Another stop on my tour of Northern Shikoku was the small town of Yashima (屋島), Kagawa Prefecture at the foot a flat-topped mountain. About a 15 minute train ride from the city of Takamatsu on the Seto Inland Sea, Yashima was the site of an important battle in the twelfth century Genpei War (源平合戦) between two rival noble clans seeking control of the Imperial court. Other than a connection to this brief moment in time, there is not much going on in Yashima, which, like many places in Japan that still contain the word ‘island’ in their name, is now a peninsula due to land reclamation.
Yashima provides the backdrop for Shikoku Village (四国村), a unique open-air museum at the base of a path ascending the mountain presenting scenes from rural villages across Shikoku in the Edo and Meiji Periods. Some of the farmhouses are complete reconstructions done in a regional architectural style featuring thatched roofs; many structures are actually an original piece that was restored and relocated to the museum grounds. The most dramatic of these reconstructions is a vine suspension bridge that typifies those still in use in the remote Iya Valley in the center of Shikoku. One must cross this bridge to enter the museum before being left to wander along a suggested route – a rarity in a country where everything is usually so perfectly manicured that there is only one officially authorized route – through a forested area dotted with cartooned signs warning visitors to be wary of pit vipers and wild boar. (I didn’t see any, though I did see a scorpion.)
Other curiosities include a series of buildings housing a mechanical apparatus for producing soy sauce, one of the last surviving communal sugar storehouses, a relocated stone bridge (another rarity in Japan), and a reconstructed village kabuki theatre. Tucked away in a corner at the far end of the park is a small modern gallery building and garden designed by Tadao Ando, featuring Persian Silk Road artifacts and a couple Monet and Gauguin paintings. The entire experience underlines the historical reality that for all of Japan’s leaps and bounds during the industrialization of the Meiji Period, life in rural communities remained largely untouched (c.f. The Soil by Takashi Nagatsuka). I learned quite a bit about a way of Japanese life I hadn’t encountered elsewhere thanks to the many bilingual explanatory signs and the accommodating museum staff.