Gion

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Sekigahara, Kunitomo, Shizugatake, Mount Hiei, Gion Festival, Teramachi, Nijo Castle, Hoko-ji, Mimizuka, Yogen-in, Fushimi Port & Canals, Momoyama .
Tour Code: OK0716
Tour Fee: 31500 Discount Price: 23400

July 16th – Sekigahara, Kunitomo, Shizugatake, Mount Hiei, Yoiyama!

Today we begin an overnight visit to Kyoto. On the way, we visit a number of historically important sites in modern day Shiga Prefecture (and will have some seriously fantastic food).

Our first destination is the Battlefield of Sekigahara. Located on the western edge of the flat plain currently dominated by the sprawling metropolitan area of Nagoya, the narrow pass was a choke point between eastern and western Japan. Even today, the shinkansen, expressway and Tokaido main line pass through here. In 1600, the valley was the site of the largest and bloodiest battle in Japan’s long history of civil war. The victory here by Tokugawa Ieyasu, filled the power vacuum that had been created by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death in 1598. We will observe the battlefield from the viewpoint of Ishida Mitsunari, Ieyasu’s rival, who purported to be acting in support of Hideyoshi’s young heir, Hideyori. This battle (and many others such as the sieges of Fushimi Castle) effectively marks the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

We next visit the Kunitomo Matchlock Museum. The mass production of firearms domestically at Kunitomo, Sakai (Osaka) and a handful of other foundry centers tipped the balance of power towards the Oda, Toyotomi, and later Tokugawa. At Kunitomo, good quality ore was mined, and high grade charcoal obtained from the nearby forests. When Oda Nobunaga bequeathed the Kunitomo district to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the expansion of armaments production became one of his top priorities. A brilliant organizer, Hideyoshi knew this area well, having fought under Oda Nobunaga during the battles fought in 1570 & 1573 at nearby Anegawa and Odani Castle during the fighting against the Azai and Asakura clans.

Our next destination is the nearby Battlefield of Shizugatake, where after a typically speedy Hideyoshi forced march, he defeated Shibata Katsue. The battlefield itself is a mountain, with exceptional views over the northern reaches of Lake Biwa and Lake Yogo. After taking in the views, we will enjoy lunch at nearby Gennai (gennai.jp). Some seriously awesome food.

From Shizugatake we head to Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei. Overlooking the cities of Kyoto and Otsu at the western end of the massive lake, Enryaku-ji remains an important spiritual center to this day, and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage listings. The monastery was famous for it’s militant warrior monks, who constantly interfered in the politics of the capital, and enraged Oda Nobunaga through their alliance with the Azai and Asakura. In 1571, Nobunaga surrounded the mountaintop temple, before slaughtering all of the monks, and razing the complex to the ground.

In the evening we descend into Kyoto for the Gion Festival. An ancient and colorful festival, this is a good chance to wear your yukata, and take in the many floats that are prepared for the parade the following day. Tonight is Yoiyama, the night before the great parade. There is music, dancing (it is a good chance to see Geiko perform) and many of the streets of Gion and Teramachi and closed to traffic and lined with food stalls. Tonight is essentially free time, though we will visit Yasaka Jinja. We are staying in a traditional ryokan in the heart of Gion, literally 10 meters from the entrance to Kennin-ji, Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple.

July 17th – Gion Festival, Teramachi, Nijo Castle, Hoko-ji, Mimizuka, Yogen-in, Fushimi Port & Canals, Momoyama.

If you are an early riser, you have the chance to visit Kennin-ji before watching the Yamaboko Junko (parade). The massive floats are hauled through the city, it is a great spectacle, dating back to the 9th century. The parade takes place around Teramachi, the temple district where Hideyoshi concentrated many temples and shrines inside a protective town wall. In Hideyoshi’s day, the city (and therefore the wall) was on the west bank of the Kamogawa. The Great Buddha, Hoko-ji, and what is now the Gion district, lie across the river at the foothills of the Higashiyama. From Teramachi we will walk via the site of Honnō-ji, the temple where Oda Nobunaga was staying when he was betrayed, on our way to Nijo Castle.

For 260 years, Nijo was the base of administration for the Tokugawa Shogunate in Kyoto. After the mass executions that followed Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu was wary of staying in Kyoto without adequate security. The Nijo Palace within the castle is the original building, with nightingale floors and beautiful artworks. It was in this palace that Ieyasu and his son Hidetada, met Hideyoshi’s young heir (Hideyori).

From Nijo we will head southeast to Yogen-in. This will give you a good idea of how complicated some samurai family histories in the Sengoku Jidai could become. When Oda Nobunnaga and Hideyoshi destroyed Odani Castle in 1573, the wife (Oichi) and three daughters of the defeated daimyo were allowed to leave. Oichi married Shibata Katsue, and was killed during the fighting with Hideyoshi in 1582. The eldest of the three daughters (Yodo) became Hideyoshi’s concubine, then second wife, and mother to Hideyori. She and Hideyori died in 1615 during the siege of Osaka Castle, when Tokugawa Ieyasu destroyed Toyotomi Hideyori and his supporters. The temple was built by Yodo to commemorate her father (Asai Nagamasa), and rebuilt by the youngest of the three daughters (Oeyo), who married Tokugawa Hidetada. Just to make it more complicated, Oeyo’s children included the 3rd shogun (Iemitsu), who was present at the battle of Osaka in 1615, and her daughter married Hideyori (but survived 1615).

One of the interesting things about Yogen-in is that it contains memorials to the Asai, Toyotomi and Tokugawa. It also has an unusual ceiling. When Oeyo had the temple repaired, she ordered that the ceiling use timber taken from the floors of Fushimi castle. The garrison of Fushimi castle had fought to the last man in 1600, buying Tokugawa Ieyasu badly needed time to assemble his forces. You can still see the blood stains when you look up.

From Yogen-in, it is a short walk to Hoko-ji and the Toyotomi Jinja, and nearby Mimizuka. Hoko-ji was the site of the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) constructed by Hideyoshi (ostensibly using melted down weapons confiscated from the peasantry), and has the famous bell that Tokugawa Ieyasu used as a pretext to destroy Hideyori in 1615. We will also visit the Mimizuka, a legacy of Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea. Traditionally samurai warriors would sever the heads of their enemies and display them to their leader. The logistics of transporting heads across the Tsushima strait separating Kyushu from Korea proved too difficult, so noses were severed instead. This mound shaped memorial is believed to contain some 38,000 noses of Korean and Chinese soldiers (and civilians).

We now head south to Fushimi. When Fushimi castle was built, enormous resources were used to create the moats and canals connecting Fushimi with the rivers connecting Lake Biwa with Osaka and the inland sea. As Fushimi was positioned at the tidewater mark, it rapidly became an important market town and distribution center. Goods were transshipped from river boats to sea going vessels, and the production of heavy, bulky goods (such as sake) became an important industry. Fushimi sake remains famous to this day, so if time permits, we’ll visit the Gekkeikan brewery. We end the day with a visit to Momoyama, the location of Hideyoshi’s castle.

Departs: East Exit, JR Okazaki Station, Saturday, 8:00am. Returns: Sunday, 8:30pm (approx)
Mode of transport: Minivan or Microbus
Deadline for Discount Price: 28 days prior
Tour Code: OK0716 (needed for application form below)

Click here to apply (opens new window).