Godaido was built by Jikaku Daishi in 807 to enshrine the five deities of wisdom, said to be carved by his own hand. The current shrine, reached from the shore by arching red bridges, was built in 1604 by Date Masamune to celebrate his victory at Sekigahara, which brought the civil wars to an end and laid the foundation for the Tokugawa shogunate.
Godaido is the oldest example of Momoyama period architecture in northeastern Japan.
Zuiganji Temple, a national treasure, was first established in 828 by legendary priest Jikaku Daishi. Caves for the depositing of funerary ashes were added during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). The temple took its current form in 1609, when it was restored as a family temple by Date Masamune, the “One-Eyed Dragon of Ōshu” and founder of nearby Sendai.
The approach to the temple is lined with the pine trees for which Matsushima is named. The gate to the left is the Onari Genkan — the Emperor’s Gate. Visitors instead pass across the front of the temple and enter via the Kuri, the distinctive temple kitchen to the right.
The temple is filled with many elaborate murals on gilt sliding screens, including the famous Peacock panel painted by family retainer Sakuma Shuri. (Photography is forbidden in the interior of the temple.)
The temple grounds also include the Seiryuden museum, which houses national and prefectural cultural properties such as the armor of Date Masamune and a large Wakizashi sword commissioned by his son.
Dougashima’s rocky coastline was formed over the millennia by a combination of volcanic action and wind and water erosion, resulting in a scenic juxtaposition of stratified cliffs and islands with forbiddingly vertical faces. Among the attractions are the Sanshiro islands (sharing their name with a famous novel by Japanese master Soseki) and the Skylight Cave, found within walking distance of each other amidst the resort spas in this sleepy village near Nishiizu.
Nana and I decided to take advantage of a work holiday to visit and celebrate an anniversary of sorts, and at the same time to burn up some credit from a hotel booking site I’ll never use again. (The hotel was great; the booking site service less so.) My recent acquisition of a Japanese driving license has opened up new vacation options for us: we decide to rent a car and spend a couple of days puttering around Izu and see a variety of sights that would be too difficult to manage by public transportation.
En route to the hotel we chanced up Koibito Misaki, the Lovers Cape. Tradition has it that those who ring the bell three times will summon love. The cape also boasts a view of Mt. Fuji across the Suruga Bay, but skies were not favorable during our visit.
The choice of hotel turned out to be inspired: our room had a direct view of the Sanshiro islands, which are [L-R] Zojima (Elephant Island), Nakanoshima (Center Island) and Takashima (Tall Island). The hotel staff proudly boasted of the view and quickly informed us of the tombolo land bridge to the islands that emerges at low tide. The hotel keeps a schedule of low tide times and height of the exposed tombolo on a flyer in the elevator.
Nana and I quickly resolved to take the boat tour of the coastline and to cross the tombolo when it emerged from the waves. Unfortunately, we’d have to wait for the following afternoon for the tombolo. And when we checked on the boat, it was the same story: at the moment the tide was too high, but it would be a different story if we came back on the morrow.
Undaunted, we returned to the hotel for a rest, a private bath (also featuring a view of the Sanshiro islands, but inferior to the view from our room) and a delicious kaiseki dinner in a quiet booth.
After a good night’s sleep and a traditional breakfast of broiled fish, rice and miso soup, we set out again for the boat landing. Yes, the boats were running and the skies were clearing at the same time. We quickly paid our fare and secured a couple of seats on the small boat that was already filling up with a busload of tourists.
The boat eased away from the mooring and took us at a sedate pace around the rocky cliffs and islands while a recording told us of the geological formations we were viewing. We got a view of the Sanshiro islands from the opposite side, with our hotel in the background. And then for the finale the boat took us inside one of the many caves in the side of the cliff rising next to the hotels, where we passed under the opening which gives this feature its name: Tensodo, or Skylight Cave.
Following the boat ride, we spent the rest of the morning on sights in the central ridge of the Izu peninsula. But we kept our eye on the time and returned in the early afternoon to cross the tombolo to the Sanshiro islands. Or so we thought — we hadn’t counted on the tombolo being composed entirely of grapefruit-sized stones, loosely tossed together by the waves, and many covered with slippery moss and seaweed. It was very treacherous footing, and we gave up after venturing only partway across the bridge.
