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Reliving Feudal Days in Japan at Fete in Okazaki

March 22, 1987|LADISLAW REDAY | Reday is a Newport Beach free-lance writer.

OKAZAKI, Japan — Even the weight of a dewdrop

Bows down the blade of grass

So said Ieyasu Tokugawa, the most famous of all Japanese shoguns, in the 17th Century when he left his native city of Okazaki and made his way to Tokyo--then called Edo--to unify Japan.

This month the modern city of Okazaki, halfway between Tokyo and Osaka, celebrates its 70th anniversary amid cherry blossoms at Okazaki Castle, with a spectacular pavilion and costume parades, all in a historic setting by the Sugo River.

Okazaki really goes back 450 more years to its founding, and then back to a settlement in 1192. Ruins here date back to the Jamon Period from 8000 BC to 200 BC.

Now the sister city of Newport Beach, Calif., Okazaki is a thriving and picturesque metropolis where old Japan meets the future. Okazaki is famous for its stonework and stone carvings, a sample of which is on display on the Newport Beach City Hall lawn.

From now through May 17 visitors who have read James Clavell's "Shogun" or saw the TV mini-series can view 3,000 cherry trees in bloom, or trace the ancient past of Okazaki by visiting the temples and shrines displaying the city's historic artifacts. Okazaki Castle, built in the Muromachi Shogunate that began in 1333, and the birthplace of the famous Tokugawa in 1542, will hold a running exhibition throughout the Expo.

"Okazaki As it Was, Is and Will Be" is the theme of the Expo Pavilion. The pageant should provide a fascinating vision both of the city's future and its ancient past.

Back to Feudal Japan

The first time I saw the celebration of a Japanese festival, with old flags, colorful floats and ancient costumes carefully preserved, with samurai warriors, priests and musicians pounding huge drums and the citizens reenacting ancient rites and dances, I felt I had been taken back into feudal Japan.

Probably because of their Shinto beliefs, the ancient ways have been carefully preserved and treasured in Japan, perhaps more than any place on earth.

The shogun time around Okazaki was a fantastic period filled with intrigues, struggles, wars and assassinations, dating from the time of the Mikawa warriors in 1192, well before Columbus discovered America. The Matsudaira samurai reigned in the Okazaki region from 1333 to 1573 before Tokugawa brought about the unification of Japan.

If you get a Japanese tatami room in a hotel or ryokan (Japanese inn, at $42 a night on up) these days, you don't have to worry as the samurai warriors did, that a sword will slit up through the straw tatami and knife you while you sleep.

At first you may not sleep as easily on a futon on the floor, but you get the full flavor of Japanese life as it used to be.

I like the furo or hot bath in the Japanese inns where you soap, then sponge off before entering the hot tub. After all, it is only prudent to be clean before bowing to a new acquaintance of either sex.

Usually you are forewarned as a gaijin , or foreigner, and with typical Japanese courtesy, if others will be bathing. In early postwar days, puzzled attendants stretched a rope across if there was objection to mixed bathing.

Okazaki is in the heartland of Japan, about 2 hours, 45 minutes by bullet train from Tokyo and 1 hour, 45 minutes from Osaka on the Sugo and Otogawa rivers. Okazaki usually blooms with flowers in April. The Cherry Festival, along with the Expo at the castle, will be in full swing, overlooking the pavilion.

In the pavilion will be a mall lined with shops of the type of the 17th-Century Edo period. The mall leads to the World Bazaar and restaurants.

On either side will be the Science Zone, featuring "From Wisdom to Experience"and "From Daily Life to Technology."

The main attraction of the Buddhist Rennyo Festival, which takes place April 19-25, is the Daijuji Temple with its traditional pagoda-like Taho Tower. Odori, or dances, will be staged, and you might even get into one if you learn the tanko bushi, the coal miner's dance.

In any event the cherry blossoms and plant market will be out, and a variety show will be held. Fireworks will be featured. The Japanese love fireworks and Okazaki is the home of fireworks manufacturing, so the city will get them wholesale.

Visitors to the Expo also will find the Gomanku , or Flowering Wisteria Festival. Hanging from scores of trellises, the wisteria will bloom in late April or early May. Tea ceremonies are held there under the wisteria, along the gentle Otogawa River.

Children's Fair

The Children's Fair, which features fishing contests and sports, is scheduled for May 5. Shortly after, May 8-10, a tower of flowers will be constructed at the Seiganji Temple to insure a good harvest. Wait, there's more: On the second Saturday and Sunday in May the Shinmei Festival comes up, with flower-covered floats that move in procession to the Shinmei Shrine.

Literary and history buffs can see ancient scrolls and costumes displayed in the reference rooms of the Ieyasu Museum, and in Okazaki Castle. The relics of the Mikawa warriors will be displayed at the Mikawabushi and the museum.

For information about travel to Okazaki, contact the Executive Committee for the Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of Okazaki City at 2-9 Juo-Cho, Okazaki, Aichi, Japan, or the Japan National Tourist Organization at 624 S. Grand Ave., Suite 2702, Los Angeles 90017, phone (213) 623-1952.

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