岡崎城-More than you ever wanted to know about Okazaki Castle

Not a ton new going on-

Class and exploring the town here is keeping me busy for the most part. They put me in a lower level of class because it’s been a good while since I’ve done any real Japanese study, and I’m not exactly a chatterbox to begin with, so now that I’m a little more comfortable I’m trying to get back up to a more challenging level of classes.

Last Sunday I went to a different area of town, a few train stations up from here. Okazaki is a castle town, as many towns are — although most, including the castle here, had to be rebuilt after WWII…I think Okazaki’s was rebuilt in the 1980s. A bit of Japanese history and geography here that might or might not have been covered before:

In addition to Japan’s Emperor who, according to popular myth is directly descendant from emperors extending back to the beginning of the Japanese people and ultimately descended from the sun god Amarterasu. Western kings merely received their mandate from God. Japanese emperors went one step further. Anyyyyway… in addition to the royal family, from time to time Japan also had a Shogun, which was a warlord that essentially ran the country. Much like Americans have people in government from each state, in Japan, the lords (daimyo – literally, ‘big name’) from each realm would go back and forth from their homes to pay tribute to the Emperor or Shogun, etc. Since they didn’t have bullet trains back then, and because wheeled vehicles were banned, the vast majority of people travelled on foot. Because of this, they set up a number of way-stations on the main roads around Japan. One of the more popular roads was the Tokaido (East Sea Road) which ran between Tokyo (back in the day called Edo) and Kyoto, where the Emperor lived until the 19th Century. One of the stations was Okazaki, and to this day both the Tokaido road (now Japan’s Highway 1) and Tokaido train line run through Okazaki.

Where Okazaki really collides with Japanese history is that the final Shogunate in Japanese history, which ran from 1600 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and moved the capital of Japan to Edo (Tokyo), was founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu who was born in Okazaki Castle in 1542. Based on my still limited knowledge of Japan, I’d guess Tokugawa is probably one of the top 5 most important figures in Japanese history. If you’ve read the book Shogun by James Clavell, it’s historical fiction loosely based on Tokugawa (known in the book as ‘Toranaga’).

Tokugawa, after moving the capital to Edo, made mandatory the policy of requiring daimyo of the various realms to return to Edo to pay tribute every other year, and enforced this policy and their loyalty by essentially holding their family members hostage in Edo (Tokugawa himself was held hostage for political reasons early in his life, so the idea didn’t exactly start with him). Anyway, there was quite a bit of travel up and down the Tokaido (and other roads), and much of Japanese culture then and now has references to it, from Hiroshige’s 53 Stations of the Tokaido series to the recent movie remake of the 13 Assassins.

In addition to visiting Okazaki Castle, there’s also a famous miso factory nearby that also dates from the Tokugawa days. This region is famous for Hatcho miso — when I lived in California one of the ramen places I ate served ramen with Hatcho miso broth. It’s actually kind of strong, but tasty in my opinion. It’s so named because an older Japanese measurement of distance (cho) also was often a measure for street blocks, and when the castle was the center of town, your ‘address’ was how many blocks from the castle you were. That area of town was 8 blocks from Okazaki castle, or Hatcho (八丁).

Due to its proximity to the ‘home’ castle of the shogun, its miso became a favorite, and since it kept well was used for military rations, etc. Eventually Hatcho miso became a supplier to the Emperor as well. They offer tours of the ‘factory’ and of course sell the miso they make there. It’s really a factory only in the loosest terms because they still make miso the same way — by steaming it in ancient wooden vats covered by river stones — that they did when the company started, in 1337. They claim that by using an arrangement of stones instead of one big weight, it maintains a proper balance and isn’t dislodged even by an earthquake.

I was actually a little disappointed that there wasn’t a ramen restaurant nearby that served Hatcho miso broth, but I found one on my way back from the train station. Considering how cold it’s been here and that I’m still building up my ‘walking legs’, I think I’ve been pretty successful at finding a few good restaurants and getting to know the city. At some point in the next few weeks — Kyoto.