Sunday, October 31, 2010

Inuyama Castle

As I wrote in the previous post, on August 14th hubby and I visited his uncle’s home and my mother-in-law’s grave during Obon festival. Later we went to see Inuyama Castle in a nearby city about which I will write in this post.

Inuyama Castle is located in Inuyama city of Aichi Prefecture. The castle stands on top of a small hill next to the Kiso River. Inuyama Castle is considered to be the oldest castle in Japan and is said to date back to 1440. However, the exact date of its original construction is debatable. The present keep (donjon) of the castle was constructed in 1537 and represents the Momoyama Period defensive architecture. The castle is original and has never been destroyed, though extensive repairs have been carried out. The castle has three floors on the outside, four in the inside, and two below ground.The castle was designated as a national treasure in 1935.

The site of Inuyama Castle was initially occupied by a Shinto shrine named Harigane Jinja, which was moved to Shirayamadaira so that the castle could be built on the hill overlooking the Kiso River. The current castle tower was built in 1537 by Oda Nobuyasu, who was an uncle of the great Sengoku Period samurai Oda Nobunaga. The largest configuration of the castle was completed in the year 1600. In the years following its construction in 1537, lordship of the castle changed frequently. The lordship was bestowed on Naruse Masanari, a retainer of Matsudaira clan, in 1617 during the Edo Period and was maintained by Naruse clan until the Meiji Period when it was seized by the Japanese government in 1872. In 1891, the castle was damaged in the Great Nobi Earthquake, and it was returned to the Naruse family in 1895 under the condition that they repair and maintain it. The castle was privately owned by the Naruse family until 2004 when ownership of the building and grounds was transferred to a local civic foundation in Inuyama city.

Inuyama Castle is located about 26 kilometers away from hubby’s ancestral home. Hubby and I left home at about 10.45 am and it took us about 40 minutes to reach the castle by car. At the entrance of the castle premises we bought tickets worth 500 Yen per person as admission fee and started climbing up the path of stone steps that led to the castle gate. On our way we saw beautiful red colored torii gates of Sanko Inari Shrine. Unfortunately, we did not have much time, so we did not visit the shrine. After climbing the stone steps for about 10 minutes, we reached a reconstructed gate of the castle named Honmaru-mon. We showed our tickets to a castle staff at this gate and entered the castle precinct.
I am standing next to a stone inscribed with the words ‘Inuyama Castle’ in Japanese

Hubby climbing up the stone steps leading to the castle

Red colored torii gates of Sanko Inari Shrine

Hubby standing in front of the reconstructed gate Honmaru-mon

Honmaru-mon from inside the castle premises

On entering the castle precinct, we saw the wonderful main keep Tenshu (donjon) right in front of us. We took several photos of the elegant looking donjon as we walked towards the entrance of the main castle tower. The height of the stone walls is 5 meters above the ground and the height of Tenshu castle tower is 19 meters above the stone walls. The castle tower has a floor area of 698.775 square meters.
Several trees and the main keep Tenshu

Hubby standing in front of the Tenshu tower

Another view of the Tenshu tower

I am standing in front of the Tenshu tower

Entrance of the Tenshu tower

As I wrote earlier, the castle has four floors above ground and two basement floors. On entering the main entrance of the Tenshu tower building, we went to the first floor. This floor has an area of 282.752 square meters. At this floor, medieval period items like armors, swords and other weapons, various documents, and folding screens illustrating the rich history related to the castle are exhibited. There is also a display of ornamental roof tiles called shachihoko used in the construction and architectural design of the castle Tenshu roof. Shachihoko is an animal in Japanese folklore with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp fish and it was believed that this animal could cause the rain to fall. So the castles were usually adorned with shachihoko in order to protect them from fire. In this floor, we saw a matted chamber named Jodan-no-ma which was the room inhabited by the lord of the castle. The room is richly built and has a specially designed ceiling. At the back of this room is a barrack where the warriors hid themselves and guarded the lord in case of any emergency. We also saw a wooden model of Inuyama Castle that is scaled to 1/10 of the original size.
Medieval period armor

