(Subject written on a shopping bag)
400 years ago, Iechika of the Mimura clan arrived in the Bichuu area with big ambitions. He was a leader and sided with the powerful Mouri clan to unite the Bichuu area under one rule. He took charge of the Matsuyama castle, near the middle of what is now Okayama prefecture.
I'd been wondering where the name Okayama came from. It means "Hilly mountain" or "Hills and Mountains" but there didn't seem to be much history behind the name. The same with the neighboring prefecture Hyogo. But a local historian recently told me that after the Meiji Restoration, the emperor specifically made sure that no original names that could be connected with power were used when dividing the country in to its modern day arrangements. If that hadn't happened, maybe the area I live in today would have been called "Bichuu" or "Mouri" or something.
I led my Kobe hiking group to Matsuyama castle. I'd been appointed as the sub-leader. I was in charge of making sure all were accounted for, showing the way, and introducing Okayama to them. I took it to the next step and learned the entire history of Matsuyama castle with the help of my neighbors, and then gave an opening and closing speech for our outing.
The coolest thing about Matsuyama's history that I learned was that the Mimura clan extended all the way to Tamano (called Kojima island at the time). And the castle on the hill behind my house was ruled by a Mimura uncle called, "Ueno." As we walked up the hill toward the castle, I imagined what Iechika might have felt, coming to this mountainous area, not knowing that in the future, his family would extend from the Sea of Japan all the way down to Kojima at the Seto Inland sea. He must have been pretty confident. I can't imagine how samurai lords lived, with the future so uncertain. But Iechika's dream came true and the Bichuu area was united under his rule with the help of the Mouris.
Iechika was assassinated. He was shot on the castle grounds. That made me re-think what I knew about Samurai. After so many Samurai movies and anime, and watching The Last Samurai, the idea that people had guns back then was beyond me. But yes, they had rifles, and used them in war, and while swords had history and tradition well attached, guns had their place too. It wasn't one or the other, but a combination of both used in fighting. When it comes to war, tradition doesn't matter so much as winning. Often castles had special windows designed to take shots from. Yes, traditional Japanese castles were designed with guns in mind.
Iechika was assassinated by a member of the Ukita clan. Iechika's son, Motochika, followed his father's footsteps and continued the unification of Bicchu. At that time, the Mouris were still well respected for all their support.
But one day, Motochika was betrayed. The Mouris planned to ally with the Ukita clan to extend their power. Recalling his father's assassination, Motochika was outraged. If the Mouris were going to side with the Ukitas, then Mimura Motochika was going to fight both of them out of Bichuu. Motochika sought help from Oda Nobunaga. Nogunaga was in the midst of his unification of Japan by slaughtering his opponents one by one. Maybe you can see Motochika's thinking.. Side with the big guy, and no one will mess with you.
Nobunaga certainly had plans to take out the Mouris, but he was still busy capturing the Kansai area, and his troops were too far to be much help to Motochika. On top of that, outside of the immediate family, the other Mimuras weren't too keen on losing favor with the Mouris. That's a difficult to choice to make for anyone.. Risk your country and defy your father's killer, or play it safe but be mentally tourmented for the rest of your life...
When the Mouris caught wind that Motochika had defected, they began to systematically take out all of the Mimura castles, starting with the weakest and working their way in toward Bichuu Matsuyama castle. The Mimuras suffered defeat after painful defeat.
Bichuu Matsuyama sits at 430 meters high, over looking a river valley. It was the castle at the highest elevation ever in Japan. While most castles boast tall keeps that are from 3 to 7 stories high, Matsuyama castle needed only two levels to look out over all the land. The highest but lowest castle? Its position made it almost impenetrable, and its strategic location in the center of Okayama made access to the surrounding areas easy. The stone walls built high in to the mountain are nothing but awe inspiring. It's a fine looking castle! There is even a lookout point on the neighboring hill just so that you may view Bichuu Matsuyama from afar. On a misty morning, the castle seems to rise from a sea of clouds. The first rays of the sun hit the white walls of the keep, and many a postcard is made.
Motochika must have known he was doomed when the Mouris came after him. It would have been suicidal for the Mouris to take over Matsuyama castle at the start, but after watching each of his family members fall and their assets being taken up by the Mouris, the Mimura clan not only became vulnerable, but also lost morale and support. As the Mouris approached the castle at last, Motochika fled to the neighboring mountain with his family, so as not to die by his enemy's sword, and committed ritual suicide there.
As my hiking group and I looked out from the view point to see the charismatic castle on the hill, I couldn't help wonder if this was the last view Motochika had before he died.
After the center of power was destroyed, the Mouris then targeted any stray Mimura castles. One of these was Tsuneyama castle, behind where I live. One thousand men snuck out at night and hid amongst the rocks behind the hill, waiting to launch a suprise attack. The Ueno family knew that they'd be targetted, and once the attack began, the castle lord committed ritual suicide. His wife, Princess Tsuru, led an army of women against the attackers, but ultimately lost the battle.
After the trip to the castle, we took the hiking group down the mountain by bus to a historical street where a very old temple boasts a Japanese garden and a zen garden. I'd been there before and I knew it was a quiet place to rest your feet after a hike. The first time I went, before I learned the history of the area, I hadn't given much thought to the information pamphlet or announcements. But this time, as we all sat down and looked out across the gardens, I overheard, "Motochika" and "gravesite" at the end of the explanation. I immediately asked the priest where the graves were. The priest was more than happy to not only point them out, but lead my whole hiking group over to the graves of Iechika and Motochika.
Standing before these two graves, I had this deep realization that went beyond anything intellectual and stuck in my heart.
History is alive.
History is something we're connected to.
I thought about how generation after generation of people have been coming to this grave site for the last 400 years. 400 years!! That's older than the USA!
To think, if I was Japanese, and living in this town where my ancestors went back.. Tilling the same land, plucking fruit from the same trees, climbing the same hills.... How deep and rich and connected I would feel!
And then I thought of Colorado, where my connections were only as deep as the friends I made who mostly don't even live there anymore.
And then I thought of the Native Americans.
That richness of history, the idea that your family is tied to that earth, that you belong to that land, that the graves you visit have been prayed at for hundreds of years... We took that away from them. They've been stripped of their history. I wondered how Japanese people would think and feel if they'd had their history taken in that way. If WWII had ended with Americans claiming the land and marching the Japs out of their fertile fields, plowing up graves to make way for suburban landscapes... I'm glad it didn't end that way. I wanted to turn to my fellow hikers and shout, "Hang on to your history!!"
I thought of the African Americans.
Stolen from the land they were connected to, shipped to a new world, and prohibited to celebrate their own cultures. When I open a high school textbook about the Mayflower, the Revolutionary War, the Gold Rush, the Presidents, I always had this idea of, "This is my past." But it's not "my past" to millions of high schoolers learning this stuff today. It's just names and dates at that point... I knew this was unfair before, but I think I finally GOT IT in that real, visceral sense. We've tried to strip African Americans of their past. Hang on to your history!!
So I've been converted. I like history now. I think it's important. It's not a bunch of dead people, names and dates... it's our heritage. For the Japanese, being mostly homogeneous, they can learn a single story of their past and call it "history." For others, you may have to do some deeper searching to filter out where you fit in to the various stories of our world. But finding that connection is a beautiful thing.