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Posts Tagged ‘wakayama’

Wakayama

The main tower keep of Wakayama castle, reconstructed since the war.

Wakayama wasn’t exactly top of my list. Sure, if I were to go, I figured, they’d probably have some really good exhibits about each of the Kishû lords (close relatives of the main shogunal lineage, incl. some particularly historically significant figures), and some nice historically significant sites or plaques I wouldn’t have known about or expected…

In the end I actually didn’t see very much of that. But I am still very glad that I went.

Copies of the Gunsho Chiyô, printed in Wakayama. In a different context, maybe I’d think this was super cool to get to see. But they provide no context for it, no inspiring exhibit design, just objects in cases with minimal explanation …

Wakayama castle, to begin with, is gorgeous. From the outside, at least. Very photogenic. Sadly, the inside is much like a number of other castles I have visited (Hiroshima and Fukuyama come to mind); displays of weapons, armor, calligraphy, paintings, and other items representative of the both civil (cultured) and martial history of the castle and of its lords, but without much context and without much exhibit design to it. There were some cool objects, to be sure, including matchlock firearms, calligraphy and paintings by the lords themselves, but if you don’t know much about the history of the castle, history of the town, history of the Kishû Tokugawa house, you won’t get it here.

After seeing the Wakayama Prefectural Museum a few days later, the contrast was even more stark. Though surprisingly small – consisting of basically just two rooms – the permanent exhibition at the Wakayama Prefectural Museum was extremely well-done, I thought. Upon walking in, it immediately reminded me of the Kagoshima Prefectural Museum (Reimeikan) and Fukuoka City Museum. Lots of gallery text and displays, reproductions of images, maps, and diagrams, and of course an excellent selection of interesting and historically significant objects. But the Wakayama Museum takes it further: they also have wonderful little models, at least one for each era I think, showing what a village, a Buddhist temple, or some other architectural assemblage would have looked like in each period. Each is beautifully done, and is set with a large reproduction image behind it that provides a very photogenic background. In the section of the exhibit on religion, they have models of how certain rituals were performed. And the museum also displays quite a few hands-on objects, so you can touch and feel plastic reproductions of things from Jômon/Yayoi pottery to how a multi-piece Buddha sculpture is assembled, to roof tiles, to Noh masks. To be frank, I didn’t get much out of handling these plastic objects – you don’t get a real sense of the weight or texture of the actual wood, clay, or metal objects – but even so it was very cool to see them there, an extra feature beyond what most museums have.

Model of an Edo period local official’s residence (for an Ôshôya 大庄屋, appointed by the domain to oversee several, or several tens, of villages.

It was a little disappointing, or maybe I should just say surprising, to see the early modern section be so short. Where other prefectural and city history museums might highlight each and every successive Edo period lord of the domain, the Wakayama Museum just sort of blew through the Edo period in just as short a time as it did each other period of history – again, remember, the entire exhibit is only two rooms. I was disappointed to not have that chance to photograph displays about each lord and thus learn a little bit more about each lord, but at the same time, I think I was actually impressed and saw this as a positive thing, that perhaps (intentionally or otherwise) the Wakayama Museum is in a way rebelling against the undue lionization, valorization, of these figures.

The main gate at Kishû Tôshôgû.

It was only a very short trip, and we didn’t bother to see very much of Wakayama City itself, but from what we did see, and what I gather from Google Maps, travel pamphlets, and so forth, Wakayama sadly seems to be a rather sad city (from a tourist / traveler point of view). Similar to what little I saw of Himeji, and starkly unlike what I’ve experienced of Kagoshima, Kanazawa, and Kamakura (for example), not to mention Naha and Kyoto, Wakayama doesn’t really seem to have much energy to it, as an interesting or exciting urban environment. I’m sorry to be this blunt about it, but softer words aren’t coming to mind at the moment. I can walk around Kagoshima or Kamakura and get the feeling of being in a particular, unique city, and feel I’m experiencing a particular cultural, historical, aura unique to that place. Wakayama, from what little we saw of its department stores, hotels, chain restaurants, and just block after block of concrete, steel, and glass, just doesn’t seem to have that energy. And it makes me sad for what so many other Japanese cities might be like. Is this what Takamatsu or Nagano or Hirosaki or Ichinomiya are like?

But, putting that aside, one thing that has little to do with modern development (or more recent contemporary phenomena of rural depopulation, etc.) is that simply because of how they were established in the premodern or early modern periods, a great many of the key sites of historical/cultural interest in Wakayama are well outside of the city. In Kagoshima, Fukuoka/Hakata, Kamakura, and quite a few other cities I have visited, of course there are plenty more sites of interest out in the suburbs and countryside, but the cities themselves are packed with notable sites. In Wakayama, by contrast, the Kishû Tokugawa clan established their Tôshôgû Shrine (a shrine dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa house, Ieyasu, and to his son Yorinobu, founder of the Kishû branch) some distance outside of the city. And they buried their lords at a temple even further from the city. This is a choice, and it’s interesting. I wonder if there’s something to be uncovered or examined here – which daimyo houses were more city-oriented, building more of these sorts of sites within their chief castle-town, and which were not, and why? What does this have to do with the lords themselves (personal preference, politics, or other reasons), and what does it have to do with geography?

At Kishû Kôzan-ji.

We rented a car, basically just to get out and see the area a little bit, without any real destinations in mind… In the end, we saw the Kishû Tôshôgû, and also by sheer chance chose to stop at Kôzan-ji (not the big famous Kyoto Kôzan-ji, but another temple by the same name), which turned out to be very much well-worth it. The Wakayama Tanabe Kôzan-ji, though not necessarily of any great historical significance itself, is a beautiful space, with multiple buildings in different styles (and colors!) offering a beautiful peaceful energy and aesthetic, and some great views and shots. Plus, the grounds of the temple were also (much more recently) the site of significant archaeological discoveries, of both a Jômon era community (5000-8000 years ago) and of Kofun era tombs (roughly 300-650 CE). One of the Jômon era pots discovered there, we later saw at the Wakayama Prefectural Museum.

Additional Wakayama sites of interest, such as the Dôjô-ji temple famous in Noh, the tiny out-of-the-way train station where Tama the cat is stationmaster, and the shores at Kushimoto where an Ottoman vessel was (famously?) shipwrecked in 1890, all happen to be further out as well. Perhaps I’ll return to Wakayama some day and get to see these.

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