Another medieval period armor

I am standing next to a folding screen

Folding screen and an armor on display

Display of ornamental roof tiles shachihoko

Jodan-no-ma chamber

Model of Inuyama Castle

After seeing various exhibits in the first floor, we climbed the steep staircase leading to the second floor. The second floor has an area of 246.006 square meters. The center area of this floor has an armor room known as Bugu-no-ma. This room was used to store armor and weaponry with storage shelves installed along every wall except the one facing south. Presently, many photographs of various castles of Japan are exhibited in this room. We loved the display of the photographs of the castles. There is also a model of Inuyama Castle that is scaled to 1/10 of the original size and shows the interior superstructure crafted from large wooden beams connected without nails or glue. Surrounding this room, there is 3.6 meters wide wooden floor called Mushabashiri that was used for the running of the warriors. Hubby ran on this wooden floor pretending to be a warrior of the bygone era. This floor has several small windows from where hubby took a few photographs of the beautiful outside view.
Armor room with an exhibition of photographs of various castles of Japan

Hubby reading the history of various castles of Japan

Model of Inuyama Castle showing the wooden beams

Hubby standing at a corner of the second floor of the castle

Hubby walking in the Mushabashiri area of the second floor

Outside view from a window of the second floor

Outside view from another window of the second floor

Next, we climbed the staircase leading to the third floor. The staircases inside this castle are extremely steep and I had some difficulty in climbing up the steps. The third floor is known as Hafu-no-ma (gable chamber) and has an area of 81.936 square meters. In addition, located on the north and south of this floor, there are rooms of Karahafu-no-ma, which are gracefully curved Chinese shaped gabled chambers. 77 years after the donjon was constructed in 1537, extension work on the Karahafu was commissioned during the 70 year rule of lord Naruse and his son.
Steep steps of the staircase (for going up)

A portion of the third floor of the castle

I am walking on the third floor of the castle

Finally, we climbed the staircase leading to the uppermost fourth floor. This floor is really small with an area of 49.835 square meters. This floor is known as Koran-no-ma or the balcony chamber and has balconies installed on all sides of the floor. Inside the room, there is a gallery exhibiting portraits of the various lords of the castle along with their brief history. Hubby enjoyed reading about the history of the lords. Next, we went to the observation deck of the balcony which offered a wonderful sweeping view of the outside. The balcony handrail is very low and I was a bit scared to walk around. Hubby took a video of the outside view as we walked on this balcony.
Hubby seeing the gallery of portraits of the various lords of the castle

I am standing at the balcony of the fourth floor

View from the observation deck

A compiled video of the outside view as viewed from the balcony of the top floor

After spending about ten minutes at the top floor, we walked down the stairs and reached the exit of the Tenshu tower. Just before exiting, we saw the stone walls of the castle from inside the tower. The stones are unprocessed natural stones and a process called Nozura-zumi was used to lift these stones into place.
Hubby standing next to a stone wall of the castle inside the Tenshu tower

Afterwards, we walked back to the car parking area and reached hubby’s ancestral home at about 1.45 pm.
Hubby walking down the path of stone steps

In the evening my father-in-law dropped us at Komaki airport. We took a flight that reached Akita airport at about 8 pm. Finally, we reached back our home at about 9.30 pm. We had a nice trip to Tokyo as well as hubby’s ancestral home in Nagoya during Obon holidays.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


As I wrote in the previous two posts, hubby and I stayed in Tokyo on August 11th and in the evening of August 12th we went to hubby’s ancestral home in Ichinomiya city. From Tokyo we took Shinkansen bullet train and reached Nagoya at about 9 pm. From there we took a local train and reached hubby’s home in Ichinomiya by 10 pm. On reaching hubby’s ancestral home, we immediately retired to bed as we were rather tired due to sightseeing and travel.

