Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

Tales From The Trip - The Guy

Randomly I must whine how completely annoying it is that, thanks to a quirk in how historians deal with the Japanese habit of changing names, it is sometimes difficult to figure out exactly which "Uesugi Kagetora" is being refered to. I no longer find it quite so amusing that Kenshin decided to hand his old name to Hojo Saburo Ujihide. (Yes, I now have a reference that confirms that Saburo did have an Uji name.)

But despite my (probably inevitable) sidetrack into Sengoku history (in search of references in English to Oda Nobunaga -- there is a surprising lack of works dedicated to him, considering his importance in Japanese history), the follow tale involves someone we encountered on the trip to Japan who was from a far, far earlier time.

Though now that I think about it, that day did kind of start out in the Sengoku period, following Hideyoshi. We started at the Toyokuni Shine, where Hideyoshi is enshrined. (His remains, annoyingly, are located several blocks away, up a hill. We decided that our feet hurt enough that we could put off visiting his mausoleum until later.) One of the gates of the shrine is a piece of the former Fushimi-Momoyama Castle. Ever since I found this fact out I have been annoyed that we have breezed by this place on the bus dozens of times (the shrine being located behind the Kyoto National Museum, which is on one of the main bus routes out to Gion and eastern Kyoto.)

Next door to the Toyokuni Shine is a temple that houses a bell that has an inscription that was used by Tokugawa Ieyasu as a pretext for declaring war on the Toyotomi clan. I find it somewhat ironic that this bell sits next door to Hideyoshi's shrine. Convenient, though, since I did want to see this bell.

(I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Hideyoshi -- can you tell?)

From there we continued our theme of seeing parts of Fushimi-Momoyama Castle and proceeded on to Yougen-in, which is one of the "bloody ceiling" temples in Kyoto. (Again, located somewhere annoyingly easy to access -- accross the street from Sanjusan Gendou; yes, I'm somewhat annoyed it took me this long to get around to seeing it as well.)

A little explanation on the "bloody ceiling"... Just before the Battle of Sekigahara Fushimi-Momoyama Castle was besieged. The defenders, realizing that they could not hold out, all committed seppuku -- some 300-odd of them. The blood from their wounds seeped into the floorboards of the hallway where they did themselves in. The castle was not destroyed as part of the siege, but was dismantled years later. When it was dismantled the floorboards were taken and placed in the ceiling of several temples in the Kyoto area so that people could pray for the repose of the souls of those killed. The blood stains are remarkably clear, and it's possible to discern handprints, footprints, individual bodies and even faces. It's really fascintating. (Though maybe a little creepy...)

I have been to one other bloody ceiling temple previously. There is an explanation (in Japanese) about the ceiling, but visitors are allowed to wander and observe on their own. Not so in this temple. Here there is a guided tour (still in Japanese), and the tour guide points out significantly descriptive bloodstains. This was a bit unfortunate, given that my friend and I happened to have our mothers along. We hadn't explaned what the significance of this temple was since it seemed likely they would not find it quite as historically fascinating as my friend and I did. Of course, when people are all staring at the ceiling and going "ooh" that does tend to raise questions... My mother found it interesting; my friend's mother found it a bit gruesome. We didn't bother telling her when, later on in the trip, we visited another bloody ceiling temple.

From there we wandered on to Sennyu-ji. I've had a mental note to visit here for some time, though I can't currently remember why it first caught my attention. The temple grounds contain several Imperial mausoleums, and the main hall here is frequently used to lay out deceased emperors before their funeral. It also happens to have a sub-temple dedicated to Youkihi Kanon. (I still find it incredibly perplexing that a statue of a Chinese Emperess ended up in Japan. And yes, I am currently reading the Wadatsumi no Youkihi arc in MoB. Though not to sound too fannish, I had suggested putting the Tofukuji/Sennyu-ji complex on the itinerary long before I realized the MoB connection. Honest!)

