Spring has come to Wakayama City a little bit earlier than usual. I made sure of that at Wakayama Castle today.
Spring is a dramatic season for many Japanese people. It is not only because a lot of flowers and blossoms come out all together after a cold and colorless season but also because school years end in March and next school years start in April. So, for example, parents and their kids take photos side by side under cherry blossoms after entrance ceremonies for schools and they treasure them in memory of their family development.
Cherry blossoms are special among us. Not a few people get excited on seeing the blossoms reach full bloom for the first time for the season and they can't help rushing to beneath the trees to see them at close hand. Though we can usually enjoy the beautiful view for about two weeks, they are at their very best only for a few days. Many of us don't want to miss a once-in-a-season chance.
A breed named Somei-yoshino is by far the most popular in Japan. You can see the trees here and there at parks, banks, temples, shrines and so on. They are not natural but they were intentionally planted. The breed was developed about two hundred years ago. Scientists say all the trees of Somei-yoshino are cloned copies of one tree and that's why they bloom all together at a time at a place.
It is thanks to constant maintenance that Cherry trees respond to our expectations. For sure, cherry blossoms are beautiful, but the fallen petals need to be cleaned up and their green leaves after the flowering period attract caterpillars which are sometimes harmful to humans and need to be got rid of.
However, nothing can take the place of the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Especially when numerous small light pink blossoms surround us, we feel we are lost in a fantastic world. This is a photo I took under cherry trees in Wakayama Castle. The lanterns light in the evening.
I remember a haiku poem composed by a great poet, Matsuo Basho. It says, "It is cherry blossoms that remind me various things in the past." The old poet recalled various memories of younger days while seeing cherry blossoms quietly. As for me, I'm often lost for words under cherry blossoms.
Wkayama City Museum has displays of Jomon pottery and Yayoi pottery.
Jomon and Yayoi are names not only for earthen ware but also for historical periods in Japan. The Jomon period was more than 10,000 years after the end of Ice Age until the beginning of full-scale agriculture of rice around the 4th century B.C. The Jomon period was the New Stone Age in Japan. And then the Yayoi period followed, and it ended around the 3rd century A.D., when people began to build big burial mounds. The two names "Jomon" and "Yayoi" were originally used to call the two different types of pottery and then they became names for the ancient times in Japan. "Jomon" means "impressed-rope pattern" and "Yayoi" was a name of a district where the characteristic clay pots were dug out.
After knowing the fact that the Jomon period lasted for as long as more than 100 centuries, I can't help having lots of simple questions. How did they live? What did they eat? How did they use these vessels? How did they communicate? How was their natural environment? Were they my ancestors? Were they happy? ... Jomon pottery may be telling me something about these questions.
Jomon people lived on gathering and hunting and they used these pots as kitchenware for cooking and storing. For example, they gathered nuts and other edible plants, they stored them until they cooked them with animal protein like fish, shellfish from the sea or meat of small animals from the woods.
Meal cooked in these vessels must be the prototype of hot pot dish we eat today and their beautiful symmetrical shape is not so much different from that of vases we use today. Jomon people, who lived in a warmer climate than before, seem to me to have spent a peaceful life and have been satisfied with their life with nature.
Fun of Designing
Jomon people used thin ropes to flatten the surface of their earthen ware. And, what is more, they added ornamental design like this. They must have a sense of fun. They might have contests for earthen ware design, and they might have enjoyed the latest mode that came down from a long distance through their network.
I went to Wakayama City Museum today.
The history museum is one of my favorite places in the city, because I can see a lot of interesting exhibits and what is more, the admission fee is reasonable (¥100). It is located near Wakayama-shi Station (Nankai Line) and about ten-minute walk takes you to the place.
The museum is famous for its display of an iron horse armor designated as a national important cultural asset. It was dug up at Otani Tumulus (Kofun) in the city, where a local clan around the 5th or 6th century was thought to be buried.
As similar horse armors were also found in Korea, the rusty protector shows a close relationship between Wakayama and the Korean Peninsula in the ancient times.
It is said horses originally did not live in Japanese Archipelago until they were introduced from the Korean Peninsula. The people from the islands must have been very much surprised to see a man riding on a big animal they had never seen before.
People from the islands also must have been shocked to see iron protectors for horses. Iron was a precious high-tech material for the primitive islanders who had not experienced Bronze Age. Since then, Japanese people have been learning a lot of new things from outside.
