Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The first couple days we spent in Tokyo. After checking into our hotel, those were our rooms not washing machines, we headed out to see the city. Its really an amazing city huge and sprawling with so much activity. We tracked down an awesome art gallery, you can see the front of it in the above picture. While in Tokyo we went to Harijuko and walked around this giant temple grounds with a huge wooded park area. Right in the middle of a big city there's a nice peaceful park. From Tokyo we took a bus to Kitakata in the Fukishima prefecture where Nick lives and teaches.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
We rode bikes all throughout Kitakata and the Aizu valley where Nick lives. It was so cool to get to see as much of the area as possible. Nick took me around to visit a lot of the shops and restaurants in his area as well as the destination points like the top of the Nicchu Dam which overlooked the entire valley and a temple with giant golden Buddha and a pretty japanese garden.
Nick, a friend of Nick's Paul and I hiked at the foot of Mount Bandai and the colored lakes. Each of the lakes are a result of when the the mountain had erupted and due to the settling of the volcanic elements each lake has a very vibrant hue, through the course of the year due to runoff the colors even change dramatically.
In the Yamagata prefecture Nick signed us up to be apart of their Samurai festival. We got up early and headed over to the neighboring prefecture and got prepared. The festival's main entertainment is the re-enactment of the battle of Kawanakajima, our role would be to play the gaijin mercenaries who performed a sneak attack in the middle of the battle. We were taught how to march in formation and scream fierce battle cries and then as the re-enactment began we marched to the other side of the park area across the river. The Battle began with the archers and spearmen first and when we got our cue we lit our torches screamed fierce battle cries and took off down the embankment. When we hit the river we just charged right on through the cold water and across to the other side and joined in the fight. Screaming and weilding our swords like well trained warriors we fought valiantly but a retreat was necessary. We regrouped and rested breifly and then the full force of the two armies clashed for the final time. Many of the Blue army fell by my sword that day but a high ranking samurai and a group of his soldiers surrounded me and took me out. I died an honorable death. After the the re-enactment was complete the crowds cheered and we took our bows and then the lines formed to take pictures. It was pretty funny, due to the fact that we may have been some of the first foreigners alot of these people have seen a lined formed to take pictures with me and Nick a couple of the pasty white Samurai. The day was incedible, at times I would just look around in disbelief because it was amazing and such a cool thing to be apart of.
After the Samurai festival we drove down to the coastal town of Iwaki for the next festival. We got up early and met a small group of other foreigners who would be participating in the festival. In the Suwaginja tairesai festival giant mobile shrines (Omikoshi) are paraded through the streets while onlookers throw their contributions onto it. We would be carrying the shrine, and its heavy just like it looks. Its not enough though just to carry the shrine it must be shaking and bouncing around the entire time, so as we lugged the shrine around there was always someone either on the back or front pulling down crashing it into our shoulders. Sure it made the little bells jingle but it also caused a good amount of bruising on our shoulders. Once we hit the beach we stripped down to just either our tiny shorts or fundoshis and into the waves the shrine went. We were in the freezing water for at 20 minutes battling the waves and pushing against the other shrine carriers. After the beach the shrines split up and we canvased the city seperately. When all the Omikoshis met back in front of the temple there was a shrine fight pushing and crowding the shrines together each shrine trying to outdo the other shrines. Each in turn then entering the temple and placing the shrines back in their place. As the festival concluded we were invited to the enki thrown by the group who carried the shrine.
In the nearby city of Aizuwakamatsu we visited a few sites including the shrine of the 19 samurai. At the foot of the shrine we saw this sign where the people taking the escalator are cheering and having a good time while the people taking the stairs are in obvious discomfort. We took the stairs.
Apparently the story goes that these 19 samurai were returning from battle they looked out over their city and it was on fire. Feeling like this was a sign of their failure they decided that rather than return to the city as failures it was more honorable to take their own lives. The tragedy is that the city itself was not conquered it was merely a unrelated fire so their deaths were an unfortunate misunderstanding, but because of their honorable sacrifice the shrine was errected in their memory.