Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mt. Bandai

About three weeks ago I climbed Mt. Bandai, it is the largest mountain in my region and it stands at about 1800m above sea level. Not too shabby. It was a fun hike up to the top. It took about three hours each way from a starting point near the top. Once getting to the top we were very cold. We only stayed for a few minutes and then went back down the mountain, but not before Brian snapped a few shots. Thanks Brian!

My Town Part II

If you look for my prefecture in the Lonely Planet guide for Japan you will not find much, but you will find a section about ten pages long. Over half of that is devoted to the area that I live in, which is the western 1/3 of the prefecture, Aizu. The Japanese people know where Aizu is. A few months ago I went to Okinawa to visit Elina. While I was there she had an Eikawa (adult language class) She said that I she would like it if I tagged along, but I could stay home if I wanted. Of course I went with her. It was fun! When they asked what part of Japan I was from I told them Fukushima, Aizu. Immediately the middle aged man said, “White Tigers”

I was stunned to hear that he had heard of the White Tigers. This brings me to the point of this blog, Aizu is known as a historical seat of power and the story of the White Tigers is part of that history. I am going to give you the shortest possible version of the story without missing too much. If you want to read a bit longer story on Wikipedia follow this link.

The Boshin War is the equivalent of the Civil War in the United States, except not really. In the mid 1800’s power of Japan was in the hands of a Shogunate. This shogun decided that he was going to take the emperor’s court in Kyoto. About 120,000 men were mobilized in the conflict, of which maybe 4000 died. As the Shogunate’s army advanced to Kyoto they had a few small victories, but they had one major flaw. They fought the war on the terms of old warfare, i.e. samurai style. The emperor’s army had been in contact with the west and had received munitions. The tide quickly turned as the emperor’s army turned and started to march on the shogunate.

The larger yet ill equipped army was soon overtaken and a truce was made. However!, a core of shogunate supporters in northern Japan, led by the Aizu clan, continued to resist. The northern alliance had a total of about 50,000 troops. The imperial troops moved north to fight this contingent and, reaching Aizu, forces came to a head at Aizu-Wakamatsu castle (10 minute drive from my house!) After a long battle Aizu finally surrendered on November 6th of 1868. Now, the part that everyone in Japan knows about! In the final days of the battle of Aizu there was a group of young men, around 15 years old, which were fighting for Aizu. They were in the surrounding mountains on a training mission when they saw smoke coming from the Castle of Aizu Wakamatsu. They assumed the castle was taken and all was lost. All the White Tigers committed seppuku (ritual suicide) Unfortunately (fortunately?) one of them survived to tell the tale even after disemboweling himself.
As is turns out, the castle was not on fire, but a nearby storehouse. The suicide was for nothing! How awful! The Japanese do not see it as a negative thing. The suicide, warranted or not, was an honorable act and the White Tiger are held in legend ever since.
Now, you must all be thinking, this is all fine and good, but so what? Well, I bet you have already heard the story of the Boshin War. You have already seen an allusion to the White Tigers as well. If you have seen the 2003 movie The Last Samurai, which is partially based on the Boshin War then you have some idea of what I am talking about and if you saw that movie you will remember that Tom Cruise is taken in by a group of Samurai instead of being killed. And Why? Simply because as they are about to kill him he grabs a flag, the flag of the White Tiger, and begin to twirl it around.
So, this concludes Part II of “My Town” I hope you enjoy, please come back soon