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Friday, October 4, 2013

Japan and Taiwan: Day 10 - Sendai

The steps leading up to the Zuihoden

Sendai 仙台. I couldn't believe I was in Sendai again. Actually, I've been having difficulty remembering exactly when and with whom I was last there. I have vague memories of a short spell in the city sometime in the early 1990's, but I can't recall if I went there with an ex-wife or a former girlfriend (or a girlfriend who later became an ex-wife). This is somewhat odd as my memories of where I've been in Japan are usually pretty clear, but for some reason the first time to Sendai is getting lost in the mists of time. Not so with this most recent trip, however, especially now that I have a blog to help keep those memories lucid as time marches on.

Sendai is the largest city in the northeast region 東北地方 of Japan's main island of Honshū 本州 and, from all accounts, is a modern metropolis and a nice place to live, with plenty of stores and a very active nightlife. For the traveler, Sendai is an important transportation center, but in terms of sightseeing, with the exception of the annual Tanabata Matsuri 七夕祭り (the Star Festival, held every August 6-8), there isn't much to keep one busy for more than a day. But it was enough on this Friday, my last full day in the country before leaving for Taiwan the next day.

Taking advantage of the city's sightseeing bus, Loople Sendai るーぷる仙台, which, as its name suggests, makes a loop of Sendai's main sights (a one-day pass was a bargain at ¥600), I had myself dropped off at the Zuihō-den 瑞鳳殿. Located on a wooden hillside, the Zuihoden is the site of three mausoleums - those for Date Masamune 伊達政宗 and his two successors. More than any other person, Masamune was responsible for making Sendai the important regional city it is today. As the feudal lord overseeing his domain, he laid out the city's original grid pattern in the 17th century, and his clan ruled Sendai for 270 years, governing from a huge, ornate castle during the Edo period 江戸時代. After Masamune died in 1636, he was interred in the Zuihoden, pictured above. Unfortunately, the original mausoleums were lost during air raids in World War II, but the modern reconstructions you can see today are faithful reproductions and are no less impressive. 

Contrary to what many people perceive as the aesthetics of traditional Japan, the mausoleums are colorful and opulent. They were originally constructed in the style of the Azuchi-Momoyama period桃山時代, a time when, as Wikipedia describes it:

The ornate castle architecture and interiors adorned with painted screens embellished with gold leaf were a reflection of a daimyō's 大名 power but also exhibited a new aesthetic sense that marked a clear departure from the somber monotones favored during the Muromachi period 室町時代.

The famous shrine at Nikkō 日光東照宮 is another example of Momoyama-style architecture and design. In fact, a number of the weathered wooden buildings still standing in Japan after three or four centuries were originally built in this colorful style, only to have the paint gradually flake off over time.

The main gate of Zuihoden, made from cypress. The name of the gate, Nehammon 涅槃門, comes from the Japanese word for nirvana, nehan 涅槃.

The Kansenden 感仙殿, the mausoleum of Date Masamune's successor, Date Tadamune 伊達忠宗, who became the second feudal of the Sendai-han 仙台藩 feudal domain.

The mausoleum of the third daimyo, Date Tsunanume 伊達綱滑, is called the Zennōden 善応殿. Like the Zuihoden and Kansenden, the original was destroyed by American bombers. 

The mausoleums are located on pleasantly-wooded grounds. After spending an hour or so here, I hopped on the next Loople bus as I continued my journey uphill.

I got off at the next stop, the Sendai City Museum 仙台市博物館. The displays covered the history of the city from the Stone Age to the present, but the majority of the exhibits were naturally concerned with Date Masamune and his ilk. This portrait of Masamune, like all others made during his lifetime, depicts him with two eyes, despite the fact he lost one of his eyes during childhood.

Swords and armor used by the samurai 侍 of the Sendai-han. Note the distinctive crescent moon on the helmet.

The next bus stop was Aobayama-kōen, the site of Sendai Castle, or Aoba-jō 青葉城 as it's more popularly known (the city's main thoroughfare is called Aoba-dōri 青葉通り). The castle is long gone, but the statue of Masamune riding his horse has become the symbol of the city (and it accurately depicts him as having only one eye).

Masamune looks out over the city that still owes so much to him

While atop Aoyama-koen, I had one of Sendai's specialty foods for lunch. Gyūtan 牛タンis cow's tongue, which I grilled at the table while quenching my thirst with a beer. 

Getting on the Loople one more time, I rode the tourist bus back to the downtown area, where I took a walk through a couple of Sendai's long, covered shopping arcades.

It was soon time to get back to Tōkyō 東京 however, so I retrieved my bags and bought a ticket for the bullet train 新幹線,  my JR Pass having expired the day before. A self-portrait of the traveler waiting for his train at Sendai Station 仙台駅, reading The Japan News (formerly The Daily Yomiuri) and sipping an iced cocoa アイスココア.

I soon found myself back where I started, in Tokyo's Shinjuku 新宿 district, where I dropped my bags off at my hotel and, starving, wolfed down a bowl of katsudon カツ丼. And then I was off to meet another old friend, Jun. Kicking back with way too many bars at an izakaya 居酒屋, the two of us had some catching up to do, and catch up we did. And just as with my friend Aviva, I was so caught up in our conversation that I neglected to capture any moments on film, which was a damn shame.

And thus ended the Japan leg of my two-week vacation. In addition to some great travels in Tōhoku, this trip was made even more pleasurable by virtue of having been able to see some wonderful people again after too many years. And so to Aviva, Doug and Jun, I bid you a fond じゃまた (not さようなら), and hope to meet up with you again someday soon.

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