Monday, August 10, 2009

Saiki / 佐伯

(Better Know a City)

Monday, August 3, 2009
We seem to be having an extended rainy season this year. It was cloudy/ rainy weather in the morning, and I almost went back to sleep. But I remembered my new rule about going out rain or shine, and so I got dressed, ate some breakfast, grabbed my video camera, and got in the car.

I did however break my rule on expressway driving, and opted to take the toll roads down.
Originally I had decided not to use the expressway on this project so I could see all the local scenery. However having driven down the coast road several times this summer, I can attest that it's the same scenery every time. I thought I would try the expressway for comparison.

I made it down to Saiki in just over an hour, which I reckon probably saved about an hour and a half off my time. Which isn't bad at all.
On the other hand, I had to pay dearly for that extra time--about 2200 yen (about $20), which reminded me of the other reason I had decided to swear off expressway driving: the expense.

Getting off the expressway, my first impression of Saiki was that it was a city of decent size--at least by Oita prefecture standards. After having gone to many small mountain towns, it was nice to see that Saiki abounded with signs of civilization.
In fact I stopped the car in a shopping complex, where I treated myself to a big breakfast at Gusto--a chain restaurant popular in Japan. I also got the drink bar and had several cups of coffee and tea, which helped to wake me up a little. (I was still a bit drowsy).

Because the drink bar was unlimited, I lingered her for a while over a couple cups of tea while I read my book.
When I emerged back into the parking lot, it had started raining again.

So, since the weather was bad anyway, I decided to just wander around the other shops in parking lItalicot.
In order I went to:
*a bookstore
(no English books, but I walked around and looked at the Japanese titles. Murakami's "1Q84" (W) was the big seller there, which I haven't read, but I'm intrigued by because of the connection to George - Orwell, who is an unknown in Japan but I'm hoping this book will increase his popularity),
(a sort of cutesy knick-knack gadgedty store. I went in briefly, saw that everything in the store was aimed at teenage girls, and walked right back out),
*a video game arcade
(I already mentioned in my post on Hita how Japanese video game arcades suck, and this place was no exception),
(supermarket-just walked through)
*Best Denki electronics store
(they were showing Harry Potter on the TV display, so I watched a bit of that)
*Used book store
(again, I just looked at the titles)
*and the 100 yen store
(the equivalent of the dollar store. Everything is so cheap here you can't resist buying a few things, and I bought some hiragana flashcards for a friend who is learning Japanese).

About this time the rain was letting up. There was one more place I stopped at, a small park next to the parking lot called Tsurumi Koen.

All told, between my leisurely breakfast at Gusto and little store wanderings, I spent much more time here than I should have. Especially considering how much stuff in Saiki I never got around to seeing before the end of the day.
But, for better or for worse, it is my habit on these trips to spend a long time on the first stop before I get fully into sight-seeing mode. And, besides the weather was rainy.

But now that the sun had come out again, I got back in my car and decided to look for new places to explore.
I went into the town hall, and asked the lady behind the information desk for sight seeing brochures on Saiki.

She gave me a whole packet of information.
"This is the most famous part," she said, indicating on the map, "The literary and historical district. You can climb up here and see the ruins of Saiki castle."

I left my car parked at the town hall and set off on foot. I followed the Nakagawa river for a ways, and then cut over to main road.I went through the Nakamachi road (which was a covered shopping arcade) and came out by the historical district.

First I went through the Romon gate.

The Saiki citizens center (Kominkan) was located here, but it was closed on Mondays.

The hill led up to the ruins of Saiki castle. I hiked up the trail and got to the top.

The castle itself was long gone, but the ruins of the foundation were visible.

What was really neat about the place was just the great view of Saiki city you had from the top of the hill. It made it totally worth the hike up there.

On the way down I took a different trail than on the way up for a slightly different view. And then once I got back to the street I continued on the historical district.

Most of the sight-seeing attractions looked pretty boring, or were closed. (Monday is often the day exhibits are closed in Japan, so it can sometimes be a dangerous day to go sightseeing).
I stopped by the old house of Kunida Doppo (W), which was closed, but I took a picture from the outside.

