Takeda of Kofu, Mikasa of Yokosuka and Byodo-in of Uji
Once again, I find myself writing about the various places that I have been to since last I wrote. Every weekend including Friday as I have that off too, I plan another exciting trip and then I charge at it with all my energy and passion. Most people including even myself a bit, thought that I would grow tired of Japan within a month or be so bogged by school that I would not have time to really get out of the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area and truly see Japan, but fortune smiled upon me and I have been able to give it my all. Of course, it is incredibly exhausting, which I have mentioned before, but the experience is once in a lifetime and I don`t know when I will ever be able to return to Japan again. I have literally gone to places that my Japanese friends have never gone to, despite living here, showing just how extensive my travels have been!
So, where have I been that has been so exotic to even the Japanese? Well, as I said that I would, I went to Kofu in the mountains of Yamanashi prefecture, I took the same route as I had for Matsumoto, but the trip was at least an hour shorter. As well, for some reason the line to Kofu actually starts very close to my dorm, so it was an easy trip to get on the train. It was a beautiful day in Kofu and I arrived early in the morning giving me plenty of time to see all that Kofu has for the day. The city is most famous as the stronghold of the famous Daimyo, Warlord, Takeda Shingen. He is a legendary Daimyo that is frequently in works set during the Medieval period in Japan and most recognizable for his personal helmet having a long white mane to it. As each Daimyo wanted to show off their wealth and skill of their craftsmen, the helmets of Daimyos are well-known to have distinct, fascinating and even bizarre, one of the most impressive being an entire set of deer antlers mounted on a helmet. Like usual, when I arrive in a new city, there is something to greet me, instead of a sign or a banner, there was instead a Takeda Shingen mascot there to greet and take pictures with anyone, who asked including myself. Mascots are just like in America, a person in a big cartoon costume and they are very popular in Japan with all major cities, prefectures, companies and even smaller areas having a few, varying from a black bear with rosy cheeks to a peach fairy, who goes nuts in the costume, seriously look it up, the mascot is Funyassi and he is awesome!
After leaving the train station, I could see the surrounding the mountains, which were really beautiful as well as the forests in the distance, it reminded me a lot of New York, which is also filled with mountains and forests. I took a taxi to Kai-Zenko-ji temple, the largest wooden building in Eastern Japan, it was a really nice temple and had a very unique appearance. Unlike most of the countless temples that I have been to, this was at least 50 feet tall and that really gave it an impressive appearance. After that, I wandered around the city and saw there huge bronze statue of Takeda Shingen, showing even 400+ years since his death, he is stilled highly regarded and respected by the people of his prefecture. I also, visited the Takeda shrine/museum built to him that houses many artifacts of his clan including an impressive centuries old katana, still in pristine condition. The shrine was only in 1919 because the Emperor really liked Takeda and thought that he deserved a cool shrine, where he is enshrined as a deity. In Japan according to Shintoism, if someone was a really great person, victorious general, very wise scholar, great social contributor, they can have a shrine built to them when they die and people will pray at the shrine for this great person to bestow a gift upon them. Shinto shrines are a really amazing concept as Japan is the only country to have Shintoism and it has a very unique culture to it.
The very next day after sleeping in after such an exhausting day, I decided to take another train trip, though this one was a lot closer. I went to Yokosuka, which is a harbor city in Tokyo bay, famous for being where Commodore Matthew Perry and his fleet entered in 1853 to convince, with warships, Japan to open its harbors. It was about an hour south of my dorm, but no transfers, so pretty easy to go to. It is also well known for being where both the United States 7th Fleet is stationed with its super-carrier and as well, Japan has its Maritime Defense Force stationed there. I didn`t see any US ships, but as soon as we pulled into Yokosuka station, I saw the JS Izumo, aircraft carrier, very close by, so much so that I could see the sailors leaving the ship.
Despite how impressive the modern vessels were, I was there to see a far older ship, the Mikasa, the flagship, under Admiral Togo, of Japan during their successful war against Russia in 1904-5, which is credited as making Japan recognized as a world power. It is the only Japanese warship turned into a museum, so it has a special place in Japan and among its citizens. There`s a park attached to it, so there was an event going on with lots of kids, stands and people next to the ship. It was a cool experience as the ship is pretty interactive and has a ton of artifacts from its service. I even got to put on an old Naval uniform and get my picture taken, so it was a lot of fun. I had never seen a ship this old before, so I was very fascinated by its design. When I was a kid, I had spent a night on the USS Massachusetts, which is a WW2 battleship, but this ship was far older and smaller, making its historic contribution much more impressive. As well, Admiral Chester Nimitz was a big fan of Togo and had meet him after the war, years later when the ship was in disrepair, Nimitz had spearheaded the successful efforts to save the ship, so the Japanese are very grateful to America for its help in saving the ship.
Though both of these locations have a great deal of history, the city of Uji, which I visited last week has far more than both combined. Uji is an ancient city located near Kyoto, which itself was capital of Japan for over a thousand years, and is well-known for being the Tea capital of Japan and the location of the World`s first novel, The Tale of Genji. It is also, the home of Byodo-in, a 950 year old original Buddhist temple, that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its age. Its better known as the Phoenix hall as it is painted in a bright red and located in the center of a pond to appear like a Phoenix in flight. Truly, it was an incredible place to visit and not hard to get to from the train station on foot and was not crowded at all. Its also on the 10 cent coin here, so it was pretty cool to see the actual place and compare it to the coin.
My plan for this week is to go to Sendai, a city in Northern Japan, which was the stronghold of another famous Daimyo, Date Masamune. It will be the most north that I have been in Japan and I will be riding a different bullet train than before. This one is called the Hayabusa, which means Peregrine Falcon, and has a very sleek design in a distinct bright Turquoise color. The week after that is probably going to be Nagoya, Japan`s third largest city located in the center of the country and home of the shrine of one of Japan`s Imperial Regalia, a legendary sword of myth as well as a large collection of other blades; and yet another Daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, the legendary Demon Lord, known for his ruthless nature and well-known by all Japanese for his might. as well, one of friends here, had lived near Nagoya, in a small city called Inuyama, which has one of the only five original castles in Japan as well as being a national treasure, it is not as larger as my previous ones, but it is one the same level of national value. Still, there are even more places to go if possible, but I am taking it one week at a time.