Others had come better prepared for the outing, in sneakers, hiking shoes and even waders. We saw several people turning over stones and gathering things with buckets, and stopped to ask one woman what she was collecting. “Kai,” she replied, giving a generic term for shellfish. She said that she uses them in miso soup.
I’m sure we’ll be back to Dougashima in the future. Perhaps next time we’ll follow the coast around the peninsula rather than driving over (and around and around) the mountains that form its backbone.
Aizu Wakamatsu Castle was originally constructed in 1384 by Ashina Naomori and called Kurokawa Castle. It remained in the Ashina family until the late 16th Century, when it was first seized by Date Masamune and then surrendered to Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
The castle remained a stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate in the Tohoku region until the Battle of Aizu during the Boshin war in 1868. During the month-long siege, the castle was damaged beyond repair and was razed.
The current castle tenshu is a replica of the castle as it was in 1868, a concrete structure built in 1965. It houses a museum with many artifacts and documents related to the Boshin war.
The restored Rinkaku tea room on the castle grounds is an Important Cultural Property.
Aizu Bukeyashiki is a reconstruction of the 38 rooms of the residence of Tanomo Saigo, the last Edo-period samurai of Aizu. Included at the site are the bailiff’s office, an Important Cultural Asset, and the Reinan an Rinkaku tea house that originally stood on the grounds of Tsurugajo castle.
Among the scenes depicted is the collective suicide of the women of the household during the attack of the imperial forces during the Boshin war, in order that they would not be a burden to their fighting husbands, fathers and relatives.
Iimoriyama is a cemetery and memorial for the Byakkotai soldiers who committed ritual suicide at this spot overlooking Aizu during the Boshin civil war. These 20 soldiers, all 16-17 years old and sons of samurai, had regrouped at Iimoriyama after becoming separated from the main body of their troop. Seeing flames and columns of smoke engulfing Aizu during the siege of Tsurugajo castle, the boys believed that the castle itself had been torched and that all was lost. (In fact, the castle held out another month before Matsudaira Katamori surrendered to the imperial forces.)
While the imperial government initially ordered that the bodies of the young men remain exposed where they fell, locals secretly retrieved and buried their remains. Later, the government relented, and the remains were reinterred where they had fallen. In later years, the young warriors came to be upheld as an example of Japanese spirit for their sacrifice for their lord’s honor.
While the hilltop memorial is now a peaceful place for contemplation, some will take away a different impression than others from visiting the site. This is exemplified by the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” present to one side of the cemetery, just a few paces from the Roman column surmounted by a statue of an eagle. This latter is a gift from Benito Mussolini, who found the tale of the Byakkotai’s sacrifice to be an inspiration for fascism. It is also uncertain what message is intended by the manga-fied representation of children as soldiers (as seen at the Iimoriyama website) and the vendors at the site hawking toy katana, apart from one of sanitizing this message of “Japanese spirit” for a new generation.
The Natsume Soseki Memorial Museum, located in Waseda-Minamicho, Shinjuku, houses a replica of the famous author’s study from his “Soseki Sanbo” residence, the ground of which it sits upon. (The residence was destroyed during World War II.) The museum also holds an exhibit hall, café, event hall and a library dedicated to Soseki’s works. In addition to the complete works and related materials, the library contains many foreign-language editions, such as a Spanish translation of Botchan and a Korean edition of the complete works.
Natsume Soseki (1867–1916) is regarded as the father of the modern Japanese novel, and is considered by many to be the greatest novelist of modern Japan. He was known for his humorous satire of public officials in the Meiji Era, and one of his recurring themes was ridiculing Japanese attempts to imitate Western society. Among his most famous works are I am a cat「吾輩は猫である」, Botchan「坊っちゃん」, and the trilogy Sanshirō「三四郎」, And Then「それから」 and The Gate「門」.
We were fortunate to visit during an exhibit of the author’s draft writings, newspaper clippings of the original serialization of many of his novels, and elaborate scrolls of Soseki’s haiku. The exhibit also contained many early editions of Soseki’s novels, with elaborately decorated covers, correspondence with publishers, a period photograph of Dogo Onsen, the setting for Botchan, and movie posters and stills from various productions of Botchan.
Ueda Castle, in Nagano, was originally built in 1583 during the Sengoku (“Warring States”) period by Sanada Masayuki, a minor warlord. The castle, consisting of seven yagura about a central keep but lacking a donjon, helped the Sanada clan retain independence via rapidly changing alliances among its stronger neighbors. The castle withstood sieges from the vastly superior forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1585 and by Tokugawa Hidetada (third son of Ieyasu and the second shogun) in 1600 in a side battle to the Battle of Sekigahara.
