This past week, my friends and I had traveled to Shiroishi, a town located around an hour south of Sendai, with the purpose of visiting Shiroishi-jō. Shiroishi-jō, meaning White Stone Castle, was built in the 1300’s, destroyed and rebuilt in 1591, again destroyed in 1819, rebuilt in 1823, only to be destroyed once again in 1875 and rebuilt again in 1995. It is a living (or I suppose you could say zombie-fied) historical landmark that shows glimpses of Japan’s, and specifically Sendai’s, past in the Boshin War, otherwise known as the Japanese Revolution. During the time of war in 1868 and 1869, Shiroishi Castle was used as the headquarters of Ōuetsu Reppan Dōmei, in English known as the Northern Alliance, a war pact between the 31 northern-most domains of Japan, excluding the island of Hokkaido supporting the Shogunate against Japan’s Imperial Court. Long story short, the Alliance fell in several months shortly before the Shogunate had lost the war. Today, it stands as a proud monument to the people of the time and the sacrifices their ancestors had made to preserve their way of life. Did I mention it’s also extremely beautiful?
My friends and I were given the opportunity to wear authentic samurai armor replicas–I was lucky enough to try Date Masamune‘s (founder of the city of Sendai!) armor replica! It was heavy to say the least. The helmet had a crescent moon located on the forehead; my sensei could not explain as to why he had used a crescent moon, but it had become his signature look and enemies would cower in fear when they saw the crescent symbol of the One-eyed Dragon of Oshu. Oh, did I mention it was also his armor that had inspired Star Wars’ Darth Vader armor? Take a look for yourself!
Afterward, we were given the opportunity to observe, and dance with, Shiroishi’s local dance master, her name I unfortunately cannot remember. She was a master of traditional Japanese dance and excelled with dances that required the use of hand fans. She was teaching a class designed for young girls aged 5-12, so it was relatively easy for us also follow the dance moves! It was fun to not only attempt to dance like I was back in the 1800’s, but to also watch the young girls’ reactions and laughter as they saw how terrible we were at dancing!
Finally, before heading back to Sendai, we were allowed to talk to a local swordsmith, who specialized in Katanas (I don’t think this actually translates to English, but I hope you know what I’m talking about). He explained how Katanas were made by heating and hammering down a slender piece of steel, folding and hammering down over and over until the final product was finished, sort of like how croissants are made! We were allowed to actually hold the finished products and were (in hindsight) recklessly playing with swords that easily could have sent us to the hospital from over-bleeding. But, you know, we’re okay so I guess that’s one more thing I get to check off my bucket list now!