Sunday, 3 August 2014

Last day in Japan - Eging Summit 2014


Well the folks from Gan Craft had again made the trip incredible, honestly I have been treated better than royalty once again. I can never thank them enough for the way they look after me when I go and visit. They left the most scenic place of all till last.

We had a kind of sleep in before making our way to a historical gem hidden in the hills near Like Biwa. The entire area is heritage listed and being a resident of the area meant you were required to adhere to some very strict regulations on keeping the buildings and area historically and culturally original. The city of Hikone locate in the prefecture of Shiga was known throughout history as an industrial and transportation hub. The channel system was used by merchants to take goods from this hub through a series of other canals though to  a port in Lake Biwa where goods were unloaded from small merchant vessels and loaded to larger vessels that would then take goods across Biwa to the rivers that accessed bigger cities or the sea.  

Kotaro had arranged a historical boat ride in one of these canals that had buildings that were an integral part of the trade and merchant system. There was a voice over going that explained the historical significant value to the area but it was all in Japanese. I was able to pick up enough to see the important part that this system and its buildings played in the history of the area and to the trade values Japan has been known for in more than 400 years of western communications. Looking around as we gently drifted down the canals it is hard to imagine that most of the buildings around us were older than colonized Australia. Taking in the history of the area was easy to do when it remained mostly unchanged for hundreds of years. The people who live in this town have a real love for the historical value that it has and embrace the preservation of its town as it always has been.

Everything around me made me feel like I was actually in the time of the Edo period and you could easily imagine the hustle and bustle of the merchant trading scene, the large buildings all had fast access to the canals for loading and trading while roads on the other side of the buildings made it a regional transport hub. Goods would be bought and sold  then transported through here and through out the region. The further we drifted down the stream the more spectacular the scenery got with trees enveloping the canal, bridges crossing that were rebuilt the same as the original, traditional tea and eating houses lined the busier community area that was also layed out the same as it was hundreds of years ago. Time was irrelevant while we were cruising on the water as life just passed by us an nothing else mattered, the scenery was simply captivating. I am not much of a touristy kind of person. However, for me this was not one of those gimmicky touristy attractions, this was a real indication of how things were without locking it up and making a tourist park out of it.

The cruise had to come to an end as we had heaps still to do and I still had a plane to catch. One of the reasons we had planned to stop here was to explore this possibility that the best Shu Cream shop in Japan was located here, we wondered up the path to the shu cream shop only to find that it only makes shu cream in the winter and not in the warmer months. Yeah i was disappointing that I could not get any shu cream but looking at the bakery it was a very nice place and they had so many other gut widening goodies so I decided to grab a few other snacks and pick up a few treats for my family back home. The sun was nice and high and to tell you the truth I had got a bit burned on the eging summit event day and then pick up a bit more sun the day before on Lake Biwa fishing, at least I had some sun protection from the hat that Mr Hirawiwa had gifted to me but it was still warm for early spring.

Just as I was starting to feel a bit relaxed Kotaro reminded me that we needed to do a bit more walking to get to the cable car that would take us to the top of the mountain. Now we are talking, I love looking at these places but the walk is a killer - this one had a cable car. We made it just on time as the cable car was getting ready to leave, we did the bolt to get a ticket as the gates were closing and made it just in time, I sat down and enjoyed the 5 minute trip to the top of the mountain. The enjoyment of the cable car ride was only to be short lived though as when we got out no one told me there would be stairs galore to get to the top where a shrine was built. I worked my way up the stairs panting the whole way and stopping for a smoke along the way. The walk was worth it though as the place was amazing. 

Biwako (Lake Biwa)
More walking and we came across a viewing platform that showed the entire prefecture and a view of Lake Biwa. We were not high up enough to see but the lake gets its name from a stringed instrument. Biwa is related to Biwako. Kōsō, a learned monk of Enryaku-ji in the 14th century, referred to a clue of Biwako in his writing; "The lake is the Pure land of Benzaiten (Japanese Buddist Godess). Because she lives in the Chikubu Island and the shape of the lake is similar to Biwa, her favorite instrument." We could not see the shape reffered to but the view was awesome all the same and we could see where we had fished for Bass only yesterday.

