Aru was a town on the island of Tsukishima and part of the nation of Wa in Kara-Tur. Circa 1357 DR, it was a center of worship of Bishamon and pilgrims from all over Wa traveled here.[1][2] Aru was capital of the Aru Province.[3][4]

Geography[edit | edit source]

Aru was quite an isolated settlement, lying in a remote part of the northwestern coast of Tsukishima, huddled in the foothills of the Ikuyu Mountains. It was a difficult journey to reach Aru, as one had to traverse some of the most rugged passes of the mountains.[1][4]

The small Aru river provided fresh water to the area.[4]

History[edit | edit source]

Precursor[edit | edit source]

Aru began as a small shrine to Bishamon, and though only a few dedicated monks resided there, pilgrims still made the long and difficult journey to visit it, in small but consistent numbers. Thus it was for centuries. Since there were no facilities, the pilgrims simply camped and endured the elements during their stay. Eventually, however, owing to the increasing number of pilgrims falling victim to the tough journey and austere living, with a few dying each year, the monks erected buildings on the site to allow them to stay in greater comfort.[4]

Through a combination of pilgrims settling permanently and people setting up businesses to make a profit providing services to the pilgrims, the settlement began to grow. Over a few decades, a town grew up around the shrine, but it remained unrecognized by Wa's rulers and had no daimyo or official government of its own. Instead, the people were labelled "support staff" for the shrine. The monks used their skills, such as in martial arts, to maintain law and order and to protect the population from threats such as bandits.[4]

Meanwhile, the shrine continued to grow as a result of donations, becoming a small temple and then a larger temple. The Shining Temple of Bishamon had taken shape by Wa Year 1594 (1176 DR), and its renown attracted yet more pilgrims and tourists.[4]

Founding[edit | edit source]

Finally, in Wa Year 1608 (1190 DR), the shogun Eiko officially recognized the settlement (now a small city) and named it "Aru" after the Aru river. Furthermore, he decreed it the capital of the new Aru Province (cleaved off the existing Jasuga Province) and appointed Arata Matsutomo, head of the completely loyal Matsutomo clan, as its first daimyo; the Matsutomos dutifully relocated to Aru. Arata served ably for two decades, until Wa Year 1627 (1209 DR), when bandits aided by unidentified supernatural creatures (tengu being one possibility) massacred a large pilgrim train in one of the mountain passes. The shogun reprimanded Arata for this failure of security. The next year, Arata's samurai guarded the next pilgrim train, but they too were attacked and slaughtered to a man. The shogun removed Arata and the Matsutomos from power.[4]

Next, the daimyate went to Sousuke Toda, of the newly arrived Toda clan. Sousuke led well and Aru enjoyed a decade of peace. When Sousuke died in a hunting accident, his 17-year-old son Eiji became daimyo; he was eager to do well but inexperienced. The following three years saw resurgent bandits devastate the pilgrim trains, though shogun Takahiro forgave Eiji because of his age and inexperience. Then, in Wa Year 1640 (1222 DR), a foreign raiding party (possibly from Shou Lung) made through the daimyo's defenses to Aru's outskirts and razed part of the Eta District. This failure was too great and Eiji was removed.[4]

The shogun returned Aru to the Matsutomo clan, now under Koji Matsutomo. A weak man, Koji was liked by peasants but hated by rival nobles who'd moved to Aru. He survived two attempted coups in Wa Years 1645 (1227 DR) and 1649 (1231 DR), and thereafter focused only on protecting himself and his clan. As a result, he neglected the province's administration and corruption got out of control. When in Wa Year 1652 (1234 DR) the annual shipment of tax payments at Uwaji was 30% less than reported on the manifest, Koji was removed.[4][note 1]

Modern History[edit | edit source]

Next, the daimyate passed to Seiji Kubahachi; the Kubahachi clan ruled well for two generations. However, the third daimyo, Koji Kubahachi, was cruel and vindictive. In Wa Year 1713 (1295 DR), when he levied a special tax to pay for castle improvements and a certain fishing village fell short, Koji killed every inhabitant, razed it, salted the earth, and did the same to two neighboring villages, insisting they must been aware of a plot to defraud him. In Wa Year 1717 (1299 DR), two ninjas infiltrated Aru disguised as pilgrims and tried to assassinate Koji. They were killed in the attack, Koji couldn't identify who hired them, and in revenge and as a message to his unknown enemy, he executed every one of the pilgrims in the train. At this excess, shogun Masanori removed Koji both from office and from life.[4]