Who was the owner of this horse armor? Did he use it in an actual fighting? Didn't he have to pass it to his successor? Historians say it may have a relationship with a Korean stone monument saying that a king defeated intruders from Japanese islands in the 5th century.
In the museum of Wakayama Castle, you can see several family crests on clothing and various other things which were possessed by high-ranking samurai families during the Edo period in Wakayama.
Family crests in Japan are called "Kamon," and it is estimated there are more than 6,000 different Kamon designs. They are a kind of logotypes which are not individuals but for family lines and each family line has inherited its own design through generations. It is said that aristocrats in the Heian period (794-1185) began to use Kamon for their belongings and then samurai warriors also began to use Kamon as symbols on flags, clothing and others around the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
Modern Japanese people don't care about their family crests, but many of their gravestones have their Kamon even today.
Three-leaf hollyhock, the crest of Tokugawa Family, is one of the most well-known famliy crests. It is a symbol of the shogunate family with absolute power during the Edo period and many people in the past knelt down on their knees before the Kamon.
This type of hat is called "Jin-gasa" meaning "camp hat" and warriors wore it during battles. This has a family crest for Ando Family from which one of chief retainers were from. The Chinese character in the crest is first letter of their family name.
This is a kind of commanding stick for fire fighters during the Edo period. It has a family crest of Miura Family, one of chief retainer families of Wakayama Castle. The three lines stand for the first letter of the family name. It must have been used by the family member.
The castle tower of Wakayama Castle has a museum inside it. You can see exhibits related to the castle where lords from one of three privileged branches of the Tokugawa family dwelled.
The displays are iron spears, armors, outfits for battle fields and so on, which lords and their high-ranking vassals possessed a few hundred years ago in Wakayama. Though they are not designated as cultural important assets, they vividly tells us the characters and the atmosphere of the ruling class who monopolized military power.
This design of this warrior's helmet, especially the face guard. reminds me a character called "Darth Vader" in a movie titled "Star Wars." It must have been difficult to fight with a long iron sword wearing the heavy protector.
What does the white mustache mean? Making a difference in appearance must be critically important for warriors fighting in confused battle fields. A young warrior with a long white mustache is impressive, isn't he?
This design might have been regarded as a traditional one even in Edo period. It has ornamental bent plates on the both sides. I feel it is a frequent feature of ones made in Medieval period like Heian period around the 11th century.
Today, I went to Wakayama Castle to practice taking photos with my new camera and new telephoto lens. Luckily or unexpectedly, I was able to shoot wild ducks that come to Japan from a northern area over the sea every winter.
The species are called "Kamo" in Japanese and they are seen at the water edge throughout Japan in winter. They come mainly from eastern Siberia in Russia and stay in Japan between November and March.
Though I see many of them in the nearby river, Kino-kawa, I didn't expect see them in a small artificial pond, Momiji-dani Garden in Wakayama Castle.
What Lords Saw
A wild duck was moving on the surface of moat water like this. This scene must be the same one lords of the castle saw in the Edo period (1603-1868). The birds must have not noticed that the time has changed a lot.
It also seems that wild ducks do not notice that the water edge is artificial. The garden with a pond must be perfectly a part of nature. The artisan who built the garden about 300 years ago would be happy to see the present situation.
Japanese has several idioms in which "Kamo" is used. For example, "Here comes a wild duck with leeks on its back" means that favorable things come one after another, as leeks are good when served with wild duck meat in cooking.
Today, it is much warmer than the day before yesterday.
I have just been to a nearby park to take photos of the first blossoms of ume, or Japanese apricot. I saw a lot of tiny blossoms announcing arrival of spring as I hoped there. Many families with small kids were enjoying the first warm sunshine in a long time in their own way.
Today's weather forecast says it is going to be cold again next week.
Though we have to wait for full-fledged spring for a little while longer, the ume blossoms assure that spring is coming to Wakayama soon.
It is said that blossoms of ume, or Japanese apricot, were the most popular among Japanese people for many years until cherry blossoms became more popular around the 9th century.
Though ume blossoms are not as gorgeous as cherry blossoms, they are still popular among Japanese people especially because they have graceful scent and they come out the earliest in spring.
Red and White
Ume blossoms are either white or red. A pair of red-blossomed ume tree and white-blossomed ume tree is sometimes seen together in private houses because the paired colors stand for good luck.