The Castle Crasher

And we’re back folks.

I decided today would be a great day to visit Odawara Castle. Being it was relatively nearby, and that I haven’t visited a castle while I have been here yet, today seemed like the ideal day.

Of course, I didn’t factor in something a little important. It was 98 degrees outside. But, well, life is full of sacrifices, eh?

I googled the route I would have to take to Odawara the morning of, not planning it out the night before like a normal person. I saw that all I needed was a single straight train from a station two stops from me. Perfect! It was a rapid express line.

Here’s some little facts about the rapid express lines: they are extremely sparse. They will appear on the same track as other trains, and only show up at very select times. Several trains going to different locations appear before and after them. If you miss the train, you better find a new route.

I didn’t read the time on the route very well. I left for the station at 10:30. That train would leave at 11:56 on the nose. The trip took about 20 minutes for me to make it to the station. Yeah. I was waiting for a little while.

But before then, I decided to unleash my long neglected superpower: to create an awkward situation with seemingly nothing to spark it. I needed to recharge my commuter’s pass, so I walked through the exit terminal to the left side of the station, where the recharge terminals were. I reloaded my card easily enough, and then noticed I needed to go to the right side of the station to get to the train I needed to. Instead of noticing the very obvious fact I could, quite simply, walk there without returning the way I came by moving my body slightly to the left, I walked right back through the terminal I exited from and tried cutting through the center.

Interesting fact: this is impossible.

Trying to register your card at two terminals right across from each other causes an error message to display. Not just this, but the entire terminal shuts down, begins glowing bright red, and starts blaring a small alert alarm to let everyone in the nearby vicinity become aware you are indeed a moron. Thankfully, there was a terminal attendant standing there who got to witness, no doubt wondering what I was possibly doing.

I approached him, and told him I needed to get through the terminal on the right side, because at this point I still didn’t notice the fact the two sides of this station were connected.

He spoke no english besides “No no”, which, believe it or not, got its fair use during our limited conversation. He reset the card, and motioned for me to go through the terminal I just entered from on the left, not the one I thought I needed on the right. I gestured towards the one on the right and said, “But please” in Japanese, like a confused child. “No no” he responded in English, also like a confused child. I reluctantly returned the way I came, thinking I was going to be awkwardly stuck on the left side until he realized the issue. Then I noticed the fact the sides were connected…and that I was a complete buffoon.

“OH.” I said aloud. “OW!” screamed the old man that walked into me. After walking through the terminal, I stood still trying to get my bearings. This, unfortunately, was not a calculated risk by the 80 year old man trying to navigate the Tokyo pedestrian traffic. The man almost wiped out. As did all the people behind him, who suddenly witnessed the collision and got caught up themselves.

In a matter of seconds, the station spiraled into anarchy. You’d think the station was made of ice all because I didn’t realize I could’ve walked left.

After ensuring people were fine, and then quickly fleeing the premises like a buffoon, I made my way to where I had to wait for my rapid express line. It was a 45 minute wait in the 98 degree heat being it was an outdoor train. That…was less than ideal. I heard the conductors make the exact same announcement over and over with each train arrival.

In Japanese: THE TRAIN IS HERE. THE TRAIN IS HERE. THERE ARE DOORS THAT CLOSE. THE DOORS ARE NOW OPEN. THE DOORS ARE OPEN. THE DOORS WILL CLOSE. THERE ARE DOORS THAT CLOSE.

This was very useful information that I am certain most people were unaware of. I was very happy to hear it many times in a row to reaffirm this.

Yeah, the Sun was getting to me a bit if that wasn’t clear.

Eventually, the train did indeed arrive. It was an hour and a half ride straight to the station for the castle. I was excited.

The train was rather crowded when I got on, but very quickly emptied after two stops. By the time I got through all 20, I was the only person in my car. Evidently, Odawara is not the hottest tourist destination. The brief pauses from Japanese citizens looking at me as I walked around town solidified this fact, probably wondering how I got lost and ended up there.

The place itself was like a small city district with its own distinct identity from Tokyo. The streets were paved with many sigils of the Hojo Clan, the original holders of the district and the original builders of Odawara Castle. I thought this was a neat historical nod and beamed at each one of them.

The castle itself was a 7 minute walk from the station, and I was greatly excited to see it. You could see the castle looming over some restaurants on the approach, which a pretty neat sight to see. The approach was a solid path of gravel up to a giant red bridge leading to the main plaza. Past the bridge along the path was the main entrance to Odawara Castle, a gigantic gate, of which there were several in the complex.

Now, allow me to quickly tell the story of Odawara Castle.

