Monday, February 15, 2010

12/02/09: Day 13 in Japan, Part I - Koshigoé

I started the day by retracing the route from few days ago, except that my destination was not Enoshima but the town next door, Koshigoé. That fact did not prevent me from taking a glance of Enoshima, however.

The road along Shonan Beach is picturesque, reminds me of a driving course one might see in video games.

The stretch between Enoshima and Koshigoé is where the Enoden runs steet-level, amidst cars.

In Koshigoé, I visited Mampukuji, a temple where tragic hero Yoshitsuné of Minamoto Clan held fort while trying to reconcile with his older brother and Shogun, Yoritomo.

Memorial for Yoshitsuné. Highly talented strategist, Yoshitsuné had a tense relationship with his older brother Yoritomo. It has been said that rather than different bloodlines, Yoshitsune's seemingly aloofness towards politics led to this friction.

This is "Benkei's Juggling Stone." Benkei was a fiercely royal follower of Yoshitsuné, legendary for his last stand. More on that later.

On his way to Kamakura to deliver captured enemy general, Munemori of Taira Clan, Yoshitsuné and his charges were ordered to wait at Koshigoé, essentially forbidden from entering the capital. During his stay at Mampukuji, Yoshitsuné wrote "Koshigoé-jo," an emotionally charged letter to Yoritomo that was meant to reconcile their differences.

This picture on the shoji sliding door shows Yoshitsuné waiting longingly at the temple, hoping that the letter will thaw the relationship. However, Yoritomo saw the emotional appeal as further sign that Yoshitsuné didn't understand that the new government needed reason and logic to rule, further widening the gap between the two.

Eventually, Yoshitsuné was seen as expendable figure in the new government, and his persecution was seen as a necessary step to unite the Kamakura Shogunate. Along the way, he bid tearful farewell to his wife Shizuka.

Eventually, Yoshitsuné escaped to northern prefecture of Iwaté, but his allies eventually turned on him. Badly outnumbered with nowhere left to go, Yoshitsuné decided to do the honorable thing. As his last duty, his loyal follower Benkei gave his life holding off the enemy while Yoshitsuné took his own life. The legend has it that Benkei died on his feet, determined not to let his master down.

Inside the temple was the armor. Was not sure if it was the actual armor of Yoshitsuné, but the crest on the chest is of the Minamoto Clan.

Last fascinating item were decorations on the shoji sliding doors. These designs were carved out in wood and laquered in a traditional method called "Kamakura-bori" (literally, "Kamakura carvings.")

Visiting shops in Kamakura, one can find many examples of Kamakura-bori souvenirs including chopsticks, rice bowls, plates, trays, sandals, hand mirrors, and saké servers, among others.

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