Every year during Obon in mid August, hubby and I visit hubby’s ancestral home. Obon is an annual Buddhist event to commemorate our ancestors. It is believed that each year during Obon, the spirits of ancestors return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to welcome the spirits of ancestors, graves are visited, and food offerings are made at home family altars. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes, and seas so that the spirits can return back into their world. The customs followed vary considerably from region to region. Obon is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of August every year.

On 13th August, my hubby, father-in-law, and his wife got up at about 4.45 am, got ready, and left home at 5.30 am to go for playing golf. I preferred to stay at home and relax as I am not much interested in golf. I spent the entire day lazing around. I read a few pages of a novel, drank several cups of tea, and watched television. At about 4.30 pm, hubby, father-in-law, and his wife returned back home after playing golf. After half an hour or so, we all prayed at the family altar to welcome the soul of my late mother-in-law and all the ancestors, which is the purpose of Obon. My father-in-law offered some food items at the altar, lit incense sticks, and read some sutras. My hubby and father-in-law's wife also chanted the sutras in unison. Unfortunately, I cannot read Japanese language and so only observed the prayer rituals.

Later in the evening, we all went for dinner at a local sushi restaurant. Hubby’s sister, who lives nearby, joined us for dinner. Her daughters also accompanied her. It was nice to chat with relatives and play with the daughters of my sister-in-law. Both nieces of hubby are so cute. We had a nice evening and enjoyed having a tasty dinner of sushi and sashimi.
Cute daughters of hubby’s sister

My sister-in-law and her elder daughter having dinner

My sister-in-law and her younger daughter having dinner

Father-in-law and his wife having dinner

Hubby and I along with my father-in-law and his wife

The next morning, my hubby, father-in-law and his wife, and I visited the home of my father-in-law’s eldest brother who lives nearby. It is the main ancestral home of ‘Nagata family’. There is an amazingly exotic family altar where father-in-law prayed to welcome the souls of his late parents and all the ancestors. We all also prayed at the altar. I saw the photos of hubby’s grandparents for the first time and realized that hubby resembles both his grandparents a lot! In fact, hubby looks like a perfect combination of his grandparents. I also saw the family crest of ‘Nagata family’. In olden times, men and women of ‘Nagata family’ used to have the family crest mark on their kimonos. We had a nice time chatting with hubby’s eldest uncle and his wife over snacks and cups of green tea.
Family altar at the home of the eldest uncle of hubby

Hubby’s relatives in front of the family altar

Another view of the family altar

Food offerings to welcome the souls of ancestors

Father-in-law praying to welcome the souls of ancestors

Photographs of hubby’s grandparents near the family altar

Family crest of ‘Nagata-family’

Hubby’s eldest uncle

After about 1.5 hours, we left the home of hubby’s uncle. Afterwards hubby and I visited my mother-in-law’s grave and offered our prayers. Hubby cleaned the gravestone with water, offered flowers, and lit some candle and incense sticks.
Hubby praying at his mother’s grave

I am praying at my mother-in-law’s grave

It feels nice to meet our relatives during Obon and gives us a sense of fulfillment for carrying out our traditional family duties. Later in the day, hubby and I visited Inuyama Castle located in a nearby city. I will write about this in the next post.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Yasukuni Shrine

As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I had been to hubby’s ancestral home in Nagoya for Obon festival in mid-August. On our way to Nagoya, we first went to the Embassy of India in Tokyo where we had some personal work on August 11th and 12th. The working hours at the embassy are from 9 to 11 in the morning. Both the days we finished our work at the embassy by 11 am. After finishing the work, on August 11th we went to see baseball game at a stadium, and on August 12th we visited a nearby shrine named Yasukuni Shrine.

