May 21: The Kindness of Strangers and a Place to Play

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Our last day in Iwate, the activity was determined by weather and travel guide. It rained all day. Not a downpour, but a steady, solid rain that had the employees at the Esashi Fujiwara Heritage Park huddling under lilac umbrellas and offering extras to those of us who were not taking advantage of our own. It was rather a sweet gesture, but at some point you just have to decide to embrace the rain—until it becomes too much and there’s too little cover and it’s time to cower back beneath the umbrella.

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Esashi Fujiwara Heritage Park was described in a travel guide as like the Williamsburg of Japan. There were not so many actors on site while we were there, but that might’ve been the weather and might’ve been the time of year. Instead the characters were realistic statues and the dialogue was provided by broadcasted recording and the scenes described by plaques.

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The park’s exhibits are housed in reconstructions of Heian era (790s-1180s) buildings. Along with the dioramas, there a few stations of interactive costumes and two whole buildings of trick art (of which we took pretty great advantage, happily taking all of the ridiculous pictures that the artwork offered us, though little of it had anything to do with the history we’d come to learn). In short, it is a very fun place to play and take pictures and imagine and maybe learn some history. The site is often used for period films.

Because of the rain, we had the park practically to ourselves (once the school trip left, which they did within maybe the first forty minutes that we were there).

The main complex is comprised of government buildings with lots of red-orange and yellow paint. There are a few dioramas, a station with play armor to try on and play weapons to wield in photographs, and then artifacts kept behind glass—clothes and game pieces and musical instruments and weaponry. (Play armor on the left, historical artifact on the right.)

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There is another complex behind, a maze of buildings and covered walkways between, particularly suited for a rainy day. In these rooms there are many more dioramas, and it feels a bit more like a museum, albeit one that you have to walk through to find the exhibits. This, I think, is a reproduction of a military leader’s residence. It does not have the ornate paint of the other complex, instead having exposed wood and whitewash.

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Up a steep set of stairs and set back in the woods, there’s a reproduction of Konjikdo, a World Heritage site not far from Esashi Fujiwara Heritage Park—in fact the shrine that the owners of the teashop in Ichinoseki had extolled to us two days before. I thought it odd to have a reproduction so near the original, but having it there allows me to pretend to have been to one more site than we had time for (the original I’m sure is more grand and more impressive, but I will have to settle for what I was able to see in my limited time).

We were lured into one more exhibit by the promise of a grand edifice that the guide map calls the Ataka Gate, probably a gatehouse or maybe a border patrol station, and a garden in bloom. I may have missed the cherry blossoms, but the lotuses were beautiful.

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We had to go through the gate obviously, and then we decided to continue. Up another hill, a whole village has been reconstructed with houses, granaries, wells, stables with realistic horse statues (I don’t want to think that the coats were horse skins, but they might have been horse skins), and something that was either a blacksmith’s or a shrine. There was a small museum room too with reproductions of artwork telling the story of the Oshu-Fujiwara Clan that had ruled in this area during the Heian period.

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We stayed past the last of the free shuttles, deciding that we would rather take full advantage of the park, the exhibits of which were always nearer than the map made them seem, than take advantage of the shuttle service. By the time we’d descended the hill from the village, the shops had all closed. The staff knew that we were still in the park and, as we asked if we could call a taxi, presented us with origami stars, which I hope to someday be able to paste into a scrapbook—one more gift and kindness from strangers with whom I could barely communicate.

The park is not all that far from the train station in Mizusawa and the taxi came quickly. One of the women from the park came out into the rain beneath her umbrella to direct the taxi driver for us, doing us one last kindness.

Along with a bit of history and that Kari really needs to get into some of the interactive museums that I’ve visited in the past, this trip really taught me about the kindness of these people.

All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  All maps are made using Google Maps.

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