17 August  Samurai, Zen, Kamikaze, a garden, fireworks at sea, and a couple of high-octane drinks

 

We took breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  The scrambled eggs were finished, but we helped ourselves to various other cooked items, toast and tea/coffee.  Yasuko had to return to Tokyo straight away as she had a teaching appointment later that day, so we bade her farewell as Yasuko’s mother picked us up from the hotel and whisked us out for the day.

 

She drove us out to the village of Chiran.  This has a small district of houses and gardens designed for samurai. The 250-year old houses are lived in still by descendants of the samurai.  We were able to enter and admire the small Zen “borrowed landscape” gardens.   The concept here is to incorporate visible landscape features – in this case, the undulating mountains surrounding the village – into the garden.  Thus there were hedges and trees that had been shaped, and boulders that had been carefully placed, to echo the hillsides behind.  They were remarkably harmonious and serene places, giving a sense of “one-ness”.  They were very restful, just the spot for relaxing after a hard day’s butchery.  One of the gardens had a water trough - not for watering horses, but for washing the blood off swords.  The entrance to each house involved a convoluted zigzag, back-and-forth pathway that prevented surprise attacks from other bands of Samurai.  Those were the days (and only ending about a hundred and thirty years ago)!

 

We then proceeded on to one of the most remarkable museums I have ever visited.  It is the Kamikaze museum in Chiran.  Chiran was one of the training camps for the kamikaze pilots who were Japan’s last-ditch defence against the might of the American fleet approaching Japan towards the end of the 2nd World War.  I had some of the stereotypes I held concerning the kamikaze heavily revised for me during this visit.  The young men – often just boys - who were selected as kamikaze pilots, and those who selected them, saw their task as the most noble of endeavours: willingly to sacrifice themselves to protect their homeland.  This distinguishes them from the perpetrators of the 11 September 2001 outrage in the USA, whose act was one of extreme aggression against an unsuspecting and unaggressive group of men and women and children going about their normal, everyday lives.  The faint resemblance is superficial.

 

There is a remarkable story concerning a 12-year old who volunteered to fly a kamikaze mission, and who is now a highly regarded preacher of the Christian gospel and a noted expert on Semitic languages. Here's his story.

 

Incidentally, the word “kamikaze” is comprised of two Japanese words: kami, meaning divine, related to the spiritual realm; and kaze, meaning wind.  It has a strong historical resonance for the Japanese.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

 

At the end of the 13th Century, Kubilai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, ruled the remains of the greatest conquered empire the world has ever seen.  Genghis Khan ruled most of Asia, and had tribute from as far away as Moscow, Kiev and Vienna.  Now the empire had abandoned Europe, but still covered China and much of the rest of south-east Asia.  Kubilai Khan needed to bring the only significant nation of the region as yet unsubjugated  - Japan - under his control.  He sent envoys to Kyoto to demand tribute, threatening reprisals if they failed to deliver.  The Emperor answered that their nation had divine origins and therefore was not to be subject to anyone.  The Japanese prepared for attack from Kubilai Khan.  He, however, had assessed Japan’s defensive strength as incoherent and negligible.  So in 1274 he launched an assault on Japan from southern Korea.  This was a combined assault force with a vast number of ships (accounts vary between 600 and 900 ships) from his own Mongol forces, together with allied Chinese and Korean vessels.  They carried 23,000 armed men, and were equipped with catapults capable of throwing combustible missiles, while the men were skilled archers.  As the huge invasion force neared the island of Kyushu, a powerful wind sprang up and drove the ships away from Japan, back towards Korea, a number of ships and men being lost in the gale.

 

Kubilai Khan was nothing if not determined.  He set about increasing the fleet until, in 1281, he launched an assault with 4000 ships.  This time, they succeeded in making a landing on Kyushu.  The Japanese defending forces fought ferociously, and the Mongol army made no progress beyond the small beachhead they had established.  For 53 days, the battle raged, but no further territory was ceded.  Then, on the 54th day, a hurricane struck the invasion fleet.  The Mongols were blown back to China, but this time, over half the fleet, and the men on board, were sunk due to the ferocity of the storm.  The winds that had saved them, twice, from the invading Mongol hordes were known as the kamikaze.  1281 was the last attempt to invade Japan until 1945.