Yasukuni Shrine is a Shinto shrine located at Kudanshita in Tokyo. In fact, this shrine is located just next to the Embassy of India. The shrine was founded in 1869 as Tokyo Shokonsha, and was renamed Yasukuni Shrine in 1879. It was built in order to commemorate and worship those who have died in war and sacrificed their lives for Japan. Currently, more than 2466000 deities are enshrined at the shrine. These deities are souls of people who sacrificed their lives for the nation since 1853 during several wars such as the Boshin War, the Seinan War, the Sino-Japanese war, the Russo-Japanese war, World War I, the Manchurian Incident, the China Incident, and World War II. Although the shrine commemorates the people whose lives were dedicated to the service of Imperial Japan, the shrine became an autonomous religious institution in 1945 due to the separation of religion and the Japanese government. Inside the shrine precinct, there is a war museum that has historically important wills and relics. Also, there are various statues to commemorate mothers and animals who sacrificed their lives in the wars.

Hubby and I entered Yasukuni Shrine premises from the main entrance. At the main entrance there is a stone pillar named Shagou Hyou on which the name of the shrine is engraved. Just behind this pillar we saw the first shrine torii gate (Great Gate) named Daiichi Torii. The steel structure was the largest torii in Japan when it was first erected in 1921 to mark the main entrance to the shrine. The present torii was erected in 1974 after the original was removed in 1943 due to damage caused by exposure to wind and rain. The present torii is 25 meters high and 34 meters wide.
Hubby standing in front of Shagou Hyou stone pillar

Shagou Hyou with Daiichi Torii in the background

I am looking at Daiichi Torii

Daiichi Torii as viewed from inside the shrine premises

As we walked inside the shrine premises, we saw a statue of Omura Masujiro near the monumental main entrance of the shrine. The statue was created by Okuma Ujihiro in 1893 and installed inside the shrine. It is the first western-style bronze statue of Japan. Omura Masujiro (1824-1869) was the founder of modern Japanese Army who devoted a lot of efforts in establishing Yasukuni Shrine.
I am standing in front of the bronze statue of Omura Masujiro

Bronze statue of Omura Masujiro

As we walked along the causeway to the shrine, we came across the second shrine torii gate named Daini Torii. This gate was built in 1887 to replace a wooden one which had been erected earlier. This is the biggest bronze torii gate in Japan.
Hubby walking along the causeway to the shrine

Daini Torii

Immediately following the Daini Torii is the Main Gate named Shinmon. The magnificent six meter tall cypress gate was built in 1934 and restoration work on the gate was done in 1994. Each of its two doors bears a chrysanthemum crest measuring 1.5 meters in diameter.
Hubby standing in front of Shinmon

A door of Shinmon bearing chrysanthemum crest

Next, we came across the third shrine torii gate named Chumon Torii. It is the last torii gate that the visitors have to pass through before reaching the main hall of the shrine. The current torii gate was rebuilt in 2006 using cypress harvested in Saitama prefecture.
Chumon Torii with Haiden main hall in the background

After passing through several gates, we were right in front of the main hall of the shrine named Haiden. The main hall was built in 1901 and its roof was renovated in 1989. This hall is the main prayer hall where worshippers come to pay their respects. There is a wooden offertory box in front of the hall. Also, there are white screens hanging off the ceiling of the hall. I prayed at the main hall for world peace.
I am standing in front of Haiden main hall

Right behind the main hall is the main shrine named Honden where the enshrined deities reside and the priests perform Shinto rituals. Honden was built in 1872 and renovated in 1989. This building is closed to the general public and so we could not enter the main shrine.

On the shrine grounds, there are many other important religious structures, a museum, tea house, a Noh theater, sumo ring, and several other structures. But we did not visit all of them as we did not have that much time.

We came out of the shrine premises through a stone shrine torii gate named Ishi Torii located on the south end of the main causeway. This torii gate was built in 1932. Hubby was a bit confused about the exit and so looked up a map located near the gate.
Hubby reading a map inside the shrine premises

I am standing in front of Ishi Torii

In the evening, we took shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and reached hubby’s ancestral home in Nagoya by 8 pm. We stayed with our relatives for two days and had a nice time. I will write about this in the next post.