Seven times, eight times

Greecejapan_Ota_Dokan

text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis

“This rose can bloom seven or eight fold blossoms but unfortunately it doesn’t bear fruits” was the girl’s reply to the warrior-hunter who caught in a sudden rain asked for a straw raincoat, and instead received a fan with a few yellow “yamabuki” (山吹) roses placed on it. The hunter left frustrated and when that night he returned to his residence on the Musashino plain hill, above the Sumida River, he told the story to his retainers only to learn from one of the most well read in the classics among them that the girl’s phrase was not random but a poem from the 300 years-old imperial collection Goshui Wakashu (後拾遺和歌集). And that in an indirect way through the use of a pun, the girl apologized for not being able to offer him the raincoat he asked.   

If the hunter was some no-name warrior, this would have been the end of the story. But Ota Dokan (1432-1486) was the man who built the castle of Edo for the Uesugi clan of landlords; even though some conflict among the members of the family, one of those stories of disloyalty that fill the pages of Japanese feudal history and its “loyal warriors” cost him his life, the fact that he was the first to build a castle on the hill that is today the center of Tokyo was enough to eternalize him. Or at least to secure for him a spot in the history of the city which 150 years after his death would become the de facto capital and center of all activity in Japan and 400 years later, the biggest metropolitan area in the world.

There are many statues of Ota Dokan in Tokyo and in the broader Kanto area; but not so many as one would expect since the rather low profile warrior, poet (after his yamabuki experience) and Buddhist monk was eclipsed by the subsequent famous resident of the Edo castle, the shogun Tokouwaya Ieyasu and the emperors Maiji, Taisho, Showa and Akihito whose imperial palace stands in the exact same spot. The one I like best, is the one almost hidden in the Chuo Koen park next to the Tokyo metropolitan government building in Shinjuku: lost among trees and bushes, without his horse or his bow and dressed in simple hunting attire, Ota seems uncomfortable at the sight of the kneeling girl offering him the roses on the fan; or perhaps it is at the sight of the skyscrapers hiding his beloved Fuji?

 

Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. For more information about his work and his writing, visit http://about.me/GrigorisMiliaresis and http://www.japanarekore.gr/

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