Hikone Castle
We returned to the car to make a short trip to the Hikone Castle. The Hikone Castle is just one of 4 Castles in Japan that is listed on the UNESCO Heritage list as unchanged, meaning it stands as it did hundreds of years ago. Hikone Castle traces its origin to 1603 when Ii Naokatsu, son of the former daimyo Ii Naomasa, ordered its construction. The keep was originally built in 1575, as part of Ōtsu Castle, and was moved to Hikone by the Ii clan. Other parts of the castle were moved from Nagahama Castle. Hikone Castle was completed in 1622. Naokatsu's lands had been taken from him in the interval by the Tokugawa shogunate, and when his brother Naotake assumed control of the area around Ōmi Province, he was able to complete the castle by collecting stones from the former Sawayama CastleWhen the Meiji era began in 1868, many castles were scheduled to be dismantled, and only a request from the emperor himself, touring the area, kept Hikone Castle intact. Today it remains one of the oldest original-construction castles in Japan. 

So much for using straight timber to keep things square
We made our way up yet again more stairs, sheesh if I didn't known better I reckon they were trying to give me some much needed exercise so they did not have to get special bigger sized shirts. I struggled to get up all the stairs and when we made it to the top I was reminded of how unfit I was when a lady in her 80's and with 2 walking sticks overtook me on the last leg of stairs. We went inside for a sticky beak and was amazed at the construction of this place. If one of my carpenter mates ever tells me the timber must be straight so it lasts and remains square I am showing them this picture of a 400 year old castle and not a straight bit of timber to be seen, in fact it looks like they looked for the most twisted and bent bits of wood to build the support from of this building

Entry door, for mini people and to keep groups from flooding in
This castle was designed with protection in mind for its inhabitants, the entry was steep and many stairs required to reach the high level of the building, it had very high walls all round preventing the easy access to un guarded areas, doorways were small and narrow making it difficult for more than one person to gain access at a time, it had no internal stairs for access to the higher levels of the building instead using ladders that could be lifted away making it hard for people to gain access to the people in the top floor, the top floor had marksmen ports added to shoot arrows down at enemies and it even had a secret room built as a last resort to hide from attackers. They put a lot of thought into fortification in these castles and it worked for many years, so much so that many western castles took design elements from them and implemented them into their own castles.

Hikone Garden
I had just about had enough of stairs and there was no doubt that I was going to sleep well on my flight home, so now we could make the slow descent down the hill and back to the car via a garden that is known through out Japan. The garden is often used in Japanese movies as it is historically original. We got to the bottom of the mountain and walked toward a building, I later found out this building that looked like an original Japanese house was indeed a hotel. I saw an aussie checking in at the hotel (VB singlet gave him away LOL) we walked between a couple of buildings and came across scenery that was literally breath taking, its one of those places that when you stand in it you have nothing to say as there is nothing you could say. Its just amazing.

We completed our tour of this place and I was blown away at the building as and the gardens that I had seen that day. That said the best was yet to come, a trip to my second fave fishing tackle store in Japan Fishing Max. I had to pick up a few last minute items that I could not get in Australia so this was the place to do it. I loaded up with enough stuff to keep my bag weight down and my carry of safe and we headed towards the airport. I have said it before and I will say it again. Thank you, every one in Japan that made my trip spectacular. It was great to catch up with friends old and new. The team from Gan Craft really looked after me again and I can not put into words how great full I am of their support, every one in the Tanabe community that welcome me on each trip and the people who always go above and beyond to make me feel comfortable. 

Enough typing though the pics will do this place more justice than I could ever explain so I will just chuck em below - enjoy.
Merchant loading area

Heritage building about to be renewed

Hikone Garden

Hikone Garden

Hikone garden with castle in back ground

Hikone Garden

Canal crossing - made removable for boat access

Merchant trade canal

Traditional merchant boats used for carrying small goods

Merchant canals

Hill climb

This shrine is the shrine to the unborn children and infants that had passed
Very sad place
Merchant canals

cable car

This bee was freaking huge - about 2 inches long

Shrine entrance

Gold shrine on top of the mountain

Monk residence on mountain top at the shrine

The stairs to Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle - almost there

Bridge to the castle - this is where the old lady overtook me

Entrance to the Castle grounds

inside the castle - second floor

this is where a ladder would have been prior to the stairs being built

the high walls prevented access for attackers

Hikone Garden

Hikone Garden