Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Kōjō no Tsuki

This week I took Somerset Maugham to the top of Takeda castle.  A disembodied Maugham anyway, in the form of a biography that sat heavily in my backpack.  I'd gotten a very early start, but already my shirt was soaked, and my heart raced my feet for top pace. 

It was a bit of a ridiculous mission actually, to climb a low, squat mountain in the full heat of July.  Even more so was the fact that I'd be driving five hours return to climb something that took less than an hour.  But the lords, at least the work of the lords, had beckoned, and those called best come. 

I'd been wanting to climb Takeda castle for many years.  I'd come across its photo now and again, usually the unkai money shot, its stone figure rising from the mists of autumn.  In reading about it, I discovered it is considered one of the top 100 castles in Japan, a claim I find surprising.  To the best of my knowledge, only about 100 castles remain anyway, with eighteen considered authentic.  But of these, just twelve are truly authentic, as the other six have been restored to such an extent that they no longer composed of any of their original elements.  The whole notion of a castle ranking in the top 100 seems silly anyway, as in the feudal period itself, there were only about 200 to 250 castles at any given time.  It is on par with the contemporary notion of rewarding children participation awards, medals given for simply showing up.    

Bilingual signs counted down the 900 meters to a pay station at the top.  I'd anticipated this, and was curious if there was a way to skirt it. For the principle of course.  (There wasn't.  The high fence at the start of the trail ensures this.)  After forfeiting my 500 yen (300 last year), I asked when they had started to charge.  2013.  This made great sense.

The previous year, a film called Dearest (あなたへ)had been nominated for 10 Japanese Academy Awards, winning two.  The film was also a popular hit, many viewers so moved by the final scenes filmed atop the mountain that they began to flock to its eyrie.  The town began to impose visiting hours on the site, then ultimately began the admission charge. 

These funds went toward a restoration project that finished this past April (around which I carefully timed my visit.)  Perhaps they'd overspent, and now charged 200 yen more than in the past.  And as I arrived at the top, I saw how they'd spent their funds.

Roped pathways funneled the visitor in a labyrinthian spiral like for the queues at Disneyland.  Every inch of these paths were now carpeted in a cheap looking felt, probably to protect the shoes of the dear guests from mud and dust.  But just months old, the carpet was bunched up and torn, and will ultimately cause injury in those that it will inevitably trip. 

This was tourism at its worst, something Japan excels at marvelously.  Things are rarely left to their natural state, the conditions which began attracting visitors in the first place.  I see the results on my walks throughout the country, the detritus of Bubble-era left to decay at the high water mark of errant spending.  Perhaps in the future it is these ruins that will be considered the castles of that time, monuments to assumed power that in their inevitable end prove completely devoid of perspective.  

A tipping point is certain to be reached eventually, as people discover that the place doesn't look like it did in the photographs they saw on the social media pages of their friends.  At its heart, tourism is the consumption of a place, and little by little the world is looking a bit gnawed on.  The only thing left behind that appears palatable is the plastic food in the window; a delight for the eyes but completely devoid of substance.    

Back in the 'Nog, our castle ruins had been left alone, the structure having been destroyed at the dawn of the modern period in order to provide wood to heat baths and cooking fires.  (With the same lack of foresight and perspective.)   These untouched ruins had nothing special about them, but their simple beauty and atmosphere drew us back again and again, through the many seasons.  During the autumnal moon we'd perch and play music and make poems, to honor the ancients, and thankful for the conventional wisdom of letting things be. 

On the turntable:  Dif Juz, "Extractions"
On the nighttable: James L. Haley, "Wolf: The Lives of Jack London"

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