Tsurugajo and Tokyo Skytree: A visit to Japan’s ancient and modern wonders

The Tsurugajo Castle showing the entrance PHOTOS: Anthony Maliki
The Tsurugajo Castle showing the entrance PHOTOS: Anthony Maliki

The Tsurugajo Castle in Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fikushima Prefecture and the Tokyo SkyTree are some great examples of Japan’s ancient and modern wonders.

Though the castle has gone through many repairs due to damage by natural disasters and from wars, it has generally been reconstructed and maintained its original shape especially the foundation made of incredibly large rocks.

The history of the majestic castle began in 1384 when the Ashina Naomori built the Higashi Kurokawa Yakata. It was built by Ashina Moriuji who made the prototype of the present castle. However, in 1593, a seven storey castle was constructed by Gamo Ujisato, who named it Tsurugajo. Unfortunately, in 1611, it was damaged by a big earthquake but Kato Akinari repaired it and constructed the present five storey castle in 1639.

A centrally located fortress in the Tohoku Area of Japan, it was administered and ruled by many Japanese military tacticians and Lords was maintained a typical Japanese culture and governance.

According to records, in 1868, during the Boshin Civil War, in which the imperial army fought the Tokugawa Shogunate regime, the castle was attacked by troops of the new government who were for the Meiji Restoration and in 1874 it was finally demolished. With superior fire power from troops of the government, the Samurai of Aizu clan was forced to surrender. Sadly after, the once majestic castle was in ruins except for the indestructible stone base. In 1934, the castle’s ruins were declared a national historical site.

Undaunted, however, the current tower was rebuilt on the original site with the support of the local citizens in 1965 not wanting to leave it in a state of dilapidation and also to restore its past glory.

Way back, Gamo Ujisato was famous as not only a great feudal lord and Christian daimyo but also as a tea master, who was the head of Sen Rikyu’s seven disciples.

When Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Shogun, ordered the death of Sen Rikyu for treason in 1591, Ujisato invited his 2nd son, Sen Shoan to Aizu in order to protect him and to preserve the Sen family and Rikyu style of tea-ceremony. Then Sen Shoan built Rinkaku for Gamo Ujisato within the castle grounds.

The Aizu clan, defeated in the war, moved to Tonami, the northern-most point of Japan, in 1872. The Morikawas moved Rinkaku down to their land fearing its demolition with the castle and maintained it for 120 years.

View of Aizu-Wakamatsu from observatory of Tsurugajo Castle
View of Aizu-Wakamatsu from observatory of Tsurugajo Castle

In fact, even at those ancient times, the castle was well planned with areas specifically demarcated. There were the living quarters, the offices, the military zone, worship and learning areas. According to a tour guide, Atsushi Takahashi, the castle was a well-planned city with sections secretly guided. He said city plans were top secrets in the past as they could be used by enemies to know where to attack in times of war.

Takahashi also noted that the Samurais have seven basic rules they abide by. These included: must not disobey the elders, must make a bow to the elders, do not lie, do not be a coward, do not bully the weak ones, do not eat things outside the houses and do not speak to women outside the houses.

Even the position of the Tsurugajo Castle is strategic as from the high level, any advancing enemy can be clearly seen from the plains and castle’s surrounding river making it difficult to access easily.

Now, the castle is a memory chronicling the history of Aizu, the Samurais and the lords that ruled the area. The photos of the lords that ruled the castle and many memorabilia of the Samurai including remnants of weapons used in the wars are on display. It also contained diaries of activities of each of the lords during their reign. There are also samples of the kind of attire the feudal lords wore and the other citizens. Each lord has an amazing kind of head gear uniquely made and special battle swords and amour.

The roof top of the castle is an observatory where a substantial part of Aizu can be seen as well as the peak of Mount Bandai about 27 kilometres away. The shop at the exits of the castle is stocked with assorted gift items mainly peculiar to the Samurai and Aizu and its history.

But, the construction of the castle is also interesting with the foundation and inter walls made of extremely big rocks ever imagined. One would only wonder how these stones were moved to the site crossing the surrounding stream and into formation.

Also on the grounds of the castle are other areas of interest including a tea house reminiscence of the tea room the lords were known for and alluring trees of Cherry Blossom.

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree (Internet)
Tokyo Skytree (Internet)

If Tsurugajo Castle is an edifice of ancient Japan, the Tokyo Skytree, is a modern grandeur. A freestanding structure situated at Sumida, it is a modern spectacle with its height attracting the clouds. The highest point is actually a broadcast and observation tower. According to information, Skytree became the tallest structure in Japan in 2010 and reached its full height of 634.0 metres in March 2011, making it the tallest tower in the world, displacing the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China at 604 metres. It is, however, the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 829.8 metres.

The construction of the circular shaped Tokyo Skytree began in 2006 with Obayashi Corp as the main project firm. It was completed on February 29, 2012 but officially open to the public on May, 22, 2012. The construction was funded by the Tobu Railway and a group of six terrestrial broadcasters headed by NHK, Japan’s international broadcast service.

But, before then, the tower got its name following suggestions from October to November 2007, where the public were asked in a poll of 110,000 respondents. In all, those in favour of the “Tokyo Skytree” were 33,000 out of the total votes thereby, making the day of announcement 10th of June, 2008. Other names on the list were Tokyo Edo Tower, Rising Tower, Tower of the future, Dream Lookout and Rising East Tower.

It was gathered that before now, an older Tokyo Tower had limited signals for digital terrestrial television broadcasting due to high-rise buildings around it.

The steel-framed facility is a huge revenue earner with hundreds of visitors and tourists paying to get a panoramic view of most of Tokyo and beyond. Visitors pay from 500 yen to 3400 yen depending on the floors they want to reach on the “tree” and the category of ticket bought. There are also floors of the tower where people can take a view of Tokyo and its surroundings. These are Sorakara Point at 450 metres, Commemorative photography at 445 metres and there are restaurants at 340 and 345 metres. Mount Fuji may be seen on clear weather days 106 kilometres away. Also, Mount Tsukuba at 63 kilometres can be seen too.

View of Aizu-Wakamatsu from observatory of Tsurugajo Castle
View of Aizu-Wakamatsu from observatory of Tsurugajo Castle

On floor 340, there is a quadruple tempered glass floor where one can look straight down. Snacks and drinks are also served on this floor and people can sit on tables near the fortified glass watching happenings down town Tokyo. It is breathtaking and many take photos there for a fee. On the 350 floor, beverages are available and assorted ice creams are gotten.

The Tembo galleria on floor 445 is interesting as visitors can take a slant walk up to floor 450. It is called the “air walk.” On the whole, the large-scale complex which comprises many commercial establishments, business offices, an aquarium and a planetarium. Visitors can have a 360 degree view of Tokyo, it is also said to be earthquake resistant.

If the building of Tsurugajo Castle was a marvel, a visit to the Skytree is an admiration of the wonders of modern engineering as the clouds wrap round the steel frame and one can “feel” the “synergy” between the two.

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