Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Golden week holidays - part 3

As I wrote in the previous post, Hubby and I did sightseeing in Obama and Tsuruga cities in Fukui prefecture on May 01. Next day we did sightseeing in Azuchi town in Shiga prefecture and then went to my in-law’s home in Ichinomiya city in Aichi prefecture. Today I will write about our visit to Azuchi town.
On May 02, Hubby and I woke up at about 7 am and had scrumptious buffet breakfast at hotel Toyoko Inn. After that we packed our baggage and left the hotel at 9 am. We bought railways tickets to go from Tsuruga city to Maibara city in Shiga prefecture. All the trains were fully booked due to the golden week holiday rush and we had to travel in an unreserved compartment. Since it was only a 50 minutes ride, we sat on our baggage near the train door and enjoyed the outside view. It was fun. At Maibara railway station, we changed train and after about 30 minutes of travel we reached Azuchi railway station.
Me at a platform in Tsuruga railway station. Bye bye Tsuruga

Hubby sitting on our baggage in unreserved compartment of the train bound for Maibara

Hubby peering out of the train window

1. Azuchi town
Azuchi is a castle town with the most impressive medieval flavor and great historical heritage. Azuchi town is favored with natural beauty, water, and greenery. There are Mt. Azuchi, Mt. Kinugasa, and Mt. Mizukuri standing in a row. The town also has rich rural landscape spreads including Lake Nishinoko, the largest of Lake Biwa's inner lakes.
A platform in Azuchi railway station

Azuchi railway station

1a. Plaza in front of JR Azuchi railway station
In front of north exit of Azuchi railway station, there is a plaza with the flavor of the Rennaisance in the medieval atmosphere. A statue of Oda Nobunaga is placed in the center of the rotary in front of the railway station. Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was a major daimyo during the warring states period called Sengoku period of Japanese history. He was the second son of Oda Nobuhide, a deputy military governor (shugo) of Owari province, the modern day Aichi prefecture. Nobunaga aimed at the unification of war-torn Japan in the 16th century and lived a life of continuous military conquest, eventually conquering a third of Japanese daimyo before his death. His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, became the first man to conquer all of Japan. Nobunaga revolutionized military and implemented and developed modern tactics such as three-step loading of a gun, long lances, and iron war vessels. Nobunaga was thoroughly logical and reasonable because he promoted even a person of low birth to his vassal if he considered that person capable. He instituted a specialized warrior class system and appointed his retainers and subjects to positions based on ability, and not based on name, rank, or family relationship. Furthermore, Nobunaga was much advanced in the aspect of economy. He abolished ‘sekisho’ (a barrier or check-point by the officials) and initiated the ‘raku-ichi-raku-za’ (open guild and free markets) system. Finally, Nobunaga had an international perspective. He authorized the preaching of Christianity and introduced various cultures and techniques from the West. Oda Nobunaga died in 1582, committing suicide at Honnoji temple in Kyoto after being betrayed by one of his vassals, Akechi Mitsuhide.
Statue of Oda Nobunaga

The influence of the architecture of European countries is still clearly seen in various buildings of the town.
This building near Azuchi railway station has distinctive medieval European architectural flavor

1b. Azuchi castle museum
After enjoying the plaza in front of Azuchi station, we went to see Azuchi castle museum which was located adjacent to the railway station. This museum housed materials of mostly medieval Azuchi. There was an exhibit of Azuchi castle, which was reproduced to the scale of one over twenty. Besides this, there was a 1.5-meter high and 22-meter long folding screen type mural in ceramic tiles showing the trip of a group of four Japanese Christians who went as youths in 1582 on a mission to Europe. They visited Pope Gregory XIII and presented him with the painted folded screen of Azuchi castle which had been entrusted to them by Oda Nobunaga. Also, the museum had books and materials related to the period of Oda Nobunaga.
Azuchi castle museum

Exhibit of Azuchi castle

Inside view of Azuchi castle exhibit (one side)

Inside view of Azuchi castle exhibit (another side)

