Thousands of Miles from Home


Hattori Hanzo Steel

Following the evening at the Marine Hotel, Shoko, Miyu, Masatoshi, and I took a road trip to northern Okayama. Along the way, Miyu pointed out that we had a good traveling group, with all blood types represented (Masatoshi B, Shoko A, Miyu AB, and me O). It stuck me as the first time I had ever judged company by their molecular proteins. Our first stop of the day was しずたにがっこう (Shizutani School), the oldest free public school in the world. It was built in 1666 by Ikeda Mitsumasa, the feudal lord of the Bizen area. "Shizu-tani" means "a quiet and peaceful valley," and particularly in autumn the school grounds are beautiful. One of the unique features of the Shizitani School is the roof made of Bizen tiles. There is also a top-rounded stonewall which surrounds the school. I am told that this wall was built in the "Chinese style," but as to what that means I remain clueless.

Another main feature of the school is the Lecture Hall. When Shoko was a student in high school she attended a camping trip at Shizutani, and was required to wash the wood floor of the lecture hall by hand. Miyu, Mai, and Shun also performed this same task, making it a family affair. We walked about the grounds, looked at various exhibits, and enjoyed the wonderful, albeit photogenic, autumn weather.

After Shizutani, everyone was feeling hungry. Masatoshi's car's GPS system showed a restaurant nearby, so we decided to take a chance and explore. The restaurant ended up being "Mister Burger," the tiny japanese equal to the Ponderosa Steakhouse. The food was decent, and we had a good laugh, so lunch was humorous if nothing else.

Next we stopped at perhaps the best looking, if not the most interesting musuem I have visited in Japan. The Bizen Osafune Sword Museum contained a wide variety of japanese edged weapons, including Tachi, Katana, Wakizashi, and Tanto. In the newly renovated main building, large high definition displays illustrated the process of japanese sword (or Nipponto) making. Outside, just as we arrived, three men were giving a demonstration of the forging of a sword. After heating the metal red-hot with a billows, two of the men struck the steel with large hammers while the third kept the metal moving. The first strike of the wet hammers on the hot steel exhibited a vociferous crack, making the whole room jump. Sparks flew and the crowd was amazed.

The museum also provided me with a very in-depth english "Manual for Appreciating the Japanese Sword." I had known the making of a sword involved the folding of metal, but could not imagine how this was accomplished. There are many stepes, but after visiting the museum the process is not so difficult to understand (but just as difficult to perform). In the upstairs section of the musuem was a large display of swords, some as old as the 1200's. In other buildings each step of the sword making process was explained, and some workmen were making actual swords that clients had ordered. This museum, to borrow Kostya's analogy, gets 5 out of 5 museum points.


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