Can a feudal era General and famed military strategist act as a modern day Cupid?
Episode Nine: Meeting the Parents
After the Tarui trip, Masayo and I become lovers. Things progressed very rapidly, much more rapidly than I had ever envisioned. She had apparently decided I was going to be her husband. Much as I had already decided she was going to be my wife. We started planning our life together. One of the first things we had to do, however, was to travel to Izumo Grand Shrine, located in Shimane Prefecture. Izumo Grand Shrine is noted for being the foremost shrine in Japan to grant relationships. Masayo told me that about three months before we first met, a friend was travelling to Izumo Grand Shrine, so she asked her friend to buy and place a shrine charm in her name at Izumo, asking the gods to let her meet someone whom would become her husband. (This is something she told me later, but in her request to the Gods, she asked to be introduced to a hard-working, honest and faithful man. She never even dreamed of meeting someone so much older, so she jokingly said she should’ve put an age limit in there as well.) In Japan, whenever a shrine or temple deity grants one’s prayers, it is absolutely required to return to that shrine or temple and offer one’s heartfelt thanks. So, the two of us needed to travel to Izumo Shrine, pay our respects to the deity, and offer our thanks. I also needed to ask the deity if I was indeed the one he had chosen for Masayo. While I will cover Izumo Grand Shrine in a later column, suffice it to say we had an enjoyable trip there in November. Matsue city, about a half hour bus ride from Izumo Grand Shrine, is one of the few destinations one can still travel to via sleeper car train, so that’s what we did. It was a fun trip.
Apparently I had been chosen. In April of 2016, approximately six months after we started our relationship, we decided it was time for me to formally meet her parents. I had met Masayo’s parents once before, at a party celebrating her mother’s birthday, but there is a HUGE difference between being a boyfriend and asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Once again the age difference came into play, with her parents being only a few years older than I. Surely I was going to be a hard sell. My day of destiny was scheduled for April 10th.
Once again I could use some help. Obviously General Hanbei would be the person to ask, but to do that I would have to travel to Tarui and my schedule wouldn’t permit it. However, I figured since General Hanbei would always be watching closely over my good friend Yohsuke and his family, Yohsuke would always have a direct pipeline available. On April 8th, two days before the fateful day, I contacted Yohsuke, asking if he could relay my request to the General. Yohsuke heartily agreed to do so.
I guess the General heard my request, relayed through his direct descendant. On the 10th, Masayo and I arrived at her parents’ home. Over lunch, I was asked about my intentions regarding Masayo. After I stated I wanted to marry Masayo, the only thing her parents asked was when that day would be. Not only that, they even had a celebratory cake ready in the refrigerator! Apparently, they had ordered the cake from a local bakery the day before our visit. Who would have thought on the very same day I went to ask for Masayo’s hand in marriage, her parents would already have a celebratory cake waiting? Masayo and her parents decided April 27th would be a truly auspicious day for the two of us to be married, so in a little over two weeks Masayo and I were husband and wife.
As a newly married couple, there were two places we had to visit and offer our thanks. Our first stop, the day after we were officially married, was the Sagami Branch Shrine of Izumo Grand Shrine. It is located in Hadano city, Kanagawa Prefecture. Izumo Grand Shrine has branch shrines scattered all across Japan for people who cannot make the trip to Shimane Prefecture. A few weeks earlier, I happened to be watching a TV shop about unique tourist destinations in Kanagawa Prefecture, when the local shrine was featured. It is only about an hour’s drive from our home, so that’s where we went. Same deity, just a different mailing address.
The next place we had to go to offer our thanks was, of course, General Hanbei’s gravesite. Once again I procured a bottle of Jack Daniels and in mid-May Masayo and I (plus our dog Poncho) made the trip to Tarui.
To wrap up this story, here is a picture of Masayo and me, taken inside Zendouji Temple’s gate, just after paying our respects and offering our thanks at General Hanbei’s gravesite.
Readers, thank you very much for staying with me through this long and complicated tale about how a famous feudal era general and military strategist, General Hanbei, acted as a modern day Cupid to play a pivotal role in bringing my wife Masayo and I together. I’ll see you again in these pages shortly. .
If you are ever in the Gifu area, please make the extra effort to go to Tarui and visit General Hanbei where he rests at Zendouji Temple. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to meet you.
For General Hanbei Takenaka: Sir, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
P.S.: Remember the episode where our cabbie remarked how all of the rekijyo would visit Zendouji Temple at dusk to pay their respects at General Hanbei’s grave, and how I joked about the ladies hoping they would actually meet the General after dark? Well, when Yohsuke and his son visited Zendouji on a subsequent visit, they met a lady who was employed at the City Hall of a distant city, but loved General Hanbei so much she was contemplating (and actually ended up doing so) quitting her job and moving to Tarui. She told Yohsuke that General Hanbei is standing directly behind his gravestone, and wearing his famous Ichi-no-Tani helmet, and then remarked, “Oh, by the way, you have his eyes.”
P.P.S. Yohsuke and I also participated in the 2016 parade, which was held on September 11. The following day, I was fortunate enough to be invited to pay my respects at General Hanbei’s grave, together with Yohsuke’s wife and two young children. (Of course, I had a bottle of Jack Daniels ready for the occasion.) Following the gravesite visit, Yohsuke went to pay his respects to the caretaker of the temple, and we were afforded a rare visit inside the main hall of the temple. As we offered our prayers at the altar, I noticed the three family crests prominently displayed on the altar. Of course, the Takenaka crest was there, along with the Toyotomi crest and the Minamoto crest. What struck me the most, however, were the words written on the side of the little platform on which a small bell and incense stand rested. Yohsuke didn’t notice because as the representative of his family he went directly to the little stand, knelt, rang the bell, and started praying. As I was kneeling a few feet behind and to the side of Yohsuke, I noticed the words. While a direct translation would be rather dry, in English the sentiment expressed would be, “With my deepest appreciation, Nagamasa Kuroda.” Only a few times in my life have I felt I physically experienced history. This was one of those valuable occasions.
1038-1 Iwade, Tarui Town, Gifu Prefecture 〒503-2107