Journey to Japan of the old    


Not even a year has past since my first visit to Japan, and here I am back in the country that fascinates me so. This time my journey would take me back into the history of Japan.

My longing to see Japan of the old begun in the 1980´s with a TV-show called “Shogun”. Now I would see the reality which the TV-show was based upon.
September 2nd, I arrived at Osaka. During my stay here I visited Sumiyoshi Taisha, a Shinto temple established in the 3rd century and constructed in an old Japanese style. Next I went to Osaka castle, a castle from the 16th century. Today it serves as a museum displaying the life of the founder of the castle, Toytomi Hideyoshi. Down at the harbor you will find the Osaka Aquarium, one of the biggest aquariums in the world. Here you will find sea life from all over the world, from penguins to deep sea crabs.

Three days later I arrive at Nara by train and check in at my hotel located nearby the Todaiji temple. Nara is established in the year of 710 and is the oldest of the Japanese capitals. You can see a lot of deer wandering in the parks and among the temples. I spend one day at the Todaji temple and the Kasuga Taisha temple. The Todaji temple, the worlds biggest wooden building, was constructed in the year of 752 and is home to japans largest Buddha figure. Kasuga Taisha temple was constructed in the 8th century by one of japans most powerful clans, Fujiwara. Behind this temple is a more than 1000 years old forest. Because it belonged to the Kasuga Taisha temple cutting down trees has been forbidden since 841.
September 9th, I leave Osaka for Iga-Ueno, home to some of the ninja clans. Interesting thing to see here is the Ueno castle, the ninja museum with working traps and secret passages. Iga-Ueno was also home of on of japans most famous haiku poets, Matsuo Basho. Trains running to and from Iga-Ueno are painted as ninjas.

Traveling approx. 1 hour by train from Iga-Ueno, in a nearby valley, is the home of the Koga ninja. Here, as well as in Iga-Ueno, you can see a castle and ninja houses. The castle is located close to a mountain area used by the Koga ninja as their practice ground.
I took a hiking tour in this mountain area and found temples surrounded by beautiful nature.
Five days later I pack my stuff and travel to Tokyo. Following day I relax and do some sight seeing in the Tokyo parks, waiting for my daytrip to Kamakura located one hour south of Tokyo. In 1192 the first shogun of Japan, Minamoto Yoritomo, settled down in Kamakura.

September 16th, I went by train to the Hachimangu temple in Kamakura. The Hachimangu temple is a Shinto shrine established in 1063. Once a year, yabusame is displayed at the shrine. In yabusame an archer, on horseback, is trying to hit targets while the horse is running. It was really fantastic to see these great archers close by.

Back in Tokyo I spend three relaxing days visiting parks, the Tokugawa mausoleum and Harajuku famous for the special youth fashion. Nearby Harajuku the Toyota F1 car was on display. People were invited to get into the car, so I had to sit the car also.


September 20th, time for some sumo at Kokugikan, the sumo stadium in Tokyo. The modern sumo, with professional wrestlers, goes back to 17th century. The origins of sumo are traceable 1500 years back and were performed as a ritual at the temples to ask the goods for good harvest.
Sumo at Kokugikan starts in the morning with the new wrestlers entering the sumo ring. During the day, the more experienced wrestlers enter the ring. At four a clock the elite finally enter the ring.
Lunch, consisting of traditional sumo food called chankonabe, was served at the nearby sumo training facility. The lunch was very popular with the sumo spectators, as I arrived for lunch at 11.30 a lot of people was already there waiting for the restaurant to open.

I had to wait for one hour to be served. I had to eat the hot chankonabe fast because there were a lot of people still waiting to get in to the restaurant. At six a clock the final match finished and I returned back to my hotel.

Following three days I used for visiting parks and temples. At one of the temples I witnessed a traditional Japanese wedding including music played on traditional instruments. During another walk in a park I experienced modern Japan sharing space with old Japan. Next to Kashikawa Korakuen Gardens, established by Tokugawa family in 1629, is Tokyo Dome, an indoor baseball arena. Tokyo Dome is situated in an area with shops, restaurants, amusement parks entertaining the visiting baseball fans.
Later on I went for dinner, chankonabe, at a restaurant owned by Wakanohana. Wakanohana is a retired Yokozuna in sumo. (Yokozuna is a champion ranking in sumo.)

September 24th, I temporarily left Tokyo for some recreation at Ito, located on the coast south of Tokyo. Ito is also known to be the place where William Adams constructed the first ship, in European style, for Tokugawa. William Adams is maybe more known as Anjin-san from James Clavell book Shogun. During three very relaxing days I did some sight seeing by foot and by boat. Back from the sight seeing tours in the hot spring baths of Ito. I can also visit a house including a hot bath and teahouse in Ito. At the hotel I was served a lot of Japanese food for breakfast and dinner, so I did not have to have lunch during my stay in Ito.

September 27th, I returned to Tokyo. After checking in at my hotel I went to Kodokan Judo Honbu Dojo to spend the afternoon and evening watching judo practice. Next day I visited Anjin-dori, the location where the house of Anjin-san or William Adams once stood. A memorial stone can be found at the spot where the house used to be.
My final day in Tokyo I did some shopping and packing for my trip back home.

A month in Japan passes by very fast. September 30th, was to be my last day in Japan. This journey gave some insight to the Japanese history and I want to return to Japan, to continue my exploration of the Japanese history and nature.

by Esko Karjalainen