An old man was walking down the street at this time, and he struck up a conversation with me.
Like a lot of old men in Oita prefecture, I had a hard time understanding him. He spoke with a strong dialect that was very different to the Japanese I had studied in the classroom, and to my ear his words sounded very slurred. Most of the time I was just barely able to catch the just of what he was saying. Often I had to ask him to repeat himself. And several times during the course of our conversation I just nodded and pretended I understood when I didn't have a clue what he was saying.

He asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Saiki. Partly just to be polite and keep the conversation going, and partly out of genuine curiosity, I asked him several questions about Saiki.

"What is this place?" I asked, indicating Kunida Doppo's house.
"He was a famous writer and naturalist," the old man answered. "He was a great admirer of waz-waz from England."
It sounded to me like the old man was saying "Waz-waz," but I knew of no such writer.
"Waz-waz was from England?" I asked to clarify.
"Yeah, Waz-waz, Waz-waz, haven't you ever heard of him?"

I had not. The conversation continued on, and we left the mystery of Waz-waz's true identity unresolved.
It wasn't until I got back home and went online that I found out Kunida Doppo was a great admire of William Wordsworth (pronounced "Waazuwaasu" in Japanese).

"And what about the castle?" I asked. "Was that from the same time as Kunida Doppo?"

"No, no the castle was much older," the old man said. "Kunida lived in the Meiji period, but the castle was built by Mori Takamasa, who was an ally of Hideyoshi (W)."

I did my best to keep up with this using the little I had learned about Japanese history from Shogun.
"Ah, right, Hideyoshi. That was the Taiko, right?"
"Yes, yes," he answered.

"And then what happened to the castle?"

"It was struck by lightening and the whole thing burned to the ground. There's almost nothing left of it now. But Mori and his family are buried at the Yokenji temple right over there. Hold on a minute, let me get my hat and I'll take you over there."

The old man lived in the neighboring house, so I waited out in the street while he grabbed his hat, and then he led me over to the temple.

We walked in the back entrance, through a graveyard, up the stairs on a hill to where several headstones stood to mark the bodies of the Mori family.

"So these headstones must be several hundred years old," I concluded.
"That's right," the old man answered.
"It's amazing. For instance that one there looks so new," I said, pointing at one of the newer looking ones.

"Oh, well, actually that one is actually one of the more recent ones. But the rest are all several hundred years old. And that building over there is where the ashes of Mori Takamasa himself reside."

As we left the temple, the old man was searching his brain for any other interesting tidbits on Saiki to feed me. "Let's see, do you know Fumimaro Konoe (W)? He was one of the prime ministers of Japan during the war years."
"He was from Saiki?"
"No, he wasn't but his wife was." He paused, and then added, "Of course looking at it now, that whole war was so pointless."

He looked old enough to have lived through the war, so as an American I tried to make a tactful response to this. "All wars are pointless," I said. He didn't respond to this, and we continued walking back down the hill.

I changed the subject. "Have you lived in Saiki your whole life?"
"I have."
"And has it changed a lot from the old times--Sorry, that's not what I meant to say. Has it changed a lot from when you were a child?"

"Oh yeah, it's changed in all sorts of ways?"

"In what ways?"

Before I even asked it, I thought I already knew the answer to this question. In Japan whenever you ask an older person in a small town how things have changed, they always talk about how all the young people have left and gone to the city, leaving the town a ghost of its former self.

You can imagine how surprised I was then when he gave me the opposite answer. "It's gotten a lot more lively around here since I was a child," he answered.

"Wait, did you say more lively?"

"Sure. All these new buildings and houses--all these new stores and shopping malls--they didn't have any of that around when I was a child."

I was still thinking I had misheard him, so I asked a 3rd time for clarification and a 3rd time got the same answer. So there you have it.

As we came out from the temple yard back onto the road I thanked him for showing me all about Saiki, and told him that thanks to him I could understand the town a lot better. Then we parted ways and I continued exploring on my own.

Continuing down the road, there was a small flower park by a the riverwith a little picturesque footbridge going over it, called Usutubo Shobuen.

And, there was another shrine I explored briefly called Goshomejinja.

After this, I walked back to the town hall where I had left my car.

Then I drove on to explore more of Saiki.
I drove on to the Saiki ferry port, and looked out across to the Onyujima island.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to take the ferry and explore Onyujima Island, so I just looked at it from the port.

The water was so blue here, and the mountains were so green, that I fell in love with the Saiki coast line immediately.

