March 26th we travelled south to the hill top village, Yoshino, one of the most famous places to view the cherry blossom in Japan. However we were too early in the season and it was bucketing down with rain in the afternoon. We just managed a short stroll through the village and a tofu lunch. The Japanese really know how to cook tofu, and I have become a convert, which worries Tony! Thankfully we were staying in a wonderful ryokan called Kato with an outdoor hot bath, a warm fire in a huge room overlooking the garden in the rain and a fantastic Japanese breakfast (see above) the next morning.
The oldest rope cable car in Japan takes you up to the village which has a famous Shinto Shrine and Buddhist temple. From the top of the village one should be able to see the mountain blooming. Cherry trees are still bought and planted as an offering to the gods. Below-cherry blossom in April and our view at the end of March.
Yoshino Shrine is known as the place where Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his courtesan lived in secret.
During the first year of the Bunji era (1185), Kamakura shogunate founder Minamoto no Yoritomo’s younger brother Minamoto no Yoshitsune along with his lover Shizuka Gozen were pursued by Yoritomo, and thus the couple came to Yoshimizu-jinja Shrine seeking refuge, hiding for 5 days. However orders came to kill them, and Shizuoka Gozen told her lover to leave so that he might be saved. Yoshitsune and his guard Benkei took on the guises of mountain priests and went to Mt. Omine. Unfortunately the mountain was forbidden to women and thus Shizuka could not go with them, and the armor and possessions of Yoshitsune as well as Benkei’s weapons were left here. Both were killed eventually. This tragic love story is told through Kabuki and Joruri theatre as “Yoshitsune Senbonzakura”. Within the garden is a famous stone that Benkei drove two nails into by force as a show of his strength.
Yoshimizu-jinja ( Shrine) has also been known since ancient times as a famous flower viewing spot. In 1594, Toyotomi Hideyoshi who had unified Japan brought 5,000 people here and had a massive flower viewing party that lasted for many days. The main building acted as the headquarters for the troops during this time, and there was music, tea, and Noh theatre. Hideyoshi donated many treasures to the shrine when he came for flower viewing, such as folding screens, priceless vases, and tea instruments. Particularly valuable is the folding screen that is covered in gold leaf.
Hideyoshi became rather too fond of decorating everything in gold and when his old tea master criticised Hideyoshi’s excesses, the tea master was told to commit suicide, which he did.
Next blog from Koya-San.