Mural painting depicting a village near Azuchi castle

Mural painting depicting the mission to Europe of 1582 sailing from Nagasaki

Materials related to the period of Oda Nobunaga

Some more materials related to the period of Oda Nobunaga

1c. Ruins Azuchi castle
Azuchi castle was one of the primary castles of Oda Nobunaga. It was built from 1576 to 1579, on the shores of Lake Biwa in Omi province. Nobunaga built it close to Kyoto so that he could watch over and guard the approaches to the capital, but being outside the city, his fortress would be immune to the fires and conflicts. Azuchi castle was not solely a military structure but was a lavish mansion, which was supposed to impress and intimidate his rivals not only with its defenses but with its lavish apartments and decorations, and flourishing town and religious life. The keep called tenshukaku, rather than being the center of the defense of the castle, was a seven-story building containing audience halls, private chambers, offices, and a treasury, as though it were a royal palace. It was the first Japanese castles with a tower keep. Nobunaga's boldest statement of his professed status in the world was perhaps made in the octagonal fifth floor representing heaven, and the quadrangular sixth floor representing the thoughts of Taoism and Confucianism. In addition, the facade of Azuchi castle was colorfully decorated with tigers and dragons.
There were several distinguishing unique features of Azuchi castle. Azuchi castle was a massive structure with the walls of the castle ranging from 18 to 21 feet in thickness. The castle made predominant use of stone. The walls were constructed from huge granite stones fitted carefully together without the use of mortar. The castle had a high central tower called donjon, which allowed for increased visibility for the use of guns against an opposing force.
In 1582, just after Nobunaga's death at Honnoji temple, the castle was attacked by the forces of Nobunaga’s betrayer Akechi Mitsuhide, and the castle was set aflame and razed to the ground. All that remains of the castle today are the stone base, massive deep stone walls, a lot of cornerstones, stone images of Buddha used for lining the paths, and the remaining Ninomon wooden gate. The castle ruins site is nationally designated as a special historic site.

As we started our climb up Mt. Azuchi, we could see some of the old castle stones amidst the foliage of Mt. Azuchi. These castle stones have survived for hundreds of years.
At the beginning of our climb up Mt. Azuchi

We were surprised to see that the old castle stone walls surrounding the steps at the entrance of Azuchi castle ruins were in almost perfect condition.
Entrance of Azuchi castle ruins

The ascent path of stone steps was very steep and we had to stop frequently to take rest.
Me standing on the stone steps

Hubby standing on the stone steps

One imposing factor of Azuchi castle was that the main ascent passed between the residences of Nobunaga's top generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Maeda Toshiie. A stone marker indicating the ruins of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's residence was present on the left side as we climbed up Mt. Azuchi.
Ruins of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's residence

As we climbed further up we saw what is known as Butsu-sokuseki or Buddha's footprints on a stone, which was a form of Indian Buddhist art. The Buddha's presence at any location was often shown indirectly in several forms including this type of footprint. This stone from Azuchi castle dated to the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and was used in one of the stone walls.
Butsu-sokuseki on a stone

It was a rather hot day with clear sky. I was very tired due to climbing the steep stone steps. I had a walking stick which I used as a support while climbing up the steps. Also, I had wrapped the cotton parka on my head for protection from heat and direct sunlight. Quite a few visitors climbing up or going down the steps were very amused to see me as I might have looked very funny!
Me holding a walking stick and covering the head with parka

After climbing more than three-fourths of the stone steps, we reached a ruin site called Ninomaru. It took us almost forty minutes to reach this site. This site is also known as Nobunaga honbyo. Some of the structures here seemed to have survived several hundreds of years. The cenotaph of Oda Nobunaga is kept behind a wooden gate-like structure. Similar cenotaphs exist at Honnoji temple of Kyoto and at Mount Koya in Wakayama.
Ninomaru ruin site

Wooden gate structure at Ninomaru ruin site

Cenotaph of Oda Nobunaga is kept behind this wooden gate

After seeing the Ninomaru ruin site, we started climbing the stone steps again. After about fifteen minutes of climbing, we reached the main tenshukaku ruin site. Only the base of the tenshu (donjon) and several foundation stones are all that is left of the greatest castle in Japanese history. The stones represent the original foundation of the castle tenshu and gave us a good idea of how the foundation stones were arranged.
Main tenshukaku ruin site