On our way up to Sennyu-ji we encountered a small sub-temple, Sokujo-in. This turned out to be a delightful side trip, but in the end may have proved my undoing. [insert ominious music here]

At the gates of Sokujo-in I noticed a poster for this year's NHK period drama, Yoshitsune. Curious, I read more. It turns out that Sokujo-in happens to have the grave of Yasu no Yoichi.

Now, unless I have more Genpei scholars reading this than I think, my last statement was probably greeted with more cries of "huh?" than "cool!" So let me digress and tell the tale of Nasu no Yoichi.

The time is around 1180. The Taira, a powerful warrior clan that aspired to the aristocracy, had been driven from Kyoto and had retreated from their defeat at Ichi-no-tani at the hands of Minamoto no Yoshitsune to Yashima, on Shikoku. They thought themselves secure there, since the Taira's strenght was in their navy, and Yashima (as the name implies) was an island at the time. (The channel between it and the mainland of Shikoku has mostly been filled in by this point in time, and it is no longer really an island.) Yoshitsune, using a combination of boldness and cleverness fell apon the Taira forces from the rear. Surprised, the Taira took to their boats and sat out in the ocean facing the Minamoto forces. The two armies stared at each other for a time.

After a while one of the Taira's court ladies went up onto the deck of one of the ships and raised a fan on a pole. The challenge was clear: shoot it down -- if you can. The target was located on a boat pitching with the waves, some 250 meters distant from the shore. Many people on thought the shot was impossible.

A young bowman of the Minamoto side, Nasu no Yoichi, rode his horse out into the waves until the water came up to the underside of his horse. He murmered a prayer to Hachiman, the god of war, then loosed his arrow. With a single shot, he felled the fan. Applause rose from both sides of the conflict, for it was an incredible shot.

This one event was taken as an omen that the Taira would soon be defeated.

Earlier in the trip we had tried visiting Yashima, when we were down on Shikoku. Unfortunately everything there was closed down because of the rain, and so we were not able to see anything.

Yasu no Yoichi is really only known for this one deed, and is one of those "what ever happened to them" people. Well, it turns out what happened was that he ended up burried in Kyoto. Who would have thought?

My friend and I went into the temple office (since I have spread my habit of collecting goshuin), and met the wonderful gentleman who is a priest at this temple. It turns out that he is working on learning English, and he was delighted to have English speakers to practice with. He asked if we had a minute, and led us over to the alter area to tell us about the temple.

The main image at the temple is Amida, who is surrounded by 25 bodhisatva. The statues date from the late Heian period and are all designated as Important Cultural Treasures. Which is not what I was expecting to find in a small sub-temple either. People come to this temple to pray for (and I quote the priest) "an easy death, and the ability to eliminate without assistance."

That last part sounds really strange on the surface of it. But it makes a lot more sense if you think about the nature of Japanese toilets, which are essentially a porcelin trench in the floor. You have to squat down to do your business. Well, if one is getting older and can't squat (or stand up) easily then one really needs to brind someone else along to help when they go to the john. So, yeah. The ability to eliminate without assistence suddenly makes a whole lot of sense.

Since we hadn't spotted Nasu no Yoichi's grave earlier, we asked the nice priest about where we could find it. He led us out to the back of the temple where we put on some slippers and walked up a short path to the grave.

I would swear that I looked first. There are signs around sometimes asking not to take photos, and I looked around. In fact, I was the last person to take a picture. And then I spotted the sign. Oops. We appologized repeatedly to Nasu no Yoichi (hereafter refered to as The Guy), bowed, and went on our merry way.

For the rest of the day we seemed to come down with a horrible case of the stupids. Everywhere we went, we completely spaced seeing signs -- the name of a temple, the sign saying that the place where you get the goshuin for the Youkihi Kannon hall was waaaaay down a hill that we had already gone down, just little things.

We joked that The Guy was out to get us. Any time the rest of the trip something weird happened, we all joked that The Guy was still punishing us for those pictures.

And here I even liked The Guy.

Here ends my somewhat tedious tale. Hopefully it was at least a little educational -- to not take pictures of Nasu no Yoichi's grave (and say hi to the really nice priest at that temple), if for nothing else.
Tags: japan 2005 trip, japanese history, mob

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