A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse
Richard III, Shakespeare
I can’t believe a month has passed between posts. (Well, actually I can, but I will spare you the gory/boring details and get on with it.)
Culture Day started off flat. Or, more accurately, wet. A day off work, and it rains. Typical.
Anyway, morning passed, the weather fined up and the kids both decided to go out. So, freed of certain obligations, I thought I would get out and get some material to blog. (Not to mention that being stuck indoors while the weather was glorious was doing my head in.)
An afternoon hike seemed out of the question. By the time I arrived anywhere it would be time to head back. A cycling trip it was then.
First I rode to Hachikokuyama to photograph a point that was closed off when I visited earlier this year.
Shogun-Zuka is believed to be a very old mound on top of the hills overlooking Kumegawa. Nitta Yoshisada is said to have raised his banner on it, thus leading to it’s name. Ironically, Nitta never became a Shogun.
Shogun-Zuka was, however, merely a check point as I headed to Konjoji (more popularly known as Yamaguchi Kannon) to check on some details and get some photos. Nitta is said to have stopped at this temple to pray for success.
One of the buildings in the Konjoji complex is a hall dedicated to Nitta’s white horse. A handwritten sign says that after his success in capturing Kamakura, Nitta sent his horse back to the temple – a long way to go – to live out its remaining years.
The hall, rebuilt in 1968, houses a life-size statue of a horse. (The statue appears to be made of wood, but thick layers of paint give it a plastic appearance.)
It is worth remembering that Japanese horses were pony sized, so for all its inaccuracies, the statue does appear to be the correct size. (150 cm in height was considered a large horse at the time, and the main breed of Japanese horse, the Kiso, was typically just over 130 cm.)
There are a number of tablets inside the hall, all of them painted with pictures of horses. They are of varying age and state of repair.
In an odd twist of fate, Yoshisada met his end in battle upon falling from a white horse, and some versions of events say he was pinned under his steed. One legend then goes on to say that he slit his own throat with his sword. Another holds that he decapitated himself. Paul Varley in Warriors of Japan as Portrayed in the War Tales notes that according to the description in the Taiheiki:
An aide implores Yoshisada to retreat to safety, but the Nitta chieftain asserts: “It is not my intention, when my men are losing their lives, to save myself from death,” and whips his horse forward. But the horse, a magnificent animal capable, under ordinary circumstances, of leaping easily across moats, has been greatly weakened by five arrow wounds. Stumbling into a small ditch, it “collapses like a folding screen,” pinning Yoshisada’s left leg under its body. At that moment, an arrow smashes through Yoshisada’s helmet and into his forehead. Still conscious and aware that the end has come, Yoshisada draws his sword and decapitates himself, his head dropping into the deep mud of a rice paddy and his body toppling over onto it.
While we remember the heroes of war, the beasts of war are often forgotten. Here in Tokorozawa was one whose memory hasn’t completely faded.