Thursday, November 17, 2005


Those who have been to Kochi have probably heard about Ryoma Sakamoto or at least have seen his name on souvenirs at most of sightseeing spots in Kochi. You might wonder what’s so great about that guy. In a nutshell, he is our local hero who played a key role in Meiji Restoration, a sort of coup d’etat(?) that ended the feudal era and lead Japan in the direction of modern democracy.

There's a good article about Ryoma Sakamoto that I found on the net. Just like many other “Ryoma fans” in Japan, my view on this guy is largely influenced by the popular novel “Ryoma ga yuku,” so I do not fully agree with this author’s view at some points. Nevertheless, I think this article gives a real good overview of his life and the time he lived, and I’m very grateful that someone outside Japan studied about a samurai from our prefecture this extensively and with this much respect.

To me Ryoma is more like a symbol of young energy, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and love of dreams, freedom and adventure. In my view, he was like the Pacific Ocean when most other corrupted samurais (government bureaucrats) of that time were like cattle tanks. He is a symbol of the adoration for something beyond the horizon... adoration that we may have, or wish to be able to have again, in our real lives.

Anyway, people celebrate Ryoma Festival here in Kochi around November 15th, his birthday and also the day that he was assassinated. Today some events were held at Katsurahama beach near Ryoma’s statue, and the area near the parking lot was so crowded with cars from in and outside Kochi prefecture.

For certain period around his birthday, they set up a high, tower-like frame next to his statue and allow visitors to go up to view the Pacific Ocean from the same height as the statue. I found out about that last year when it was too late, so I was determined to give it a try this time.

Climbing up the steps was a little scary experience. I’m not too afraid of height, but when I can see all the frames and joints this way, it was a different story. But finally I got to the top and took these shots. Because of the cloudy weather, the sky and the ocean didn’t look too great. What a shame.

There was a kendo (Japanese bamboo stick fencing) competition being held on the beach near the statue. Ryoma was a great swordmaster. They say that he practiced kendo very hard just like these kids.

Our good old castnetting folks had an Okaami 陸網 (on-land cast-net throwing competition) there as a festival-related event. As I wrote in my previous post, this is the competition not of the number of fish you catch but of cast-net throwing skill. Among many members I haven't met before, I saw the friendly faces of those people who showed me the demonstrations and took me to the river the other day.

It was such a beautiful scene… colorful nets on the beach, green pine trees and the ocean… Too bad that it was cloudy that day and my camera couldn’t capture the beauty of the scenes very much.

Some staff members were in happi coats that day, which looked very festive. As the net spread in the air, making a slight frictional noise, the audience exclaimed “OH!” “Beautiful!” “Good job!”

As the competition was going on, visitors (mainly kids) were encouraged to try castnetting. These nice people didn’t mind spending a long time teaching how to hold and throw the net to very young kids, including a 4 year-old boy.

I was told that the competition that day was a sort of exhibition game and the participants' scores did not affect their official rankings.

Mr. YS, the friendly guy who showed me a demonstration the other day, did really great that day and won two prizes. He looked so happy.

Meanwhile, a game show was going on at a main stage near the souvenir shops. Participants were Ryoma fans from all over Japan, I suppose. The game show hostess read Ryoma-related questions, and those who answered correctly were allowed to move closer to the stage, and those who got on the stage were given the prizes on the table. It was amazing that the participants knew so much about his life. I read “Ryoma ga yuku” more than twenty times but couldn't guess the answers for some questions. Those people (the winners) must be real fanatics. :)

Sightseeing at Katsurahana beach involves quite a bit of going up and down the steps/slopes, and I was already tired around 4pm. This was the shot I took right before leaving the beach.

The penguins looked as tired as I was, but they were still curious and trying to peck the kid's hand.

As I left the beach, I saw many cars still waiting in line to get in the parking lot, and I felt so sorry for those people in the car. When they got on the beach, maybe Ryoma's statue under the cloudy sky was the only thing there to welcome them. I hope they do something about the problem next year.

I wonder what Ryoma would say if he were alive now and saw this many fans wanting to get close to him at this festival. :)
posted by obachan, 11/17/2005 01:03:00 PM


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