Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trip to Rediscover History

I was elated with my recent Fushimi/Kyoto trip which indulged my appetite as a history buff. It was for the reunion of an expatriate group I joined while assigned in and around the vicinities of San Diego/Tijuana, Southern California. The group consists of businessmen, lawyers, bankers, scientists, engineers including a few spouses. They are mostly retired. The reunion was a success, getting the highest attendance ever recorded. We took a sightseeing boat cruise on a flat boat with a roof, used and flourished during the Edo period. The boat cruised along the vintage Sake Brewers and cellars. We had a luncheon in the brewery turned Izakaya style restaurant. Then we visited the famous Teradaya Riverside Inn, where sword fighting and bloodshed occurred frequently before the Meiji Restoration.

Historical remnants were visible everywhere we went. You could see the influence of Taiko Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Shogunate on city urbanization and their promotion of industry and trade. The areas were designated to groups by trade and businesses competed in producing quality goods. Both Hideyoshi and Iyeyasu encouraged river navigation to transport farm produce and constructed the necessary embankment to protect them from the flooding rivers. The area included Biwa Lake down to Kyoto and Osaka, and there used to be a lake in Fuhsimi called Ogura (about an 800 hectare lake now totally gone). No wonder there is still a railroad station called "Chushojima", the island of "Chusho" (name of the ancient government post) where our reunion took place.

It is said that the lake had over 20 small islands in all and Fushimi had a port. I can't believe that there were at one time about 1500 boats (700 Kasho bune, 500 Yodo bune, 200 Fushimi bune, and 100 Takasebune) criss-crossing the connecting rivers, Yodo, Uji, and canals loaded with bales of rice and passengers. Our boat modeled after 30 "Koku" Bune (see Note below) accommodated our 30 member party comfortably. Apparently, Fushimi prospered as a port town, Sake town, and castle town, under Taiko Hideyoshi who built Fushimi Momoyama Castle. Even after defeating Hideyoshi's son and winning a fateful war, Iyesasu Tokugawa used the castle until his reign was cemented, then retreated to his home Sunpu castle in 1623 and the original Fuhsimi Momoyama castle was demolished.

While group trekking in Fushimi, we came upon another historical remnant, a statue of Ryoi Suminokura (1554-1614) who helped develop the Takase River, a man-made canal running along the Kamo River of Kyoto. Ogai Mori (1862-1922), a physician/writer, wrote a short novel Takasebune, a milestone book which became a school text book. It is about a criminal exiled on an island on a night sailing Takasebune.

I Googled Ryoi and found he was quite a man. Ryoi made 18 voyages to Vietnam (e.g. Cochinchina) on the Taiko licensed trade vessels. After foreign trade was banned, he busied himself in promoting river navigation, Takasegawa was one and Hozu River was another, working for Kyoto, entrusted by Iyesasu Tokugawa. Hozu is famous for the rapids and Ryoi contrived to widen narrow gorges, pouring in his own money. I have sailed along the Hozu one summer, so I can appreciate what he did. What impressed me was the extent of his contribution, from eastern to western Japan, probably in an advisory position. I suspect his expertise came from the Mekong or Red River Delta, where life there revolves much around the rivers and canals.

A "Koku" is a unit of volume. One "koku" is about 280 liters.
A koku of rice is enough to feed one person for one year.
It weighs about 150 kilograms or 330 pounds.

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