinno-ji to this mausoleum.

Although the temple underwent a fluctuation of prestige with the change of times, the rules and rituals have been maintained since its foundation. As a religious center of the Tendia sect of Buddhism, Rinno-ji Temple today is devoted to the establishment of eternal religious principles in a Buddha kingdom through its religious and social services.

The Hondo (Sambutsudo) at Rinno-ji Temple.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Prime Minister Fukuda's final email to me

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda abruptly resigned this past weekend. It was a surprise to most people and there were no clear reasons given by Mr. Fukuda as to why he chose to resign.

I receive the Prime Minister's monthly email magazine. The last one I received from Mr. Fukuda was on August 28th. Here are some quotes from Mr. Yasuo Fukuda's email message:

"I believe that politicians must constantly feel and fear the sharp gaze of the people on them."

Maybe this is one of the reasons he quit, he couldn't take the sharp gaze anymore.

"Safety, a sense of reassurance, and trust. How can these be shared with the people? I am confident that the many policies that I promote from the public's viewpoint will meet with the understanding of the people."

He lost his confidence pretty quickly apparently. It is surprising how confident Mr. Fukuda was in having the understanding of the people seeing as his approval ratings were plunging below 30%.

"I am determined to steadily produce results one by one, as unpretentious as my efforts may seem. I believe that it is only by steadily plodding forward on that path that we will be able to restore trust in politics and the administration."

I wonder what made him decide to stop plodding forward?

I look forward to the next Prime Minister's email messages to me, probably from Mr. Taro Aso.