I spent yesterday in Fuji City, in Shizuoka Prefecture which is two prefectures over west from Tokyo, visiting the lovely and colorful Yoshiwara Gionsai, famous for its many dashi (mobile festival platforms). The festival was as great as ever, despite the tiny bit of rain that fell at the end of the festival. You would be excused for not believing that we were actually in the middle of the rain period here in Japan, but so far there has not been very much of it.
The main attraction of the Yoshiwara Gion Festival is the main street in Yoshiwara Honcho, where the different dashi are pulled up and down the streets by the members of the neighborhood they represent. The dashi are manned by kids and adults who play the more or less traditional music of these festival. When I say more or less I mean that Shizuoka is famous for being slightly more innovative in the music and rhythm sections of their festivals and the kids have quite a bit of freedom in deciding how they are going to perform. Most opt for the traditional way but there are a few far away influences to some of teams drumming or dancing!
Yesterday I mentioned one of the things that the little village of Rendaiji in Shimoda City was famous for – the hot springs. These hot spring were what ultimately led the village to attract its second great claim to fame: as the hiding place of the great Edo intellectual Yoshida Shoin (吉田松陰) on his grand adventure to hitch a ride with the US Navy for a study trip to North America.
Yoshida Shoin was born in 1830, the scion of a prestigious samurai family who traditionally occupied themselves with training of the Shogun military forces. He got an excellent education and soon developed quite a wanderlust. In 1851 he applied for permission to study in the north of Japan but committed the crime of leaving his post before his paperwork had been finished. For this he was stripped of his samurai rank and were forced to leave his family. For a few years he made a living teaching until by chance he learned of the US Navy headed by Matthew Perry having arrived in Japan. His petition to join the Americans and return with them to study the West was denied but this being Yoshida he was not going to take no for an answer. He traveled in haste to Shimoda where the American ships where anchored but due to a bad skin condition he was forced to make a short stop in the village of Rendaiji where at night he snuck into the therapeutic hot spring baths to ease his skin condition. A local doctor found him and put him up in an old inn. This blog post is about that inn, which still remains today exactly as Yoshida would have found it in 1853. Feeling better he snuck out again at night, and hid in a cave near the American ships until it was dark enough for him to row out to the ships. The American sailors caught him and forbade him to even deliver the letters he had painstakingly written in the old inn (the inkstone and table he used in his letter writing still remains). He had no choice but to return where he was swiftly captured by the local garrison. After spending a while in prison in Edo (soon to be Tokyo) he was let out to run a little school where he managed to attract some of the most brilliant scholars and revolutionaries of the time. The shogun sensing that there was trouble brewing began rounding up rebel thinkers and in 1859 Yoshida was one of the many executed. A little while later the shogunate was overthrown and power restored to the Emperor and the civilian government, ending over 250 years of Japanese isolation (and peace). But that is a different story.
The house (吉田松陰寓寄処) is an interesting visit, not least the bathroom, and the room where Yoshida hid, which is much tinier than it looks in the photo, the ceiling being so low you have to stay on your knees. Of course most of the information is in Japanese and I doubt they have staff at hand who speak English, especially off season.
Some more photos of the picturesque little village of Rendaiji, formally belonging to the city of Shimoda on the coast of the Izu peninsula to the southwest of Tokyo. The weather was not too good so the photos might look a little drab. I really need to visit again when the weather is more cooperative! Rendaiji only has two claims to fame in the wider public, one of them being the hot springs around the village. These hotsprings, or onsen, are popular with domestic tourists and you can see a staff member of one of them on her way to work in one of the photos. Throughout the towns there are also public fountains with a twist: the water they sprout is boiling hot! Unfortunately I did not manage to get any decent shots of them. More photos to come though!