Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Mitsuhide's Wild Ride

Shōryūji Castle stands near the confluence of three rivers, which run through a narrow gap in low mountains between Kyoto and Osaka.  For two centuries this castle guarded this gap, but it could do nothing to withstand the encroach of suburbia.  Little surprise, as it fell in the Battle of Yamazaki in less than two hours.  Its defender, Akechi Mitsuhide could do little to hold
back the forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who sought Mitsuhide's's head for the murder of Oda Nobunaga less than two weeks before.  In panic, the thirteen-day shogun ran.

As I stand atop the rebuilt ramparts I too think about attackers, though in 2020 this means coronavirus.  I'd wanted to follow Mitsuhide's path when I first read an article about it back in the winter, but then, like most people, I sought refuge rather than flight.  By October the situation in Japan seemed to be calming a little (or the lack of transparency deluded us into believing so), and it felt I could brave the short train ride to do the walk.  

I have a quick look at the exhibit inside the rebuilt castle keep, which in a PC-style sleight of hand veers away from Mitsuhide's historic betrayal and focuses more on his Hosokawa family relatives, whose tutelary temple now houses the world-famous rock garden of Ryozan-ji.  Yet the Hosogawa too aren't above criticism since it was their family feud that started the Onin Wars, abetting in the complete destruction of Kyoto and 150 years of civil war that followed.  Those wars were coming to an end in 1582 when Mitsuhide did his runner.  I'd forgotten though that his wife was a Hosokawa daughter, Gracia, Japan's most beloved Christian convert.  Many times I'd noticed her grave in Kōtō-in, but what I never realized was that her "assisted suicide" on the eve of the Battle of Sekigahara had turned the tide of sentiment in favor of Tokugawa Ieyasu and had perhaps contributed to his clan becoming the Shogunate.     

I am not thinking of any of this as I walk toward Shōryū-ji temple, along a tarmac colored differently than the others that cut through this otherwise nondescript suburb.  And located in suburb, the temple itself is equally non-distinct, but for a worn statue of indiscriminate age.  It is a short walk from here to the the 1600 year-old Igenoyama burial mound, its unknown occupant no doubt a powerful ruler during a time when Japan was just beginning to settle into a sedentary society. 

And suburbs are the ultimate sedentary legacy.  The mound too has been hemmed in, so I descend to follow the rivers northeast.  I am not sure the exact path Mitsuhide took, but I am sure he was spared the bland chain stores bisected by Sunday traffic, spared the towering concrete migratory path of the Shinkansen, spared the factories whose commonality was concrete, sheet metal, and bizarre smells.  We may have shared the view of weekend farmers busy with a late rice harvest.  One massive field has been sheared at the edges, with the middle left to resemble a bright green mohawk.  

Fushimi brings a bit of traditional respite.  I've both visited and guided here many times, and inevitably seem to come across something new.  My path today is deliberate, in order to visit Yamorido, a new craft beer brewery I'd heard about.  I sit safely at a table that is as much outdoors as in, taking a long break over lunch and a flight of beer.  Tokyo has just been added to the infamous Go To Travel campaign, and the street outside feels somewhat busy.  I haven't been out in public at all over the last eight months, and it reminds me of the old days of domestic tourism, with nary a language besides Japanese heard anywhere.

Following the narrow lanes out of town, I am nearly run down by a guy who has obviously not been looking out the windshield of his car, his eyes probably pointed down at his phone.  I give him a burst of Japanese of my own, all blunt verb endings mixed with some colorful English thrown in for good measure. 

I crest the hill that bisects the tombs of the Meiji Emperor and Russo-Japanese hero Nogi Maresuke, then descend into suburb again.  It is dull going for the next hour until arriving at Honkyo-ji.  The temple is of a modern construction, the oldest thing about it being the memorial stone to Mitsuhide beside the main hall.  The famed bamboo thicket behind has been severely shorn, cut back at least a hundred meters from the hall.  A broad earthen avenue remains, for the convenience of the machinery to harvest more in the future.  I see a handful of blue flags waving above a sparse patch of thicket down the hill.  This is Mitsuhide Yabu, the site were Akechi was speared to death, allegedly by bandits in Hideyoshi's employ.  It is truly hard to find much romance of the old here, with the dearth of forest and suburbs ringing all.  There are no bandits today either, but one old farmer working nearby directs me down a narrow path that drops me into the midst of the housing below.   

I walk more north than east now, angling toward a gap in the mountains to my right.  I remember that Daigo-ji's impressive Kami-Daigo temple hall is up there somewhere, and I feel happy that I'd visited before the 2008 fire that damaged a number of its structures.  For the next hour I move through a comparatively bland landscape of suburban sameness.  

My own fire of enthusiasm is beginning to die down.  I'd planned to walk all the way to Mitsuhide's Sakamoto Castle, the intended destination of his flight, but I'm fast losing interest.  I'm meant to veer east again soon, but I have an escape route in Yamashina station not far ahead.  On long walks such as these, I never look at how many kilometers I've done until I finish.  Otherwise, to realize you've done more than expected leads to a psychological fatigue.  But today I check the mileage, and am surprised that I've done 23 km already.  With 12 more to go.  I'd estimated the total walk at 27 kilometers, which I am prepared to do, but I'm not at all prepared to do 35.  Minutes later I'm sitting out front of the station, iced coffee in hand, killing time until the train.


It is at that same station that I detrain a week later, the chill in the air a far cry from the muggy heat that accompanied what's written above.  Cars pass too closely and too frequently as I walk the Tokaidō awhile.  Eventually I enter suburb again, accompanied by the feeling that I've seen all this before.  Beyond an expressway-shaded temple, a narrow trail leads me to Kozeki-koe, which I know I passed when doing a parallel journey in reverse 7 years ago.  And rereading that particular post I find the same sentiment I feel today: the highs of the quiet shaded neighborhood around Mii-dera; the annoyance at being denied views of Lake Biwa by the military base, the chain stores, and the towering apartment blocks that colonize the shoreline.  

Isn't until I'm Karasaki that I can truly enjoy the waterfront, beneath the trees that shade narrow patches of park. I get a surprise in the signs warning of vipers.  A trio of men fish from beneath an unusual torii with pitched cross-beams, and families enjoy the fading of light beside the gently lapping waters.  

Akechi is here too, standing bronzed and proud, looking in the direction where he lost his life.  This was all part of his castle, and I spend the next half-hour playing connect the dots with the historical markers that denote it perimeters.  Under the final fading light of the day, I find his grave (or perhaps one of many, as the bodies of warlords tend to be spread around a bit).  It is a nondescript site, just a small grassy mound tucked between houses, a resting place cramped for a man of vision vast.

On the turntable: Jacques Brel, "L'intégrale-- La boite à bonbons : 25ème anniversaire"     


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