In late March this year, when footsteps of spring finally began to be heard in the snow country Fukui, I visited Ajimano-en Park to see plum blossoms. However, to my dismay when I arrived, I found no plum blossoms blooming there. Disappointed, I looked around to see if there was something else I could enjoy, but there was nothing except for the endless patches of rice fields stretching ahead of me. Still, I couldn't give up. It took me an hour by car to reach here. I couldn't go home until I saw something, anything, could I?
I continued to drive around through rice paddies in my pursuit of 'something to see', and eventually stumbled across an old temple. On the stone marker at the entrance was written, 'Jofuku-ji Temple', beside which the impressive words 'Jofuku-ji Garden: National Site of Scenic Beauty' were added. That's when I remembered that someone once told me there was a famous garden in Echizen City, and I thought this must be it. However, no one was there at the 'National Site of Scenic Beauty' on a supposedly busy weekend, which made me marginally skeptical, but it happens a lot in Fukui, so I decided to go inside anyway.
When I walked along the pathway and reached the temple entrance, a stone marker jumped into my sight. It said, 'A family temple of Taira Clan'. I questioned, 'Why in the world is there a family temple of Taira Clan here?' Later, my question was answered by an old man in the temple who told me a long story of Taira Clan (I banged at the door of the temple to let me see the garden tucked away behind it).
Ike-no Zenni, stepmother of Taira-no Kiyomori, saves the life of young Minamoto-no Yoritomo
Taira Clan was a major samurai family led by Taira-no Kiyomori which ruled Japan in the Heian Period (794 - 1192). At the time there were two major samurai clans, Taira and Genji. They were engaged in fierce competition to rule over Japan. As a result of the Heiji Rebellion in 1160, Taira Clan beat Genji Clan. Minamoto-no Yoshitomo, the head of Genji Clan, was killed in the battle, and his son, 13-year-old Yoritomo (who later founded the Kamakura Shogunate) was destined to be executed. That's when Ike-no Zenni, the stepmother of the winner Taira-no Kiyomori, intervened. She pleaded with her stepson Kiyomori to spare Yoritomo's life, and to demonstrate the seriousness of her plea she even fasted. Upon his stepmother's desperate plea, Taira-no Kiyomori decided to pardon Yoritomo. Instead of executing him, Kiyomori exiled Yoritomo to Hiruga Kojima, a small island in Izu.