Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kyoto - DAY 3

Carl here...

Day Three
For some reason it was decided that we had to have an early start to drive back to Tokyo, I think it was to avoid the ‘end of holiday’ traffic on the roads. In hindsight it would have been better to take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo instead, that way we would have had another full day in Kyoto, and we’d have still got home at the same time!.

We didn’t want to waste our morning completely, so it was decided that Amy, Lawrence and I would walk to the nearby Nijo castle and have a look around. My trusty guidebook (Fodor's Japan ISBN 0-679-00890-X) was consulted for the opening times and we set off. Naturally we got lost, but we eventually found the place only to discover that because of the New Year holiday, it wasn’t yet open – my trusty guidebook had failed me for the first time in six months!

We took some photos of the front gate and headed back to the hotel, again getting lost on the way!

On the way out of Kyoto we stopped on the Kamo-gawa (Kamo River) so that Lawrence could play on the stepping stones. After a short stop we headed off.

The thought of such a long road trip didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm, especially when you consider that I could have had another nice relaxing day in Kyoto instead! We stopped for some breakfast at a service station overlooking Biwa lake, the largest freshwater lake in Japan just on the outskirts of Kyoto. We then hit the highway for journey home.

For a lot of the journey there wasn’t much to see, the road went through colourless grey cities like Nagoya with little of interest. When we hit the mountainous area we marvelled at Japanese engineering. We would drive through a huge 4 lane car tunnel only to come out immediately over a huge gorge on a massive and ultra-modern suspension bridge. Most nations would avoid such difficult routes, but the Japanese don’t seem to see huge mountains as problems to their building plans. Because of this attitude, the road is very smooth and straight making the long journey home that bit quicker.

Once the highway starts to hug the rugged coastline, it follows the path of the historical Tokaido, No, not the karate suit manufacturer – the Tokaido road. Let me explain...

Ieyasu Tokugawa took control of the country after defeating the Toyotomi clan at the battle of Sekigahara. He won because a number of feudal lords changed sides at the last minute and help Tokugawa win. Naturally Ieyasu was a little paranoid about his new found allies so he came up with an innovative way of controlling the other feudal lords. Every feudal lord had to make their way to Edo (Tokyo) in alternate years to have an audience with Ieyasu. Because of their rank, this had to be done in much pomp and ceremony and all at the expense of the individual feudal lords. Also, when the lord left Edo, they had to leave there wife and children behind in their Edo villa’s as hostages to the lords good behaviour.

This system bled the feudal lords treasuries dry and effectively made them absentee landlords undermining their power base. This system led to 250 years of unbroken peace in Japan.

Anyway, back to the topic. The route that the eastern lords would take was the Tokaido, because of the amount of retainers each lord had and the needs of feeding and housing each lord and their entourage, the Tokaido road became very important financially and strategically.

Tokyo Nights

Even with this heritage, the road wasn’t that exciting though we did get some great shots of Tokyo at night.

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