Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lola and the Cherry Blossom Kids versus the Hanami-Go-Round

This is what early spring looks like in Hamamatsu, during the days when the sakura peak and the sun comes out. The wind was a little chilly, but Saturday saw Hamamatsu Castle Park thronged with families and friends out to enjoy the brief cherry blossom season and some nice weather by partaking in one of my favorite Japanese traditions- the hanami.

First we had to find this:

So into the park we went, up a sloping avenue lined with cherry trees:

And there he was, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The third of the great unifiers of Japan, he put down all rivals and initiated the Edo Period, about 250 years where Ieyasu and his heirs ruled Japan as shoguns.

Hamamatsu was one of Ieyasu's early castle towns. I think he murdered his first wife here, too. I can't remember the story (just that it was a political thing), but you can visit her grave and find out why and how.

He's a towering figure in Japan due to his accomplishments and the way he shaped the culture, but he's not everyone's favorite. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned human beings, bought and sold them. Not that this makes murder okay, or that, conversely, murder makes slavery okay. Just something to keep in mind.

What kind of person was he? What must he have thought about the things he did?

Fortunately, I was probably the only person thinking along those lines while staring at the statue. But we were out for fun, so even I didn't dwell on troubling thoughts for long. Here are my friends Mike and Kana:

And here they are again:

And here's just Kana. Isn't she photogenic? With her lavender and purple pastel scarves and white coat she looks a little like a sakura herself:

Here's this guy again. I don't know how he got into our photographs. He has a very large head, like a lion's. Like Aslan's after the White Witch shaved off his mane:

Tokugawa Ieyasu lived here. Well, he lived in the original. This is a ferro-concrete reproduction. That means it's steel and concrete. At some point some genius thought it'd be a smart idea to tear down all the castles. Only a few originals remain. Then an even smarter person decided to build replicas:

Startling red among the pale sakura:

Some came to the castle park on an intense, highly personal search for natural beauty and transformative experience:

Others came simply to enjoy a nice day:

The castle said nothing:

Years ago, the hill on which the castle stands was the highest point in Hamamatsu. It's been bested by various apartment buildings, hotels and the massive Act City tower, seen just over Mike's head in the background:

I took this photo from a terraced rise on the west side, with the sun behind me. This is a popular photography spot and we had to wait a few minutes while others snapped their pics. The guy who was next in line behind me asked me if I'd taken a beautiful photo. He asked me in Japanese and I can't remember exactly how he phrased it, but I understood. I smiled, nodded and said, "Hai, hai!"

Nice guy!

The afternoon was marred by several disputes that turned into violent altercations:

But they were all quickly smoothed over in the congenial atmosphere of the crowded park. I call this photo "Japanese Gothic:"

This guy!

Here's the Hamamatsu War Memorial:

Like many Japanese cities, Hamamatsu was bombed completely flat. I've met a lot of people who were children during that time so I've heard a few vivid stories of WWII's final days and the days immediately after when people barely had food to eat. I can't imagine what it's like to be witness to war, especially as a small child. I've never known a hardship or day of suffering in my life.

Since it's a coastal city, the U.S. Navy also shelled Hamamatsu.

Today, it's a lovely city full of music and warm, friendly people. It's the largest city I've ever lived in, yet it's the most comfortable. A little boring at times, though. It doesn't offer the overwhelming pop culture overload and sense-stimuli Tokyo does, but then again that challenging megalopolis is close enough for a day trip.

Kana told us what these trees with their slender, drooping limbs raining white blossoms were called, but I've forgotten:

The gardens at Hamamatsu Castle are... as you can see... lovely this time of year:

Mike did sumo moves on the bridge, but my camera battery died right after I took this photo:


Todd Brown said...

My father in law had a brother that died in the bombing of Hamamatsu. So yeah obaasan wasn't too thrilled at the thought of her granddaughter marrying American. But she likes me now that she's met me. As far as I can tell at least!

I would be interested to see pictures of Hamamatsu during the war but I haven't found any. I can imagine Hamamatsu's many factories and airbase being a big target during the war.

Oh and I never thanked you for helping me find the hobby stores there!

Bill Field said...

Hey! I noticed your posts on John K.'s blog, for awhile- and I was wondering if you could give me hand in trying to understand Japan, and point me in certain directions. I would really appreciate it!- Bill Field