 

The Museum of the 1945 kamikaze is full of memorabilia from the young men who flew in defence of their nation and Emperor.  There are poignant, fearful letters written by them just prior to their mission, and photographs of them in training, as well as items of equipment (they were not issued with parachutes) and personal possessions donated by grieving families.  The pity of it all is that these were mere boys as evidenced by the photographs, who ought to have been in school and college, not called to give their lives in a war that was started by the wicked warlords who were the backbone of the Japanese government in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

There are examples of some of the aircraft used.  The young men were trained in take-off, manoeuvring and navigation techniques, but were not taught to land their aircraft.  Outside is one of the huts used by the squadrons the night before their mission.  The boys lived in basic, not to say, harsh, conditions.  There were few luxuries.  By the exit is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the memory of these young men who flew from Chiran and a handful of other bases, knowing they would never return.

 

After lunch in a roadhouse (excellent tonkatsu!) on the road back to Kagoshima, we drove to the Iso-ten. Notice the Shimadzu sign (quartered circle) in the top left of the ticket. The symbol is everywhere. 

Iso Garden is the villa and gardens built by the 19th Shimazu daimyo, Mitsuhisa, in about 1658.   The later daimyo involved in the Richardson affair was also instrumental in starting Japan’s first factories, here at Iso-ten.  There are foundations of his ironworks, and the building that houses the glassworks that made the prized Satsuma glass ware is now a museum.  Japan’s first gas light is there, too, bearing no resemblance at all to anything seen in the west.

 

The garden is extremely beautiful, with yet more of the trees pruned into shape over hundreds of years.  There are a number of stone emplacements in the garden, of an intriguing nature.  There is the oldest bamboo plantation in Japan, started with just three saplings from China in the 17th Century.  There is also a diverted stream meandering through some of the grounds.  Apparently it was a recreation in the 19th Century for the daimyo to send little rafts bearing a glass of sake downstream.  These would be picked up and drunk by courtiers, who would then have to compose a haiku before the arrival of the next little raft bearing sake.  As the evening wore on, and the daimyo increased the rate at which he launched the victuals, the haiku became ruder and more raucous, to the vast amusement of the court.  Something like this, perhaps?

 

Floating down the stream

Another cup of sake -

Haiku make me sick.

 

We fleetingly saw some of the Iso-ten wildlife.

Leaving the garden, too late to view the museum, Yasuko’s mother drove us to the ferry at Noriyo-Sen before leaving us.

  There we boarded for an evening firework cruise.  There were several hundred festive Japanese on board, some having brought picnics, and others (like us) buying barbecued snacks on board.  We cruised round the attractive harbour and could see the Sun Royal Hotel standing high on the shoreline.  On the middle deck of what served in the daytime as a car ferry, was an, er, entertainment.

 

It was some Japanese bloke singing songs accompanying himself on the accordion.  He interspersed his songs with what Stephen said were old music-hall-type jokes of the “My mother-in-law’s so fat….” variety.  Miss Kagoshima 2000 and Miss Kagoshima 2001 were on board, identically dressed, and apparently hosting the fun.  We poor mortals who had not brought our blankets to camp out on the middle deck and thus were confined to sitting in comfortable chairs on the top deck were not denied access to this feast of entertainment.  The ferry company had thoughtfully provided two large television screens at each end of our deck, together with approximately 10000 watt amplifiers, so that we did not miss a note, or a joke.

 

Val was approached by various Japanese people wishing to practice their English.  Westerners, especially English people, are a rarity in Kagoshima, which is off the tourist trail (though it is well worth a visit).  So once again, they were besieging this red-haired giantess.  As dusk gave way to darkness, the passengers were instructed to go to the port rail.  When we were assembled, fireworks were set off from some small boats nearby.  This was a spectacular display, whose noise must have resembled the bombardment of Kagoshima.

 

After we had reached dry land and taxi-ed to our hotel, we walked into the entertainment district and had a pleasant meal in a small Chinese restaurant.  One of the other diners was a salaryman on his way home after a busy week.  We watched with amusement as he fell asleep at his meal, his head drooping until it lay comfortably in his plate, a sticky red sauce coating the side of his head.  The waiters ignored him completely.  Perhaps it’s a regular Friday night ritual.

 

After the meal, we walked around until we found a bar that looked approachable.  It called itself “Gaspanic”, after the famous night club in Roppongi, Tokyo, though it was a typically small drinking parlour.  The bar specialised in Shochu, a sort of weakish Japanese vodka.  Stephen and I were offered a special local variety, brewed from sweet potatoes (a Kagoshima speciality) and unique yeast, so rare it was not on the bar list.  Shochu is about 30 proof as contrasted with normal vodka, which is generally 40 proof.  It has an indefinable, slightly sweet flavour.  I can confirm that the special shochu tasted slightly better than the first one we tried.  As neither of us enjoys spirits much, and had only tried it because it was a unique opportunity, I can say no more.  It was a good nightcap, and we slept soundly.

 

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