2009/03/20

Seizan-so

Today was a holiday in Japan - Spring Equinox Day. In Buddhist circles it is called "Ohigan" and at this time graves are visited, decorated with flowers and the scent of incense is in the air. The day and night being equal, it is a symbol of the middle path, and a time of transition from Winter to Spring. The word "higan" (literally, the other side of the river) is the Japanese way of expressing the Sanskrit word "Paramita". The Six Paramitas (generosity, ethics, patience, effort, contemplation, wisdom) are the way that one gains the merit to attain enlightenment. In Pure Land schools, even those who do not attain merit in life are guided, through the Buddha's compasion, from this worldly shore to the "other shore" of the Pure Land - another transition. Like Obon, Ohigan is a time to celebrate one's ancestors and the Buddha's teachings.

So, what better time for a post about fall colors! (Well, that too is a transition).

November is when we usually head toward northern Ibaraki in search of autumnal tints. In 2008, we returned to Seizan-so in Hitachi-Ota City. Seizan-so was the retirement home of Mitsukuni Tokugawa (1628-1700), the Second Duke of Mito who was responsible for “The Great History of Japan” - a chronicle of the emperors of Japan from the first (legendary) Emperor Jimmu, said to have lived from 660 BCE to 585 BCE, to Emperor Gokomatsu who reunified the Northern and Southern Dynasties in 1392. The 397 volume history was written in all Chinese characters (Kanji) and was such an enormous undertaking that it was not completed until 1906 - over 200 years after Mitsukuni's passing and 249 years from the time the project started.


In recent times, Mitsukuni Tokugawa has been immortalized by the popular NHK period drama "Mito Kōmon", which has been running since 1969. Though based on the real Duke, the adventures of Mito Kōmon are fictitious and can be traced to novels of the early 19th Century. Kōmon is the Japanese pronunciation of Mituskuni's official title which was "Gon-chunagon", the equivalent of second Lord of Imperial Ordinance of China during the Tang Dynasty. This was an honorary titled conferred upon him when he retired. He is generally referred to as Mito Kōmon today with both affection and respect.


The name Seizan-so also has a Chinese origin. The poet Tao Yan-ming (365-427) wrote
"Jinkan Itarutokoro Seizan Ari" which means:

"A green hill fit for one's burial place is to be found anywhere.
Fortune awaits you everywhere.
There is room for us all in the world."

(Well, after all, back in 400 CE the population of the entire world was only about 200 million!)

Seizan-so burned down after the Duke's death in 1700, but was rebuilt about 175 years ago and today is open to the public. We have visited there several times, but last November was the best for viewing the colorful leaves of fall. There is a gift shop and cafeteria at the entrance. A small fee is charged to enter the grounds around the house.

It is a most beautiful and peaceful place to visit. Often we have seen artists sketching and of course lots of photographers trying to capture its essence. The man himself is an interesting figure, if one can tease historical fact from legend. That he created this place, farmed, and worked on the “The Great History of Japan” during the last 10 years of his life tells us much about him. He also seems to have had the common man at heart.

Mitsukuni Tokugawa was interested in herbs and their medicinal uses. He grew many varieties and wrote a pharmacology book about 397 herbs and printed and distributed the book to benefit ordinary people.

He also grew rice, plowing the 5000 sq. meter (about 1.25 acre) paddy himself, and in spite of his high office and relationship to the Shogun (he was his second son) he made sure to pay the same tax as any other rice farmer.







The main path, called "Duke's Alley".







A koi seems to swim among the red maple leaves reflected in this pond. From here, water cascaded down to lower ponds nearer the house. It is easy to let time slip by following the meandering paths and viewing the ponds, waterfalls, and lush vegetation accented with splashes of fall colors.




There are several interesting features in his gardens. One is the shape of the pond (a protion of which is shown above) by his home. He said, "You had better to read the opposite side of a person's thought. If you find his thought to be honest on the opposite side, he is good enough to be a friend." The word for mind or heart is "shin" which is written "心”. The pond is in the shape of 心, but upside down as seen from the house to represent viewing the opposite side.

The Duke's house. The plants at the top of the roof have a purpose - they are irides and act as a hygrometer for the thatched roof. If they start to droop, you will know to sprinkle water on the roof to keep it from being too dry and thus keep it from catching fire.

Behind the house are some Chinese Quince trees which produce a fragrant flower and a fruit from which a remedy for asthma can be extracted.

Path to the house from the back gate lined with violet bamboo.

The rear gate was used by commoners and the Duke's officers. Made of oak and thatched with miscanthus, it is much nicer that the main gate, which is a simple one of bamboo. They say this was an indication of his kindness and tolerance.



A newer tea house is set overlooking a large pond. His body guards lived above this pond to be near the road which approached the property.





Perhaps we'll visit in Spring sometime, as there are plum trees, a trestle of wisteria, and other trees that are lovely when in bloom.

4 comments:

❤ IceGlacial™ ❤ said...

We Chinese celebrate something similar to "Ohigan" on the 15th day of the Spring Equinox - Qing Ming Festival (清明节).

And by the way, the scenery photos are awesome, :)

Olivia said...

I would never want to leave this place. It's beautiful in Autumn but it must be heartbreakingly gorgeous in Spring!

Some of the photos look like paintings. Your camera must have very high resolution because I can see nearly every leaf.

Don Snabulus said...

Just what I needed on this day. Thank you, sir.

Pandabonium said...

IceGlacial - Thanks for the interesting link and the complement. :)

Olivia - He really created something special and I am happy to see it preserved for all to enjoy.

The camera is a Canon S3, 6 megapixel. It has a fairly decent all purpose lens, though at its widest angle it can get a little fuzzy on the edges (not uncommon in cameras).

Snabby - well, if my pics helped you deal with a dose of stress, I'm very happy to oblige. It made me feel good just posting this and remembering what it was like to be there.