Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Trip to Hirosaki

As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I went sightseeing on 18-20 July in Hirosaki city of Aomori prefecture and Hakodate city of Hokkaido prefecture. On our way to Hirosaki city, we saw the Museum of Big Drums in Akita prefecture, and then reached Hirosaki at about noon on 18th July. We had started from our home at 7.30 in the morning and it took us almost 4.5 hours to reach Hirosaki, which was a rather long car drive for hubby.

Hirosaki city is located in Aomori prefecture. During the Edo period, Hirosaki was the political and cultural capital of the Tsugaru region, the western section of present day Aomori prefecture. The city remains one of the culturally richest cities in the northern Tohoku region. We went to the following sightseeing tourist spots in Hirosaki.

Otemon Square
Otemon square is considered the best of Hirosaki and is one of the ‘Hirosaki musts’ that should not be missed when we are in town. Otemon Square was constructed in 1990 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Hirosaki as a city. The square is a focal point of culture and tourism in Hirosaki. Otemon Square stands across the main entrance gate of Hirosaki Castle, and was named after the main gate of the castle. The square is designed as a stepping off point for visitors to Hirosaki. Hirosaki City Sightseeing Information Center is located in Otemon Square, which is a good starting point for sightseeing in Hirosaki and the surrounding Tsugaru region. Here the tourists can get extensive information about lodging and places to visit. Maps, pamphlets, and advice about sightseeing spots of the city are available free of cost. The center also has a souvenir shop, a few restaurants, and a small exhibition about traditional local handicrafts and the Neputa festival.
Otemon Square and the Former City Library

Me standing at Otemon Square

Hirosaki City Sightseeing Information Center

A statue of Tamenobu, the first lord of Tsugaru domain, is on display at the Sightseeing Information Center. Tamenobu attacked many castles of the Lord of Nanbu during the Civil War period of the late 16th century. He won these battles and thus obtained approval of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 to rule the Tsugaru region.
Hubby standing next to the statue of Tamenobu

A huge Neputa Festival float is also on display at the Sightseeing Information Center. During Neputa festival held in the first week of August, huge painted paper sculptures are paraded through the night streets illuminated from within, which is just like its neighbor Aomori Nebuta Festival. However, Hirosaki festival is a more elegant and low key affair, and often overshadowed by its neighbor Aomori Nebuta festival. The floats are generally fan-shaped, with two flat sides. One portrays a historical battle scene while the reverse shows a beautiful woman, often framed by scenes of death. The local view is that Hirosaki reflects the somber mood of preparation for war while Aomori expresses the jubilant return from a victorious battle.
Display of Neputa festival float at the Information Center

Me standing with the statue of Tamenobu and Neputa festival float

Hubby and I had lunch at a restaurant in Sightseeing Information Center itself. Hirosaki is a major production center of scallops (hotate in Japanese). Scallops from the city taste rich and full flavored. We tried the local traditional dishes of the city, which were simple and rustic. Hubby ordered a set lunch of hotate-tamagodon (scallop-egg on top of rice in a bowl) and zaru-soba (chilled soba noodles served on a flat basket topped with shredded nori seaweed). I order a set lunch of hotate-tamago, rice, zaru-soba, and chawanmushi. The lunch portion was too large for me so hubby ate half of my lunch also.
Our lunch

Hubby having lunch

Former Hirosaki City Library
Hirosaki is known as a city of romanticism and has many early European-style buildings that were built as Japan opened its door to the West. We can take a walk around the nostalgic streets with peak-roofed buildings and brick churches. However, it had started raining and hubby and I were unable to take a long walk around the city. So, we only saw Former Hirosaki City Library (Kyu Shiritsu Toshokan in Japanese), which stands around Otemon square. This building was erected in 1907 and donated to the city to commemorate the victory of Japan in the Russo-Japanese war and was used as the Hirosaki City Library until 1931. This renaissance-style building was designed and built by the great architect Horie Sakichi. Features such as the octagonal dome-shaped twin towers and the stonework foundation suggest a high standard of European-style architectural technique. The building has also been used in the past as a boardinghouse and a cafe. This building has been designated as a prefectural treasure and is open to the public.

Former Hirosaki City Library

Hirosaki Castle Park
Hirosaki Castle Park is also one of the ‘Hirosaki Musts’ that should not be missed when we are in town. The construction of Hirosaki Castle was begun in 1603 by the first Tsugaru lord, Tamenobu, and was completed in 1611 by the second lord, Nobuhira. The castle housed several generations of lords of the Tsugaru clan. Surrounded by three concentric moats, earthen fortifications, and 49.2 hectares of pine woods, the remains of the castle include five castle gates, three corner turrets, and a castle tower. These remains have been designated as important cultural assets of Japan. After the original five-storied tower was struck by lightning and burned down in 1627, it was replaced by the current three-storied tenshu donjon structure that was rebuilt in 1811 and is now open to the public as the Hirosaki Castle Museum. The castle tower museum features samurai-era swords, suits of armor, helmets, and other items related to the history of the castle. The castle grounds are now a public park called Hirosaki Park which is nationally known as one of the best cherry blossom viewing spots in spring.

