Sendai — the City of Trees

I was whizzing through the Tohuko region on my way south to Tokyo, spending just a day in a city or town before moving on. This was partly because of my seven-day JR Pass rail pass, which allows unlimited travel for the period of the pass. Therefore, you get most value the more you use it.

My penultimate stop in Japan was Sendai. It’s about midpoint on the east of the main island, Honshu, and is the largest city in the Tohuko region. It’s known as the City of Trees. Some streets symbolise the centrality of trees in the city and are lined with Japanese zelkova trees. If I’d been here in winter, I’d have seen the trees covered in lights for the Pageant of Starlight.

I arrived too early to check-in to my hotel and dropped off my luggage before exploring the town.

I headed to the hill where Zuihoden is located. It’s the mausoleum of a sixteenth century feudal lord known as the “One-eyed Dragon”. He’s a member of the Date clan. Sendai has many historical sites related to the clan, reflecting their importance in Sendai.

Like many old buildings, Zuihoden has been rebuilt and renovated a few times. It looked pristine. His son, the second feudal lord of the region, is buried in Kansenden; the third feudal lord is in Zennnoden. All three mausoleums are on the same complex. Other feudal lords are also on the site.

Also on the site were beautiful rows of 400-year-old cedars flanking sixty-two original stone steps. The sixty-two represents 620,000 kaku — the area of land owned by the original feudal lord.

When I’d finished at the tomes, I looked at my map/guide for my next destination. There were good views from the ruined castle, so I headed there to see both. I discovered that there’s a tourist bus, called Loople , that circles around the tourist hotspots in Sendai. I was able to use my transport card on the bus.

When I got to the viewpoint, I looked in vain for the castle. Then I saw some stone stumps. These were the remnants of the castle! It was closer to being non-existent than ruined! There was, however, a panoramic view of the city.

I returned to the Loople bus stop to go to my last tourist destination: Sendai Mediatheque, which housed a few galleries and a library. As I walked in, a person greeted me and gave me an “architectural guide” to the centre and a small sheet of paper with guidance for taking photos, such as not using a flash or taking photos of visitors and those reading.

I learnt from the architectural leaflet how energy usage is minimised in the building. In summer, air is trapped between two layers of glass and, because of the temperature difference, rises and eventually escapes through some vents. In winter, air warmed by sunshine is trapped and used to heat the interior.

The guide who had greeted me was a retired volunteer. With his excellent English, he told me that he once lived in Cambridge (UK) for a couple of years. His Japanese employer, an aviation company, had stationed him there. We discussed politics and the issue of Japan’s aging, and declining, population came up. He said that this had been recognised ten or so years ago. Since then, Japan has been trying to bolster its workforce with foreigners.

I later read a criticism of this policy. The government, the article said, had been trying to encourage people from the top universities around the world to come to Japan. However, the critic said, Japan can’t offer these high-fliers the salaries they could earn in, say, Silicon Valley or the financial centres of the world. Japan would be better off, he continued, encouraging people from places like India and SE Asia, where there are many talented people who would find more opportunities in Japan than their home countries and, importantly, would jump at the chance of coming to Japan.

Much of Mediatheque, including the library, which was the main purpose of my visit, was closed. With nothing more to see, I headed back to the hotel, where I found that the staff had taken my luggage, which I’d left in storage, to my room.

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