I got in my car and drove up and down the main road for a while after this.
I was hoping to find a decent beach to go swimming at, but I didn't. (There's probably some out there in Saiki, but I just never ran into them from the main road).
I was however amazed at the beauty of Saiki.
The Kyushu summers are really hot and humid, and can be very uncomfortable. But the result of all this heat and moisture in the air is an explosion of green in the summer.
Even the junkyard of rusted metal I saw from the road struck me as beautiful because it had green ivy crawling all over it.
Unfortunately I couldn't get any pictures well driving, but you'll have to take my word for it.

I stopped briefly by Hiruhoshi park near, along the coast near the boarder with Kamiura (see previous post). And I took a few pictures. (Right around this time the clouds came back and the sun disappeared, dampening the brilliance of the colors somewhat.)

I drove along the river for a while and into the mountains. I saw signs indicating a hiking trail, but it was much too hot for me to want to climb a mountain.

Returning to the main part of Saiki city, I saw signs for "Saiki Peace Memorial Hall Yawaragi". I didn't know what that was, but since I'm interested in the Japanese peace movement I thought I would check it out.

Once I saw the signs for the peace hall I had already driven past the parking lot. So I went through all the trouble of turning the car around and driving back only to find out that "Saiki Peace Memorial Hall Yawaragi" was closed on Mondays.
So I never did get to find out what the purpose of the peace hall was. Nor did I find out who or what "Yawaragi" is.

But I did wander around the grounds a bit.
There was a plaque outside dated 1997 which showed an American flag, a Japanese flag, two hands shaking, and the message, "Praying for everlasting friendship between Saiki citizens and US survivors who defended against the Japanese force striking Pearl Harbor."

A little bit of Internet searching gives slightly more background on this:
The formation of the Saiki Naval Air Facility in 1934 saw Saiki develop as a military city. For this particular reason, Saiki endured continuous bombardment by the United States Air Force towards the end of World WarⅡ and, unfortunately, many citizens lost their lives. Yawaragi was built in 1997, on the location where the soldier's barracks once existed, in order to trace the history of the Naval Air Facility, convey the city's history and thereby relay the meaning of peace to subsequent generations of citizens whilst offering them the opportunity to think positively about peace.

Continuing wandering around the park grounds, I saw a bit of a park, an arch, and a small walking trail.

Right next to the peace park was a naval building for the Japanese Self Defense Forces. Even before I got close enough to the building to tell what it was, the fences and barbed wire surrounding it sent a much harsher message than the welcoming peace park right next to it. It seemed to me to be an odd juxtiposition.

I got back in the car, and drove through the streets of Saiki some more.
I could see the big Banjo river cutting through the town, and even from a distance it looked very beautiful. The banks were very green and you could see all sorts of
people walking along the river.

I parked my car in a 7-11 parking lot (went in to buy a few snacks so it wasn't so obvious I was using their parking lot and just running off) and walked down to the river.

On the top of the river bank was an asphalt walkway that everyone was walking on. It was around 5 now, so there were a lot of people going for their evening walk.
And even though it was summer vacation, I think school clubs must have just gotten out or something. Because there were all sorts of junior high school age students cycling walking or cycling around this path.
As usual, we foreigners are an object of interest to these kids out in the small towns, and many of them worked up the courage to greet me in English by yelling out, "Hello!" or "How are you?" (And that usually ended up being the extent of their English ability).

From the road I had noticed a big green park along the river side, and went to check that out. But it turned out to be a golf course, which you had to pay to enter, so I just turned and walked the other way.

I walked down the river until I got all the way to the shopping complex where I had started the morning. Then I turned and headed back.

It was getting dark by the time I returned to my car.
I drove down the road, and found a local Joyfull Restaurant to eat dinner at.
The Joyfull was located right on one of the rivers that fed into the ocean, and from the parking lot you could see all sorts of fishing boats.

When I finished dinner and came back outside. It was raining again now, and as I drove home it began to rain heavier. I was thankful that the rain had held off until I was leaving.

Saiki Links (too many to do justice to, but here are a few that pop up)
Walking Merchant Streets in a Kimono,
Books and Bamboo from the banks of the Bahnjo River,
Saiki Castle,
and Saiki-bukeyashiki Saiki Samurai Residences

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky on Public Broadcasting,
And...I don't always agree with Christopher Hitchens, but I often find him very articulate and fascinating to listen to. If you're like me, check out his thoughts on Trotsky.

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