Aizu-Wakamatsu: (2) Syphilis, samurai and endurance.

`Tenbo` (stick hand), other students used to call him.  His scarred left hand, injured in a fire when he was an infant, caused him difficulties and embarrassment throughout his life.  

When a teenager, an Aizu doctor performed a pioneering operation and succeeded in restoring some movement.  It changed his life.  Like manga maverick Blackjack, this operation he underwent as a child inspired him to become a doctor. 

His determination and diligence became legendary.  He was reading English texts and writing love letters in French when a teenager.  “Napoleon only slept for 3 hours”, he became fond of saying, probably until somebody punched him in the face. 

He, Noguchi Hideyo, is the bacteriologist pictured on the 1,000 yen note.  His work helped provide treatments for syphilis and malaria winning him a nobel prize.  Born nearby, and schooled in the town, he`s the pride of Aizu, and a shining star for Fukushima prefecture.  

Left hand covered, a teenage Noguchi Hideyo stands on the right.

I had a quick look at Noguchi`s old school, but barely had the energy to read the English explanations let alone the Japanese.  I will never be able to make a contribution to syphilis treatment at this rate.

A sign on the street caught my attention though.  Written on a wooden board was Aizu`s own manifesto.  It demands residents: say thank you and say sorry, show tolerance and endure, and be proud of Aizu.  It would be interesting to know how many minutes this sign might last undefiled in other parts of the world.

The Aizu manifesto.

Tolerance and endurance are easiest with fun activities.  Walking in 30 degree heat is not one of these, so I took the loop bus to the samurai residences and graves of the white tiger corps.

This choice meant I missed out on going to Aizu`s famous Tsuragajo castle.  It`s a spectacular spot, but I had a good reason not to visit.   

I came to Aizu once before, 5 winters ago, with a Korean girl.  A simple girl, she just wanted to eat and drink.  A simple boy, I just wanted to eat, drink, and see the castle.  Tramping around in the snow, we saw the castle, had an argument, then shortly after, stopped seeing each other.  I blame her completely; a bit of Aizu endurance would have made all the difference.  

Tea with the Lord at Aizu`s samurai residences.

I spent an hour walking around the samurai residences.  Other than the Darth Vader inspiring armour and cute mannequins I wanted to steal,  the most interesting display was the Lord`s tatami mat lined squat toilet: the roof had no wooden boards, which would be easily removable, to prevent an attacker jumping in.  Ninjas knew when a man was at his most vulnerable.

Finally, with darkness descending, I took a bus to the grave of the harakiri samurai boys of the white tigers corps.  The story of loyalty to Aizu is a frightening and inspiring one.  Read it here.  Suffice to say, the views from their graveyard over Aizuare superb, and the young lady selling battered garlic and sweet potato at the bottom of the hill is a star. 

Dusk at the graveyard of the harakiri samurai.

When I arrived, hers was the only shop catering to tourists still open; everywhere else was boarded up, there was hardly a soul in sight.  Pouring me a caffeine-free bean tea, she invited me to sit down.  Aizu people are “moku moku“, she told me.  They quietly put up with things.  This trait is being tested right now.  

 

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