Monday, June 06, 2016

"he marvelled because of their unbelief" - An Episode about Tokyo Founder in the 15th Century

Around the Imperial Palace, Tokyo

An Episode about Tokyo Founder in the 15th Century

Tokyo was originally developed around the Edo castle that is now used as the imperial palace.

The present imperial palace was built in the  premises of the Edo castle that was, generally speaking, built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the leader of samurais who governed Japan and started the Tokugawa regime, in 1590.  However, the story was not so simple.

Well before Tokugawa Ieyasu, samurai Shigetsugu Edo first set his residence in the place where the imperial palace is today placed in the 11th century.  And, afterwards samurai Ota Dokan built a castle in the same place in 1457.  However, the Ota clan could not prosper and his castle was used by other samurais.  And finally,  150 years later, Tokugawa Ieyasu occupied it and expanded Dokan's Edo castle.

So, 400 years ago, Tokyo was neither a big city nor a big farming area.  In the coastal area facing Tokyo Bay, only old Dokan's castle stood.  Historically, the Kanto Plain in which Tokyo is situated was first developed in the northern area connecting to mountainous areas since the 6th century.  The coastal area of the Kanto Plain was not suitable for farming, or especially rice cropping.

But, Tokyo (then called Edo) started to become the largest city in Japan when Tokugawa Ieyasu set the capital of Japan there after he seized political power all over Japan in 1603, though the emperor still continued to live in Kyoto.

In the era of Ota Dokan, about 40 km inland from Tokyo Bay there were two key castles used by the samurai lord to whom Ota Dokan belonged.  And these castles were connected to Tokyo Bay through rivers.  Ota Dokan built a castle at the middle point between the estuaries of these rivers on Tokyo Bay.  This castle was expanded by Tokugawa Ieyasu more than 150 years after it had been used by other samurai lords who came to occupy the area after Ota Dokan.

When Tokugawa Ieyasu came to Edo, the area around Tokyo Bay had just one small town around the castle.  But, after 1603 when Ieyasu chose Edo as the capital of Japan, Edo expanded rapidly with population of 150,000 around 1603 to over 500,000 in the middle of the 18th century and more than one million in the early 19th century, though London had less than 900,000 population at the time.

When the Tokugawa clan was defeated by imperial samurais in 1868, Tokugawa shogun handed the Edo castle to the imperial samurais.  Then, the emperor moved from Kyoto to Edo that was renamed Tokyo.  Subsequently, Westernization and modernization of Japan started, putting an end to the samurai age.

So, the history of Tokyo virtually started with a samurai castle built by Ota Dokan in the middle of the 15th century.

When samurai Ota Dokan was travelling through the Kanto plain to his father's house, a rain suddenly started to fall.  Then he found a poor farmhouse.  Dokan wanted to borrow a straw raincoat there.  But when he asked a straw raincoat from the family, a girl of the house just presented a branch of yellow Japanese globeflower (called yamabuki in Japanese) to Dokan.  He was puzzled, receiving the flower and leaving the poor farmhouse.

Later, Ota Dokan told this episode about the strange girl to one of his subjects.  However, the subordinate samurai said, "The girl implied an old poem from an well known anthology:

The yamabuki flowers are flourishing,
double-flowered or more, though  
making me sad just with no fruits."

(Double-flowered Yamabuki produces no fruits.  And the Japanese word fruit is "mi" while the Japanese word for a straw raincoat is "mino." The girl indicated that her family was so poor that they had no "mino," by showing the yamabuki flower to Ota Dokan on the assumption that Dokan knew the above poem.  And she put her sorrow in referring to the poem.)

So, Ota Dokan felt shame that he did not even know the anthology of waka poems called the Goshui-wakasyu (compiled in the 11th century by an emperor).  Since then, Dokan started to learn waka or Japanese poems.  And, finally he became one of the representative writes of Japanese poems in the era.

But the end of Dokan's life was tragic.  The samurai lord whom Dokan served doubted that Dokan might someday attack him to seize the territory, since Dokan performed so well in battles against rival samurai lords.  So, the samurai lord invited Dokan to his castle, and accordingly Ota Dokan was foully murdered.

However, many Japanese still know that the imperial palace in Tokyo was originally a castle built by Ota Dokan in the middle of the 15th century, though it was expanded by Tokugawa Ieyasu around 1600.

Ota Dokan and a girl holding forth yamabuki flowers in the rain

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Mar 6:5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
Mar 6:6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.
Mar 6:7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;