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Friday, June 5, 2009

Trip to Japan: Day 5 - Going Straight 5月28日

Shimonoseki 下関 is a city of 290,000 people, lying at the southwestern tip of the island of Honshū 本州 and facing both the Tsushima 対馬海峡 and Kanmon Straits 関門海峡. The city is known for fugu フグ and (unfortunately) whaling, and as a ferry connection for trips to South Korea, but my interest was drawn by its setting for one of the most important moments in Japanese history. Arriving by train at Shimonoseki Station 下関駅 just before 11am, I boarded a bus for my first destination, Akama-jingū 赤間神宮. This Shintō 神道 shrine is dedicated to Antoku 安徳天皇, the child emperor who drowned at the conclusion of the Battle of Dannoura 壇ノ浦の戦い in 1185, which occurred in the straits that the shrine overlooks. The first thing you notice at Akama-jingū is the Suiten-mon 水天門, a Chinese-style arched gate that only dates from 1958, when the shrine was rebuilt after being damaged in the Second World War. The main worship hall is unusual in that there are two shallow pools of water on either side of the altar:

Akama-jingū was originally a Buddhist temple built to appease the souls of the dead Taira 平氏 warriors killed in the Battle of Dannoura, and a small graveyard to the left of the worship hall still contains fourteen of their graves. There is also a statue of Hōichi Miminashi 耳なし芳一, aka "earless Hōichi", made famous in a ghost story related by Lafcadio Hearn 小泉八雲:

Anyone with an interest in Taiwanese history would want to pay a quick visit next door to the shrine. The Sino-Japan Peace Treaty Memorial Hall 日清講和記念館 is a small museum housed in a building that dates from 1936. It recreates the room where the Treaty of Shimonoseki 下関条約 was signed, ending the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 and ceding Taiwan to Japan. The actual agreement was signed at the Shumpanrō Hotel 春帆楼 behind the hall, but the museum does contain the actual furniture and utensils used during the conference. What would have become of Taiwan had the Japanese been able to retain control after the war? Would it now be Japan's 48th prefecture, or would it be some kind of commonwealth, with Japan responsible for foreign affairs and defense?

Leaving the hall, I walked along the main road, and passed under the Kammon Bridge 関門橋, which links Honshū with Kyūshū 九州. A small plaque and a couple of warrior statues mark the spot of the naval battle in which the Minamoto 源氏 defeated the last of the Taira, bringing both the Gempei War 治承・寿永の乱 and the Heian era 平安時代 to an end, and ushering in the beginning of military rule by shōguns 将軍, or "bakufu" 幕府.

From here, I walked across to the Kyūshū side, using a 700 meter (2300 feet)-long pedestrian tunnel running under the straits to Moji 門司:

The oden おでん lunch and can of beer that I had in a little shack sitting in the shadows of the bridge were pretty welcome by this point!

Returning via the tunnel to the Honshū side again, I ambled over to Hinoyama 火の山, a 268-meter (879 feet) mountain with a commanding view over the strait. I was expecting to walk up to the top, as both my Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books said that the cable car there was only in operation during the months of July and August, but to my surprise it was working! Giving my feet a much-needed rest, I took the cable car to the top, and was greeted with a fantastic vista of the whole of the Kammon Straits and much of the city of Shimonoseki:

After checking out the views, I took the cable car back down. The operator said I bore a resemblance to Tom Cruise! When I pointed out that Cruise is a runt, she replied that she meant I was handsome like him. Flattery will get you everywhere with me! I then hopped on a bus, and continued along the seaside highway to my last sightseeing stop for the day, the Chōfu-teien 長府庭園 garden in Chōfu 長府. The garden only dates from the early years of the 20th century, but the Rough Guide aptly describes it as "elegant", plus it contains my dream Japanese house. Too bad my digital camera couldn't do the grounds justice:

The Chōfu area is noted for its samurai 侍 houses, but it was getting late in the afternoon, so, with some regret, I got back on the bus and returned to central Shimonoseki. After checking my email at the Yamaguchi International Exchange Association, in the Kaikyō-yume Tower 海峡ゆめタワー complex (seen in the background, behind the old Western-style building), I finished off my day in Shimonoseki by having a yakisoba 焼きそば dinner set in a shopping mall restaurant next to the train station. The portions were generous to say the least, and good value at ¥630 ($6.50/NT213), but I was only just able to clean my plate (and drain the beer bottle). I must have weighed down the train on the ride back to Hakata 博多!

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