Hubby and I entered the Hirosaki Castle Park from the main gate called ‘otemon’. It was nice to walk in the park surrounded by greenery with the leaves of all the trees looking remarkably new and fresh. After a few minutes of walking, we reached a bright and colorful bridge called ‘sugino ohashi’. A few more minutes of walk took us to another gate called ‘minami uchimon’. By this time it had started raining rather heavily, so we used umbrellas for visitors’ use that were provided by the castle park officials and kept in front of this gate. It was fun to do sightseeing in the rain. After a leisurely walk of 10-15 minutes, we reached another brightly colored bridge called ‘gejobashi’. We got a fabulous view of the castle tower from this bridge. There were swans swimming in the moat under the bridge and the view was simply superb. After crossing the bridge, we reached a ticket counter where we purchased tickets worth 300 Yen per person to see the museum inside the main tenshu tower. The three-story tenshu tower looked amazing and this tower is the only one in Tohoku region that was not rebuilt in the present modern era. We enjoyed seeing the samurai-era items and learned a few things about the war of that era. The outside view from the windows of the third floor of the tower was beautiful. We were inside the museum for about 20 minutes and when we came out of the museum, we saw that it was raining really very heavily. So we skipped seeing the castle park ground further and came out of the park site. We saw the most important assets of the park and we were happy about it.
Otemon gate of Hirosaki Castle Park

Me strolling in the park

Sugino ohashi bridge

Minami uchimon gate

Hirosaki Castle tower viewed from gejobashi bridge

Hubby standing at gejobashi bridge with castle tower in the background

Another view of the castle tower

A swan in the moat

A beautiful 300 year old pine tree of aiguromatsu species

Castle tower (museum)

Tower roof detail showing ornamental shachihoko, an animal in Japanese folklore with head of tiger and body of carp fish

Display of guns of samurai-era at the museum

Sword of samurai-era

Display of kamishimo formal clothing worn by samurai warrior during Edo period

Display of yoroi armor suits and helmets of Samurai-era

Kago (palanquin) used as a mode of transport

Gejobashi bridge as viewed from the third floor window of the tower

Saishoin Temple and Five-Storied Pagoda
Hirosaki, an old castle town, is also known as the city of History because numerous temples and shrines were built around the castle. It is nice to take a walk round historical Hirosaki. However, it was raining heavily by the time we finished seeing the Hirosaki Castle Park. So hubby and I went by our car to visit the temple site.

Near the entrance of the temple we got a beautiful view of the temple gate, the top of Pagoda, and a torii gate of an adjacent shrine. The temple gate marked the entrance to the temple grounds. The temple gate had a pair of large guardian statues called nio, one on either side of the entrance. These fierce looking nio statues named agyo and ungyo are supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. Guardian statue called agyo has its mouth open as if saying ‘ah’ which symbolizes ‘opening’ or ‘birth’. The statue called ungyo has its mouth closed as if saying ‘um’ which symbolizes ‘closure’ or ‘death’. On the pathway leading to the main hall, there were several statues of Buddhist Gods. At the main hall, the sacred objects of worship such as statues were displayed. However, some repair work was underway and we could not enter the main hall. There was a cute looking temizuya with dragon ornamentation in the temple premises. Temizuya is a water basin used for purification before entering the temple proper. There was also a wheel called rinneto which indicates the endless cycle of suffering caused by birth, death, and rebirth, i.e., reincarnation, and is based on the Hindu concept of ‘samsara’. In addition, there were also a cemetery and a temple bell in the premises.
Approach to Saishoin temple

Main gate of the temple

Guardian statues ungyo and agyo at the temple gate

Temple premises

Main hall of the temple

Temizuya with dragon ornamentation at the temple

Rinneto wheel at the temple

Cemetery at the temple

Bell tower at the temple

A five-storied pagoda (Gojunoto in Japanese) was also present inside the temple premises. A pagoda is a structure that has evolved from the Indian stupa. The five-storied pagoda was built in 1667 by Nobuyoshi, the third lord of the Tsugaru clan, to commemorate those who died in battle, friends and enemies alike, during the unification of Tsugaru. It took ten years to build the pagoda and is located to the south-east of the Hirosaki Castle site. The five-storied pagoda, which stands 31.2 meters high and has a beautiful contrast of copper-red walls and white stucco, is considered the most beautiful of its kind in Tohoku. The pagoda was heavily damaged by a typhoon in 1991, and its repair and restoration was completed in 1994. The pagoda has been designated as a national important cultural property. We took several photos of the pagoda from various positions as we strolled inside the temple premises.
Five-storied pagoda as viewed from just inside the temple main gate. Here the down portion of the pagoda can be viewed with greater details.

The pagoda as viewed from the path near the temple main gate that leads to the main hall

Pagoda and the temple main gate (from inside)

Another view of the majestic pagoda

Front view of the pagoda

While leaving the temple premises, we saw a devotional bell called orin placed near the main entrance gate. Hubby prayed to the God by striking the orin bell with a small mallet. He is not religious but his act was so spontaneous that it looked really cute!
Hubby striking an orin bell with a small mallet

Next, we did sightseeing at Inakadate village in Minamitsugaru district, which was only about 10 km away from Hirosaki city. Later, we returned back to Hirosaki and stayed at a hotel near the railway station. The next day morning, we left for Aomori city by train. I will write about Inakadate village, Hirosaki railway station area, and Aomori railway station in the next post.


Anima said...

Stunning photos and really intellectual post:) I've never been to Aomori and don't know much about the region, so your post teaches me a lot. As for Neputa Matsuri, I've seen it on telly and I was amazed by the atmosphere. And I love the sound of Tsugaru-Jamisen (guiter-ish instrument from Tsugaru region). The sound of this Shamisen is somewhat sad, but strong...Hope you have an opportunity to listen to it.

janardan raju said...

Nice blog..

Its looking cool

Here is my blog

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment Anima. Yeah, Aomori prefecture is a very beautiful place for sightseeing.

We were supposed to visit Tsugaru Shamisen Tourist Hall and listen to a live performance of the shamisen. The hall was about 20 km away from Hirosaki city. But it was raining very heavily and we lost the mood to do further sightseeing that day under such weather conditions.

However, once I have heard Tsugaru Shamisen during a performance in one of my friend's marriage party. Though can not really recollect the sound now.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks, Janardan Raju, for your comment.
Sure, I will visit your blog.