These are original foundation stones of the castle tenshu

I was happy after climbing all the way up Mt. Azuchi

There was a notice board that showed the layout of the tenshu foundation stones which are still visible today. Hubby tried to visualize the tenshu at the ruin site.
Hubby standing next to a board showing the layout of tenshu foundation stones

Hubby and I were extremely tired from climbing the steep stone steps up Mt. Azuchi. So we took rest at the top of the mountain near the tenshu ruin site. We got a superb view of Azuchi town from the top of the mountain.
Me relaxing at the top of Mt. Azuchi

Hubby relaxing at the top of Mt. Azuchi

Beautiful panoramic view of Azuchi town from the top of Mt. Azuchi

After taking rest for fifteen minutes, we started climbing down the steps. Just looking down from the top of Mt. Azuchi, we could see how menacing and steep the path of stone steps was. It took us about 25 minutes to climb down the stone steps.
Hubby posing at the starting point of our climb down the mountain

Somewhere at the middle of our climb down the stone steps

Almost reached down Mt. Azuchi

After reaching down Mt. Azuchi, we bought two ofuda (talisman) as souvenirs from a nearby shop.

Hubby and I were very happy to have visited the ruins of Azuchi castle, which is one of the most important historical sites of medieval Japan. However, we were surprised that not much publicity information is available for this important piece of Japanese history. In fact, until we reached Azuchi railway station, we were not even sure whether the ruins of Azuchi castle actually existed or not.

2. Izutsuya shop at Maibara railway station
We returned back from Azuchi to Maibara railway station at about 3.30 pm. We bought tickets and then went to the platform for the train bound for Ichinomiya city in Aichi prefecture. At the platform, hubby saw a shop called Izutsuya selling ekiben (lunch boxes), ramen, and udon. Hubby was rather hungry as we had not taken any lunch that day. So he ordered a bowl of hot udon and ate it. Izutsuya was a typical platform shop and there was no seating arrangement at the shop. It was funny to watch hubby eat a big bowl of udon and drink the broth while standing at the shop.
Bowl of steaming hot udon

Hubby about to start eating udon

Hubby slurping his udon

3. Ichinomiya city
Hubby and I reached Ichinomiya railway station at about 4.30 pm. My father-in-law was kind enough to come to the station and give us a ride by his car up to the ancestral home (jikka). After reaching home, we kept our baggage in our room and took rest for an hour or so. Soon it was time to go out for dinner at a sushi restaurant nearby. My sister-in-law and her family, who live nearby in Ichinomiya city itself, also came for the dinner. A private room for seven of us was reserved in the restaurant. While having dinner, we all chatted a lot as there was a lot of catching up to do. My two adorable nieces and I got to have some bonding time and later played together for some time. Afterwards, my older niece wanted my hubby to read to her from children’s storybooks. Hubby modified the stories so much that she got very interested and told him to read for almost an hour. My father-in-law was busy reading a story to the younger niece. Although my communication skill in Japanese language is not at all good, yet somehow I managed to chat little bit with my father-in-law’s wife as well as my sister-in-law.
My hubby, father-in-law, and his wife having dinner

Father-in-law and his wife

Father-in-law, sister-in-law, and her younger daughter

Me with my younger niece

Father-in-law reading a story to my younger niece

Hubby reading a story to my older niece

Older niece very relaxed and enjoying the story read by hubby

It was 9.30 pm by the time we left the restaurant. As soon as we reached home, we retired for the day. Next two days (May 03-04), father-in-law, his wife, and my hubby went for playing golf. They all left home very early in the morning (before dawn) and returned back at night. I had nothing much to do during those two days. So my sister-in-law and her kids came home the next day and we had a nice time. The day after that, I went out for lunch with her family. I will write about these two days in my next post.


Kazuo Nagata said...

Color of udon broth changed at Maibara station. I mean from 'Kanto' dark color to 'Kansai' light color. A few years back, a television program called 'Tamori Club' also showed it. Udon oishikatta.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Kazuo for your comment. Oh, I did not know that color of udon broth changes in Maibara! Thanks for the information.