Japan - 日本 Journal

Graves of the 47 Ronin


I visited Sengakuji after a late night and too many bottles of Shochu in Nishiogikubo.  I went drinking with a Japanese friend and it was a great experience although I do not remember much of it.  He was dressed in traditional Japanese clothing and the street he took me to was lined with small, seemingly Edo-era restaurants.  Each one only seated between 8 – 15 people and we started drinking early.  He always added a drink called “Hoppy” to his Shochu and I was confused at first when he told me it didn’t contain any alcohol.  He let me know that after World War II the capacity to produce beer was much reduced yet people still wanted that beer taste.  Hoppy could be easily produced and when added to Shochu it gave a beer flavor.

I awoke a bit dazed the following morning and had the option of going directly back to the in-laws which is what I had intended to do.  On the Chuo line on my way to Shinjuku the thought occurred that if I wanted to visit the 47 Ronin I better do it now since another opportunity might not arise for a couple of years.

I also made a great discovery at this time.  Understanding the Tokyo metro is very difficult since lines are run by different companies and most apps only give you the main metro or Japan Railway but do not interconnect.  I downloaded many apps which never resolved this problem and found myself wishing for my old Palm Pilot software which was actually useful.  I then tried simple Google Maps then hit the “train” button with minimal expectations.  To my amazement it gave me the most beautiful, clear and concise route with alternates!  No other app is needed to navigate the metro except for Google Maps.  Well done Google.

I arrive at Sengakuji and immediately seek out the graves.  I tried to put myself into a deeply reflective state and to feel the history surrounding me; unfortunately the aftermath of massive quantities of Shochu greatly impeded the mental state I was seeking.  While I was there an elderly Japanese gentleman was laying incense at each of the graves and a western couple were being guided by a young Japanese man.

To be among those 47 was profound.  Forty-seven men each plunged a dagger in their stomach and proceeded to make a horizontal cut until their bowels spilled out.  Forty-seven!  The mindset of a Samurai must be one of the most disciplined since the human race began to form coherent thoughts.

Sengakuji - 泉岳寺
Sengakuji – 泉岳寺

Sengakuji - 47 Ronin

Japan - 日本 Journal

Koma Shrine 高麗神社

Koma Shrine


I learned that this was a Korean shrine but nobody could explain the history behind it.

Yes, ok, it is a Korean shrine but what is a Korean shrine doing in Japan?  Is there a large Korean community nearby?

To find the answer I had to do a simple Google search and found the answer – not in Wikipedia since there doesn’t seem to be an entry – on the Japan visitor website which had this nice summary.

Countries with such ancient histories continually fascinate me.  I’m also astounded that most local people don’t know, or even bother to look up, the history.  I have an insatiable desire to want to know the origins, the reason for, and the history behind the places I visit.  By visiting this place I learned there was a large, ancient kingdom in Korea called Goguryeo that was completely destroyed.  Refugees from this calamity settled in Saitama and built the temple I was visiting.  Learning this made me want to know more about Goguryeo.

To imagine entire an entire kingdom overrun and destroyed is something I don’t think most American people could fathom today.  We sit comfortably in a very strong empire and our concerns lie in what T.V. show to watch, or which coffee to order – not in the fear of being conquered and slaughtered by the neighboring country.  We consider our jets flying over other countries to be normal and status-quo.  An American could not comprehend a Chinese fighter jet flying over our airspace – friendly or not.

I find learning about history and the reasons behind the way things are now to be absolutely fascinating.  I only wish a conversation about history would be more frequent in our society than which sports team got the ball over the line the most.

Japan - 日本 Sunrise / Sunset / Moon

Sunrise in Saitama



The beautiful, ancient rice field is now in harvest season.  I felt grateful to be able to catch this sunrise as the only sliver of clear sky is just on the horizon and the space between the hill and tree only amounts to about a month of visibility.  To think that my wife’s family has lived in this same area for over 300 years makes me reflect on the brevity of our short lives and the shadows of history beneath our feet.  I would like to stand in this spot, and indeed every spot in the whole world since the beginning of time, to watch empires rise and fall, as well as the rice grow from seed to harvest throughout the generations.

Japan - 日本

A rice field haiku


The ancient rice field
Saturated by gray clouds
Of US warplanes above

Just walked through this beautiful landscape and was struck by the contrast of its timeless serenity and the roaring of the ceaseless American warplanes flying overhead towards Yokosuka. It is a melancholy feeling indeed and brought forth an unsolicited haiku.

Update 9.25.2015

I wanted to add more to this post.  All day long military planes and helicopters are flying over Saitama which I assume are on their way to Yokosuka airbase.  It is a strange thing to see your country’s (empire’s) aircraft flying over a sovereign nation.  It has been this way since the end of World War II so the locals no longer seem to notice it.

I notice it however as seeing a military jet happens only two or three times a year here in Pacifica and usually is out over the ocean.  I mentioned the frequency and how it was strange to me to my father-in-law and he said it was the “Self-Defense Force” which means Japanese but I highly doubt that.  I think that is what the Japanese media tell the populace to ease the festering thorn of having a foreign power permanently on domestic soil.

Seeing so many military aircraft made me wonder about what goes on in the military world that isn’t reported.  Everyday troops are moved, missiles realigned, strategies updated.  The world we do not see is in a perpetual state of war ready to slaughter those unlike us.  With all the reasons, propaganda and rhetoric are stripped away, the only reason we kill others in times of war is because they are of a different tribe or from a different land.

Japan - 日本

Hikawa Shrine 氷川神社

Hikawa Shrine 氷川神社