Tuesday, May 23, 2006

sasagawa house - 17 may 2006

The last period of Wednesday is the Japan Now class, taught my Shibata sensei. Since he has a limited grasp of the English language, Ikeda sensei helps translate his lessons. When Mrs Ikeda gave birth recently, her husband had to miss some of the classes.

L-R : Our most gungho tour guide, Shibata sensei, Ikeda sensei

Other than Japanese, Shibata sensei is also proficient in Mandarin. He had studied the language in China for a few years before. With Ikeda sensei absent, Alden and I, the only people in the class who understood Mandarin had to double up as translators. You can bet that only 10% of what he said got translated accurately!

The path on the left leading to the Main Gate can only used by the head of the family and his family members, whereas guests and servants use the one on the right.

One of the highlights of this class was the class trip. Compared to some Tokyo students who get weekly trips, we only have 5 altogether. The first was to the Sasagawa House, noted as an “Important Cultural Asset” in the village of Ajikata.

This house was built without the aid of nails. Our tour guide showing the base for the sliding doors which are made of different kinds of wood, the hardest of which is used in the middle section of the groove.

According to the tour brochure, Mr Sasagawa has been performing the duties of O-Shoya, the area’s biggest village headman, and controlled 8 villages including Ajikata village during the Edo period. The O-Shoya ruled the Shoya of each village and was given the rights of levying land taxes, transmitting orders, enforcing laws and holding trials.

The designs on the wall are inspired by patterns found in rice fields. This area is probably known as a “tokonoma”, an elevated stage area where decorations such as calligraphy are displayed.

Since the 3rd lord of (the) Sasagawa family had been appointed as (an) O-Shoya in 1649, the family had (held) the post of O-Shoya through 9 generations, for about 220 years until the Meiji Restoration. Also after (the) Meiji Restoration, Mr Sasagawa dominated as a head land owner and because he devoted himself to improving river irrigation, the Sasagawa House was left in its original state.

The family crest of the Sasagawa family

Built during the Tenshyo period (circa 1570), it is presumed that the magnificent Omotemon (the Main Gate), of which the thatched roof is remaining, and the Ishitoro (Garden Lantern) are the originals.

One of the upper floor corridors overlook the family grave yard

The Sasagawa House nowadays serves to illustrate the situation in which the O-Shoya were placed at that time, and moreoever provides a way for people to learn about the lives of the O-Shoya and the families and farmers who supported him. This house with its boundary of lush countryside is a symbol of the rich history and wealth of the surrounding Kanbara farmland.

Poetry in motion – Haiku calligraphy. The art lies not just in the writings, but the picture as a whole

Even though the tour guide only spoke Japanese, we were ooh-ing and aah-ing at the enormosity of the whole structure. Almost everything that were used by the original Sasagawa family were left intact. It gave us a glimpse of Japanese agriculture through one of the more powerful farmer families in Japan. I was told that the family could not maintain such a huge asset and have been residing in Yokohama since the 1970’s.

Excerpts taken from “The Sasagawa House, Echigo’s Big Village Headman, Important Cultural Asset” brochure

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