03-May-2003 -- The venture to this confluence point revolved around the Uesugi Matsuri, a festival of an historic samurai battle, the reenactment of which takes place on May 3 every year in a park in the town of Yonezawa. Here is the Lonely Planet's write-up of the festival:
"The Uesugi Matsuri starts off with folk singing on 29 April and mock ceremonial preparation for battle in Matusugasaki Koen [Park] on the evening of 2 May. The real action takes place on 3 May with a reenactment of the battle of Kawanakajima featuring over 2000 participants looking, as one tourist brochure notes, like 'feudal-period picture scrolls come to life'".
A main justification for my going down to Yonezawa to get the point, the Uesugi Matsuri turned out to be a major source of aggravation for me but you have to read on to find out why.
I had made a split decision after finding confluence point 39N140E to hop on a night train and hurry south to get to the Uesugi Matsuri and bag the confluence point near there.
I found out that the Uesugi Matsuri reenactment didn't begin until 2PM, and judging from the map it seemed like this confluence would be easy to get to. So I decided to try to get to the point in the morning before the festivities began. That would also buy me an extra day of travel on my week-long vacation which was soon coming to an end.
However, it wasn't till about 11AM that I arrived at the train station of Namae Komatsu, about 4 km from the point. That morning I had come from Yamagata, where I had spent the night (about an hour and a half away). Now at Namae Komatsu, I noticed that the soonest train to Yonezawa (the reenactment location) was at 2:04 PM which would make me late to the reenactment (Yonezawa is 30 minutes from Namae Komatsu). At this point I realized that I had already failed to get to the reenactment on time. Hoping that I would still be able to see a lot of it and faced with no other alternative I set out for the point with the goal of making it back to the train station by 2:04.
I walked out through the small town of Kawanishi, grabbed some Ritz crackers for my only meal that morning or afternoon and tried to hitch a ride down a small country road with few cars.
Walking toward the confluence, it took about 15 minutes before someone pulled over. It was an older man with a mini-truck full of dying plants, sheets of glass and so much other junk I could barely fit my day-pack in the back. Nevertheless, I was grateful he picked me up. To his confusion I showed him my vague destination, now about 3 km down the road. He probably attributed his confusion to our inability to communicate because my Japanese was so terrible and his English was nil. Nonetheless he willingly took me down the road toward the point.
To my disappointment the point was almost 900 m from the road, while from the map I had expected it to be about 500 m away. I found a small gravel residential side road which couldn't get me much better than radial to the point - I was still about 800 from the point. There didn't seem to be any better approaches into the brushy, branchy thicket of bushes and trees.
I decided to choose something which initially seemed like a trail but turned out to be little better than a path of pushed-back branches. It skirted a trickle of a stream which may have made walking a little easier. I stayed next to the small stream because to venture more in the direction of the confluence was to go full force into the brush and sticks, an unpleasant proposition. All over the area was seeping water and mud which looked like it had been created by artesian springs.
Further along, the stream had vanished and I had to scramble up a hillside. I hurried toward the point so I could make it back for the reenactment. This was the first time this year in Japan I had worn only a t-shirt and shorts and I was still sweating like crazy in the hot sun.
I made it to the top of a ridge which had what appeared to be the inkling of a trail and the walking was slightly easier. All over the area paralleling the slight trail was strange purple and white ribbon. Eventually I had to break from the easy walking to move in closer to the point which was still an irritating 600 meters away. The walking was tough and I was sometimes nearly doing backflips over branches. Purple and white ribbon and seepages were still all over the place.
Finally, only about 200 meters from the point I found a very nice, well worn trail! It led me nearly straight up to the point. There was only a small scramble up another trickle of a stream to the point. Hot, sweaty and a bit irked by the crazy bushwhacking, I documented the point.
Well, the excitement was now just beginning with it a little after 1PM and the impending attempt to see the reenactment. Returning on the worn trail was an incredibly easy walk that led directly back to the road! However, it actually led to the backyard of a farmhouse which blocked it's view from the road. If you are attempting this confluence look for the farmhouse in my photograph and walk up its driveway to get to the trail. Seems like trespassing, and maybe it is, but the forest behind doesn't seem to belong to anyone.
I walked down the road but there were even fewer cars going the opposite direction. After walking for about a kilometer, finally an old couple with a mini-pick-up truck motioned me to hop in the back. I explained to them that I was hurrying to get to the Uesugi Matsuri and that the train would get me there late but it was my only option. I got to the train station at about 1:40 and thought I would try a last desperate attempt to hitch to Yonezawa before the train came. Nobody picked me up so I came back to buy a train ticket.
Amazingly, just as I was buying the train ticket the old couple who had given me a ride had come back to the train station and motioned me to jump in their truck, that they were going to take me to Yonezawa! How many examples of incredibly generous Japanese people can I come up with - you'll find other examples in each of my other Tohoku confluence stories.
So we hurried off and they took me directly to Matsugasaki Park where the reenactment was 'supposed' to occur at 2PM, but we were there at 2:10 PM. I hurried around the park looking for the action but found nothing but tons of spectators and food stalls. Tired and disappointed after about a half an hour I asked at the park's museum information counter what was up with the reenactment. They told me it was at yet another park and that there was no way for me to make it there in time to see ANY of the reenactment. I strained to hold back my deep disappointment.
The Lonely Planet's write up of the Uesugi Matsuri had been misleading. If you go back and read it, you might assume that the battle would be held in Matsugasaki Park, however that was where the 'preparations' were held on May 2. It hadn't mentioned that the battle was actually held in a different park. Maybe if I had made it back earlier I would have had enough time to correct my confusion. But it was too late now.
My consolation was that I had attained the confluence point. I went to the local restaurant and enjoyed some of the local beef, for which Yonezawa is nationally famous, and a tall beer.
Oh yeah, and by the way, I hope someone will come back on a May 3rd and do it the right way. I recommend a package tour of visiting this confluence and seeing the reenactment. Just make sure you beware of the pitfalls I've mentioned here!