Something Old, Something New

Posted by on Nov 22, 2011 in Saga, Travel Volunteer Journey | One Comment
Something Old, Something New

It’s gives a person perspective, does the Travel Volunteer Project. Perspective with which to look across the country and decide what you do and don’t like; what you do and don’t find impressive. For example, having been in Matsumoto, Kochi and Matsuyama castles – one quarter of Japan’s remaining original castles – I can say that, personally, I now find the castle in Saga underwhelming.

The main problem is that there isn’t actually a castle, or at least no definitive tower as you find on virtually all of the other reconstructed versions (and certainly on all of the originals). There was one in Sage, once, but it’s long gone and the only trace that remains is a large stone platform: a sort of wooden base for a stolen trophy.

In the site’s defence, beneath that the castle’s original gate still stands. Kind of. The version that’s there at the moment is 170 years old – the true original was more than 200 years older than that, but was lost in a fire. In fact, between accidents and warfare, the site has been burned and rebuilt more times than an average wickerman.

After nearly 300 years of this, the decision-makers opted to scrap the castle altogether and, in 1883 it was converted to a school. That lasted for a while, but was then bulldozed and replaced by another school. That lasted for another 50 years and then new decision-makers had a vision: they decided to rebuild the castle. Or at least most of it. Enough, anyway that what stands now (no tower, plenty of single-story rooms housing a museum, and lots of empty space) lays claim to being the largest wooden reconstruction in Japan. It cost billions, but there is no entry fee. With the state of the world, and the economy, would the Sagans do it all again? Who knows? But this year their castle – or the memory of the castle – celebrated 400 years of reincarnation.

On the other side of town, there aren’t any original structures standing either, but the Yoshinogari Historical Park has an excuse. Dating back to 400BC, this site contains evidence of some of the oldest settlements in Japan – certainly older than any thing we’ve laid eyes on so far. Discovered by accident during the construction of a road in 1986, today the 73.7 hectare park is well and truly open to tourists. As all of the buildings from the Yayoi era were made of wood and natural materials, they’ve long been claimed by the elements, so the huge number of thatched roof houses, entertainment halls and watch towers are essentially artists’ impressions of what the settlement would have looked like when Jesus was still a glint in Archangel Gabriel’s eye.

Thankfully, it’s not just a big collection of wooden huts. The Yayoi were an advanced society, skilled tool and weapon makers, and traders who had a penchant for burying their kin in large pots. All of this is evidenced in a huge archaeological collection that has been gathered in an on-site museum. There’s an impressive number of swords and arrow flints, and of course those pots, on display. Around 300 skeletons survived to be analysed from around 3,000 of the huge coffins (jarcophagus?). The majority of them were found without their skulls, but DNA testing of the remains revealed them to be of Chinese extraction. While there’s still plenty of conjecture over the origins of the find, it seems likely then that they were settlers from the mainland.

Twenty-six years after being unearthed, and with more excavations ongoing, there’s something much more exciting about this half-finished collection of guesswork than the carefully planned, fully-funded empty space back in Saga city centre.








1 Comment

  1. k yatomi
    November 25, 2011

    Hello How are you doing ?
    I’ m so shocked to see only a tip of the roof in that big castle which Saga people are very proud of , All castles in Japan are not always same like those located on the mountains. The land of Saga is so soft like TOFU that those gigantic castle was not needed but 70 meter wide moat and shouldn’t have been constructed due to Tokugawa central government ‘s surveillance. In mid 19th century, why not they needed a castle like fortress ?
    That is Saga style Castle. ! ! One of the reasons is that traditional skills and techniques they used are also important to be handed down to the next generation.
    So I don’t think it’s a waste of money! Saga prefecture have so-called a hundred -year plan to make the history park around the castle where people can slip back to some hundreds years ago. How eco-friendly and sustainable it is that people grow trees in mountains and in towns to make Castle park.
    In Arita I saw a doctor’s diplomat displayed in the potter’s house where we had lunch. one of his children is a doctor.