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Friday, October 24, 2008

Nagahama

長浜、滋賀県

Nagahama city on the north eastern shore of Lake Biwa is a pleasant town of around 84,000 inhabitants. The town is popular with visitors, especially in spring and summer, when people flock from nearby Kyoto and Osaka, to enjoy boating and swimming in Lake Biwa.

The city has several interesting sites including the reconstructed Nagahama Castle, the oldest surviving railway station in Japan, the Kurokabe Square area of restored machiya houses, Daisuji Temple and the large 80-ton Biwako Buddha statue.

Biwako Buddha

Nagahama's history is intrinsically connected with that of local feudal warlord Toyotomi Hidetoshi (1536-1598). It was Toyotomi who built the local castle and first brought gunsmiths to the town to produce some of Japan's earliest firearms. The local Nagayama festivals in mid-April and mid-October also supposedly date back to Toyotomi's days and take place out of Hachiman Shrine. Large wheeled floats (hikiyama), decorated with traditional crafts, are pulled around the town providing mobile stages for juvenile performances of comic Kyogen dramas.

Nagahama Castle

During the Edo Period (1600-1868) Nagayama became the exclusive manufacturer of firearms in Japan as the Tokugawa sought to control this new dangerous weapon which could easily down the samurai warriors of the age. The earliest guns were copies of Portuguese flintlocks and the Nagayama flintlock eventually became known for its excellent quality and reliability. The Tokugawa regime's monopoly of firearm production and supply was eventually broken by 19th century western gun-runners, such as Thomas Glover in Nagasaki, who sold modern rifles to the Tokugawa's political enemies and helped speed the downfall of the old regime.

Daisuji Temple (Tel: 0749 62 0054), in Toyotomi Park, is a branch of the Higashi-Honganji Temple of Kyoto designed in the Momoyama-style of architecture and built by that man, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, in 1586 as part of Fushimi Castle in Kyoto. The garden costs 500 yen to enter.

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