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Historic Kansai:Enjoy old Japan with 'Dekansho' song

By Junzo Tanaka
If you ask Japanese nearby if they know 'Dekansho'song, almost all of them will likely say yes. 'Dekansho,' a folk song in Tanba-Sasayama (Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture), became popular among senior high school students before World War II and spread to all parts of the country.
Sasayama, the birth place of the song, is a city with a strong vestige of the samurai society. The city can be recommended as a place to be visited for those believe individuality does not exist in Japan.
Sasayama used to be a lonely village in the mountains, but in 1604, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who put the entire country under his control, constructed a castle to divide the forces of feudal lords in western Japan. Since then, the Sasayama clan had been trusted by the Tokugawa shogunate as a pillar to support the regime. Among Sasayama feudal lords were those remaining in history as men in charge of educating successors to the shogunate and judges settling conflicts in the samurai society. Sasayama was also known as a typical castle town with the castle in its center, although it was not so gorgeous as Edo, Osaka and Sakai. After Japan was modernized, Sasayama was left behind in economic development, rather contributing to the preservation of its attractiveness with no tradition damaged. If you stand on a narrow street, you feel as if you were surrounded by the atmosphere of a castle town.
Historically, the Edo Period is told of negatively -an old stalled society before the establishment of constitutional monarchy. But there are people who assess the period as a most culturally prosperous era. People enjoyed peace for more than 200 years in the period of isolation. Even farmers composed poems of life enjoyment (haiku, senryu and comic tanka) and competed each other. Thus, every field was filled with rich culture, and some people say there existed no such society in the world.
That atmosphere still exists in today's Sasayama. Regrettably, many of the buildings in the compounds of the castle were demolished except some, but the framework of the castle, and rows of houses and stores as well as the streets surrounding it remain almost as they were.
Samurai houses and rows of houses are preserved, and merchant houses remain where they were. Since they are all small-scaled, viewers feel great attachment to them. Unlike in many of major cities in Japan, moves are weak in the city to destroy everything old. Everybody takes good care of old things, and old-fashioned wooden buildings that you may want to touch are even today used by the administration and businesses. There is a life to enjoy tea ceremonies and Noh plays cultivated by samurai.
Nevertheless, you can feel liveliness because the whole city is filled with efforts to create its future based on tradition. To feel this, visitors from the Keihanshin and Kanto districts are strolling slowly. There are no large-scale tourism facilities in the city. What the first visitors ought to remember is that there is no urban enjoyment-a precious thing for visitors to remember the life of Japanese who used to live calmly in an environment surrounded by nature.
If seasonal events should be listed, they include Noh performances held on the New Year's Day at the Kasuga Temple, the setsubun festival celebrating the coming of spring on February 3 and the Sasayama ABC marathon race in March.
The cherry-blossoms festival in April is just splendid-no exaggeration. Why don't you include Sasayama in the schedule of your tour to know about Japan?