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Report From Japan - 26MR00

So I guess it was about 600 years ago - before this place was was called Hikone (hik-KO-nay). Really, it was before this place was even NOT called Hikone yet. People didn't much call this place anything. The main hullaballoo in the area was only about a mile north, but Hikone meant nothing to anyone. The lake - Japan's largetst - and the area around it was called "Omi." I don't know what that means but since I took a bunch of anthropology classes in college, I feel entitled to guess. Let's say Omi means "big-ass lake." Right, so anyway the guy who was in charge around here gave this area, the part of Omi up the street, which was then called "Saho," to his son. The son, let's call him "Schmeckie" (even though his actuall name was Tokitsuna Sasaki), built a castle on the moutain at the end of what is now MY street. The mountain, "Sawa-yama" (mountain spring mountain) is the highest of the nearby ones which was close to the lake. So it was a good spot for a castle. As things tend to go in feudal lordship type societies, the castle and it's top hoohaa end up being deciding factors in the success of the communities around them. A castle town is one which has been able to exist because of the power of its castle to defend it. The town pays the Lord (AKA "the Castle-Guy") taxes for said defence. The height of the mountain made it a pretty good one as far as defense was concerned, so it lasted for about 200 years. This area was important back then for a few reasons. It's located at a fairly narrow stretch of land between the lake and the ocean on the south. The capital was Kyoto - about 40 miles south, so to get there from the north half of Japan, you pretty much had to pass by the castle at the end of MY street. That's still true except the castle isn't there anymore and Kyoto isn't the capital anymore. Another thing that made this a valuable place for castle lords was that rice cultivation has been very successfull here ever since it was introduced let's say about 1000 years ago (even though you probably know I made that number RIGHT up!). And finally, the lake - it was the best route for transportation of goods because it was faster and cheaper than the early roads, and ships could carry much more cargo. So this area was the critical northern lake port. Most shippments went between here and the southern port of Otsu (pronounced like "oat s"). So this area has traditionally been an important place for both millitary and commercial reasons.

Well after the original Sawa-yama castle guy, Schmekie, keeled over, the lordship went to the next guy, who ever that was, and so on for about 200 years.

At the end of the 17th century, the local lord was a fellow named Mitsunari. He was very powerful in Japan and locally respected as a kind and capable leader. Saho was a peaceful farming community. Taxes were low, and farmers could petition the lord directly with their problems. I believe he had other castles as well but the coolest one was a five minute walk up MY street. Although the castle had been there for 200 years, Mitsunari is creditted with "building" the castle and town around it as a successful community. When Japan's super-top important guy kicked the bucket another powerful dude from the east side of Japan - Tokugawa - was trying to take over. Mitsunari didn't go for that. He was like, "I'm the baddest bad-ass samuri!" So there was a lot of related fighting. On Septe mber 15, 1600 there was a famous battle in a town not too far northeast of here called Sekigahara. Tokugawa led 100,000 samuri warriors and Mitsunari led 80,000. The first platoon of 30 men to attack was a group of led by one Mr. Naomasa Ii of the Eastern army. It took only about half a day for Mitsunari and his western army to lose the battle, but Mitsunari himself was able to escape around Mt . Ibuki - a tall snowcovered mountain between here and Sekigahara. On clear days - like today as I write this - I can see Ibuki from my front door. Mitsunari's father, Masatsuga, was the acting gaurdian of the castle at Sawa-yama. When Tokugawa's troops attacked the castle the next day, Masatsuga committed suicide as the castle fell. As you probably know, Samuri suicide is a big cultural deal and usually involves stabbing ones's self in a very involved/painfull/show-off manner. Other Samuri's have also committed hare-kare on Sawa-yamma and at the top there is now a modest monument to all of them. A week later, Tokugawa's soldiers found Mitsunari, and he was put to death. During the brief time that he was in Tokugawan custody, Naomasa Ii is said to have treated him as a superior out of respect for his enemy. In February 1601, Ii became the new lord of Omi and took his place in Sawa-yama castle. He was one of Tokugawa's top 4 most trusted men, and he also earned local respect quickly. He ordered that Sawa-yama castle be destroyed in order to remove all remaining connections to the Mitsunari era. He wanted a new castle built on Iso-yama (another nearby mountain) But about a year later he died of a bullet wound he had from Sekigahara. His son, Naotsuga Ii, decided Hikone-yama (named for an ancient prince who ruled or died or is buried here) would be the best place for the new castle. Twenty years later the Hikone castle was finnished. It has an intricate tripple moat system made by changing the course of the Seri river. The lower walls are built using a special type of masonary to arrange to rocks. It's roof is unique and it was assembled mostly from parts of other castles including the one at Sawa-yama. Today it is one of Japan's most valuable historic architetural structures having survived WWII and even having been defended from a US bomber by Hikone's single fighter plane.

Tomorrow I will get my 3-year free pass to Hikone Castle grounds and garden - which will be cool.

The Edo period began in 1603, and ended in 1867 (264 years). During that time, Japan followed a strict policy of self-exclusion from the outside world. She was self-sufficient in all respects, the millitary in Hikone had no fighting to do. Today, Hikone is one of Japan's best examples of the the Edo period with its curved streets (also good for defending the castle against attacks), rice fields and small streetside market areas. Japan was proud of it's success with the exclusionist policies of the Edo period. The population in Hikone grew to 36,000.

In 1853, Commodore Perry came to Japan with 5 steam ships and forced the western world upon her. The U.S. had great millitary force, and many Japanese knew the consequences of trying to maintain seclusion would be severe. Others didn't and they wanted Japan to resist. So these two factions put Japan in turmoil just as the West was threatening her suddenly fragile harmony.

The 13th Lord of Hikone was Naosuke Ii(NOW-skay EE). The title was to go to the son of his older brother - the 12th Lord, but the son died and Naosuke was chosen to take his place. This was a complete surprise to Naosuke who was 32 when he became heir to the Lordship. Until then he had spent his life as a scholar of Zen, tea ceremony, and he had founded a school of quick-draw swordsmanship. At 36 he became Lord. He quickly earned a reputation as a wise and generous Lord. Like Mitsunari hundreds of years earlier, he spoke diectly with the townspeople. He spent most of his time in Edo (away from Hikone where he took a very high position in the Tokugawa Government, and when Perry came 3 years later, Naosuke became the decision maker for the country.

I wanted to tell you al about that but internet availability suddenly presents itself while my story is in progress. I'll have to tell the rest next month.

Write me with questions.


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