Following Sekigahara, Sanada Masayuki submitted to Tokugawa Ieyasu and the castle was dismantled. Possession was transferred to the Sengoku clan, which rebuilt part of the castle, and then to the Matsudaira clan in 1706. Finally, at the end of the Meiji restoration, the castle was again dismantled, leaving only the ramparts and one yagura.
Reconstruction began in 1949, with the restoration of two yagura. The gate was completed in the 1990s. The castle is considered one of the finest 100 castles in Japan, and is home to a historical museum (with a virtual reality presentation of the castle as it once stood) and the Sanada Shrine, which honors the Sanada, Matsudaira and Sengoku clans. Visitors to the castle surged in 2016 due to the airing of Sanada Maru「真田丸」, a season of NHK’s popular Taiga drama, which recounted the role of Sanada Nobushige in the 1615 Siege of Osaka.
Sarushima (Monkey Island), billed alternately as an uninhabited island, a “Natural Wonder Island” and “Adventure Island,” sits in Tokyo Bay just off the shore from Yokosuka in Kanagawa. It is home to fortifications from the Tokugawa and Meiji eras and is designated a National Historic Site. In addition to the fortifications, the island is also a popular destination for fishing and — during July and August — for beachgoers. It is uninhabited in that no one lives there, but there are restrooms, a gift shop featuring craft beer, and a rental shop for such things as beach umbrellas and barbecue grills.
Access to Sarushima is via a 10-minute ferry ride from Mikasa Park, itself a 15-minute walk from Yokosukachuo Station on the Keikyu Main Line. (Alternatively, you can book a tour bus, as we did, and avoid the walk.) You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the Mikasa, the 15,380-ton flagship of Admiral Togo during the Russo-Japanese War.
The ferry runs once every hour from March through early November. You can find the schedule and fares here. It pays to arrive early as seats are limited on the ferry, and you could find yourself standing on the upper deck, exposed to the elements. As it happened, we hadn’t been waiting long before it started raining. As this also happened on our return trip, we dubbed the ship “Bringer of Rain.”
Following a very brief and smooth trip, for which standing should pose no challenge to anyone but the most lubberly of land-lubbers, we disembarked on the island at the site of the popular beach (empty on a cool, somewhat rainy April day). Stairs lead up to a board deck, and guides in English are available here from a small hut to one side of the stairs. From there it’s a gradual climb up a path that curves between tree-studded ridges to the first of the historic fortifications. The path is paved, with boardwalks in places, and for the most part shouldn’t present a challenge to either youngsters or seniors.
Divine guidance from a white monkey
According to tradition, the priest Nichiren Shonin was traveling from Kamakura to Boso in May 1253 when his ship was beset by a storm. The crew had no way of knowing what direction the ship was heading. Suddenly, a white monkey appeared out of the storm to stand at the bow of the ship and guide it to safety on the island. Thus the name “Monkey Island” was bestowed.
The fortifications consist of a series of tunnels, barracks, armament stores and gun emplacements. Nothing remains of the latter now except for circles in the concrete foundation with rusty bolts sticking up. Meanwhile, the stone walls — some of which date from the Tokugawa Era — have been embellished in more recent times by graffitists. (Presumably this occurred before the site was granted national historic status.)
One of the attractions of the island is Nichiren cave, an ancient dwelling site on the island’s northernmost point where archeologists have unearthed Jomon era artifacts. The cave is more of archeological than scenic interest, though, and is hardly worth the 30m climb down (and then back up) a winding steel staircase scarcely wide enough for two people traveling in opposite directions. On the other hand, a climb up to the lookout post at the highest point of the island rewards the visitor with vistas in several directions.
With our bus tour group, we were given 45 minutes to explore the island before queuing up for the return ferry, and it wasn’t quite enough. We covered most, but not all, of the island and then barely had time to pick up a few bottles of Sarushima beer from the gift shop before it was time to line up on the pier. Then, as “Bringer of Rain” lived up to its moniker, there was a rush for seats and quite a crush on the ferry back to the mainland. Soon we found ourselves back at the Yokosuka Port Market, where we discovered we could have purchased the Sarushima beer — as well as a few other local varieties.