When the Hojo Clan took over the region of Tokyo during the Sengoku Era, they wanted to build the capital of their clan in Odawara. There, they built a massive castle complex, which they wanted to be the envy of every clan in Japan and to showcase their power. They ruled from there for many years, holding off sieges from many rival clans. The Uesugi Clan, led by the “God of War” Uesugi Kenshin, failed in their siege on Odawara. The Takeda Clan (you might recall them from a long time ago. They all wore bright red to stand out to their enemies) too failed to conquer the Hojo Clan. A marriage with Takeda Shingen’s sister to the Hojo clan’s leader marked an alliance and a temporary end to hostilities between them. The Uesugi were appeased by the Hojo offering a son to be taken in by the clan and raised as a Uesugi prince. In all, the Hojo managed to survive.

And survive they did. They were the final holdout against Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s unification of Japan. Hideyoshi laid siege to Odawara Castle towards the very end of his conquest campaign. It was there that one of the most glorious battles in Japanese history was fought. Much blood was shed, and endless tears as well. The pain…

Actually, no.

In fact, the Siege of Odawara was considered one of Hideyoshi’s easiest victories. He stood outside with his army all around the castle. He hired jugglers to entertain his men while they waited. Inside the castle, the soldiers stood next to arbalests, preparing to fire them if Hideyoshi attempted to attack. But, he didn’t. So they just waited on both sides until food supplies ran low in the castle, and then the Hojo surrendered. The Hojo Clan leader committed seppuku as a result of his loss. And so ends the Hojo Clan.

Hideyoshi gifted Odawara to Tokugawa Ieyasu, a loyal general, believing him deserving of the Tokyo region. This would prove to be a terrible decision, as Ieyasu would use this base to launch his unification of Japan after Hideyoshi’s death, and wiped out his entire family. Well, hindsight’s 20/20.

After the Tokugawa family took over, they ruled for over 200 years until the Meiji Restoration, in which the Emperor retook control over the nation. The Emperor wanted to solidify his control over the region, so he ordered the destruction of rival castles to the Imperial Palace. Odawara was destroyed.

Years and years later, a restoration group set to rebuilding the castle complex much like how it looked under the Hojo. The modern castle is significantly smaller than the original due to the massive amount of land the original took up. But, still, it makes for a massive and daunting sight.

There is not much to do in the complex. The castle itself is mostly a museum of various samurai artifacts, which is neat to see. You are allowed access to the roof to look over all of Odawara, including some very nice sights of the ocean. It was a pretty cool experience, especially to imagine as it was hundreds of years ago from up there.

For my trip back, I decided it was time to try out a Shinkansen (a bullet train) before leaving Japan. I bought a ticket (which, even for me, was surprisingly easy) and waited at the station for it to arrive. Shinkansen’s arrive to the second their arrival time is listed. It is absolutely incredible. My train arrived after about a five minute wait. I took a non-reserved seat to avoid spending half a fortune on a brief train ride. My ride to Odawara on the rapid express was an hour and a half. The Shinkansen back was 30 minutes. It was pretty impressive.

The train itself is situated exactly like an airplane (down to having a hostess wheel a cart up and down the aisle), but rides like an incredibly smooth train. It was a pretty solid experience. No kids kicking the back of my chair either. Everyone wins!

When I got back, I decided to grab a quick bowl of abura soba before I never see that glorious cuisine again. It was 4:00 PM, so the counter was practically abandoned. I hadn’t eaten for several hours in 98 degree heat. I was starving.

So I ordered the Triple size bowl with double meat.

Whenever you order food there, you buy a ticket from the vending machine and show it to the chefs, who then prepare the meal for you. Usually it gets no more than a glance, you sit, and you’re golden.

I really wish I had a picture of this guy’s reaction. I guess this isn’t a common order.

I handed him the ticket, he said “Welcome” in Japanese, and then looked at the ticket. Then he went bug-eyed. He looked over at his co-worker in pure horror. His co-worker looked at the ticket, and then proceeded to laugh out loud. I began wondering what monstrosity I just ordered.

I sat at the counter and was served the largest bowl I have ever seen, with pork practically overflowing from the sides. The one cook was still laughing. The other guy spent the entire meal watching in a mix of fascination and horror as I devoured it.

Even I couldn’t eat it all. It was a great meal. I’m really going to miss abura soba.

And so ended another solid day in Tokyo. I’m not sure what is on the table for tomorrow. I still have one last final to type up, so that will likely be the majority of the day. Time will tell.

Phrase of the Day: Shiro (Shee-roh) means “Castle”. Maybe there is still one more on the table? We shall see.

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