Sunday, March 13, 2016

Japan Diary #6—Defending the castle

      KUMAMOTO—  Who doesn't love a castle? They look cool, first. They have this wonderful aura of protection. We all want to be safe within castle walls, secure against the danger and the enemies we know, or sometimes just imagine, are outside, trying to get at us.
     Arriving at this scenic place in southwestern Japan, a six-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo—I expected a rural nowhere—I was pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant city of 700,000, with a university and lots of bookstores, albeit selling books I can't read, and this edifice looming over the town.
    It's natural to head for the castle, to take a look around. 
    They give you a lot of history at these places. The 13 generations of Hosokawa clan shogun who held power here from when the castle was first built in 1607. Not that the building before us is that old — and I always sniff around for this detail when I visit these kind of places. Some sites hide it, but here they are fairly upfront. Burned in the Satsume Rebellion of 1877; the castle was reconstructed in 1960, which means we're the same age. 
      I'd say the castle is holding up better.
      That would be enough to chew on, just seeing a historic castle that is really a facsimile of a castle that what was once there. A sort of ghost castle. I suppose you could say it is the same castle, the same entity, in the way I'm the same person I was 30 years ago, except that my cells have more or less all been replaced with new ones.
     As I read my way up to the tower and down, pausing for that moment of frisson by the open air windows atop the thing, looking at that drop, imagining. Then I came to how the castle was burned down. Not by any enemy, though the enemy was both real and nearby. It was the defenders of the castle, putting some structures below to the torch, to deny their opponents access or a place they could set up artillery. Sparks from the flames they set were carried by the wind, sw
irling behind them and up the hill, and burned down the castle they were trying to protect. The castle defended them, but they couldn't defend it.
     Typical.  Whatever you fear, whatever you worry about, seldom can hurt you with the devastating efficiency you use to hurt yourself. The bogeymen the Republicans dread, from immigrants to Muslims to gays, are really only helping the country; the damage comes from the fires the GOP has been setting for 25 years, trying to stop their progress.
At first, the official story was that the rebel army burned the
castle down. The problem was, they hadn't arrived yet. 
     But let's not be political. You don't have to be an imploding political party to burn your castle. How many gun owners turn their guns upon themselves? Far more than ever thwart a criminal. How many good people break down fearing something they suspect is out there? The stress gets us far more than the things we're stressed about do. We're in a good position, safe, secure, behind the walls, but we don't accept it, and, trying for even more protection, burn the damn thing down ourselves, preparing for an enemy that might never come.


  1. "Whatever you fear, whatever you worry about, it seldom can hurt you the way you can hurt yourself." Wise words indeed. I suppose it's our survival instinct to protect and build up our fortress, then blame fate when we cause our own demise.

    The castle is very impressive, with a fascinating history. These dispatches from your visit to Japan have been wonderful and fun reading.

  2. Kumamoto,a vibrant city of 700.00o with a university, bookstores and a faux castle. Who knew? I doubt if there's a town that big and interesting in the Western world we haven't either been to or know all about through through the ministrations of Rick Steves and his ilk. We are indeed indebted to Mr. Steinberg for finding a moral in his discovery and reminding us of RLS's cheerful counsel that "the world is so full of wonderful things, we should all be as happy as kings."

    Tom Evans

  3. I like this, and your reflection on the meaning of these replicas. Japan is a place that has been torn apart so often in wars and natural disasters, and they rebuild things as much as possible they were, in an effort to hold on to tradition.
    Japan is deeply, deeply strange to me, but at the same time compelling.


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