The daimyate went back to the Matsutomos. Vowing to do better, Masakito Matsutomo was efficient and enlightened, if strict, but too old to reign for long. He died in Wa Year 1725 (1307 DR) and was succeeded by his son, Hisao. Hisao lacked his father's wisdom and corruption flourished in Aru Province again. Many of his advisors established their own "business interests", most egregiously charging pilgrims a "visitation fee" to worship at the Shining Temple of Bishamon. When the shogun heard of his violation of tradition, the Matsutomos were removed again in Wa Year 1730 (1312 DR).[4]

The next daimyo was Takashi Yayazato. He ruled ably, but his three sons all died tragically, leaving him with no male heirs to succeed him when he died in Wa Year 1758 (1340 DR). Shogun Matasuuri Nagahide returned the daimyate once again to the Matsutomos. Benju Matsutomo, a renowned samurai and one of Nagahide's generals, governed well but as he grew older he worried about his family's future. Deciding his ancestors' failures resulted from overambition, he resolved to be as quiet, safe, unobtrusive, and error-free as he could, hoping that if the Matsutomos could hold the daimyate for a few generations, they might achieve a better position. He remained in power through Wa Year 1775 (1357 DR).[4]

In the summer pilgrimage season of that year, a variety of strange and disturbing incidents around Aru threatened the safety of the pilgrims and the Ceremony of the Three Thousand Steps. Therefore, seven days before it was to take place, the daimyo of Aru, Benju Matsutomo, recruited a group of adventurers to investigate and halt them.[5]

Government[edit | edit source]

Benju Matsutomo was the daimyo of Aru and Aru Province during the mid-to-late 1600s.[2]

Defenses[edit | edit source]

As was typical for Wa-an cities, Aru was surrounded by a defensive wall, with four gates each flanked by two watchtowers. In daytime, these gates were left open but each guarded by detachments of twelve samurai, their purpose to maintain peace. The gates were shut at sunset while ten samurai stood watch from within each watchtower.[6]

Within the walls, Aru's districts were divided by walls, with gates providing passage between them. They were guarded throughout the day by eight-man squads of samurai, while those to the Castle District were guarded by twelve or more samurai. Samurai also patrolled within the districts.[6]

Description[edit | edit source]

Aru lay south of a great rocky knoll several hundred feet high that dominated the town, upon which stood the Shining Temple. The hill was covered by trees except in the vicinity of the temple.[1][6]

The Shining Temple of Bishamon atop this high hill looked over Aru. A gate stood at the entrance of the temple, guarded by massive lion statues carved of ebony with eyes of gold and teeth of crystal. Climbing the hill was a broad 3000-step stairway of fine white marble, flanked by rows of wooden pillars, dyed red and topped by ivory spires, leading up to the main temple building. Pilgrims kept the staircase meticulously clear, but deposited flower petals and blossoms or prayers written scraps of parchment on the steps. In front of the temple stood a soaring apple tree—the fruit were said to bestow immortality on the deserving, but death to the wicked, but only Bishamon could pick them. Hanging from a branch of the tree was a brass bell that was tolled every hour in homage to Bishamon, the Wide Hearing.[1][6]

Aru was divided into six districts or wards: the Castle District in the southwest, the Samurai District in the west, the Mixed District in the west and center, the Eta District in the northwest, the Pilgrim District in the north, and the Merchant District in the east and southeast. The gates between them were usually left open, no passes or permission were required to enter or leave any district, and the samurai didn't bar anyone's way, but cultural tradition was strict. For one, it was only acceptable for those of the eta caste to go into the Samurai District to make a delivery, while those of the samurai case would only go into the Eta District in duty demanded it.[6]

The Castle District was home to the daimyo, his household, and his soldiers. The gates were kept shut and access limited, so few citizens ever saw inside, but at the center lay the daimyo's donjon.[6] There was also an infirmary where three medics worked under Ce-ishi, a shukenja.[7]

The Samurai District was specifically for the members of the samurai caste, though not all were samurai warriors. There were few stores, it was almost entirely houses, all well-made and good-looking, while the streets were clean and often patrolled.[6]

The Pilgrim District held many hostels and the inns known as ryokans, as well as numerous stores of different types, all servicing the pilgrims. The majority sold religious souvenirs and paraphernalia, like prayer beads and brass apples, while food and necessities were costly, so pilgrims with any sense shopped elsewhere. The district was tidy and thoroughly patrolled.[6]

The Eta District had winding streets that were grubby and narrow between tiny minka houses and small dilapidated buildings. It was home to many beggars. In the far northwest corner was the graveyard.[6]

The Merchant District was mostly stores, workshops, and warehouses, and those who worked in them, with hardly any hostels or ryokans. By day, it was bustling and crowded with vendors, wagons, and stalls. At night, the streets were near empty. In the marketplace here, market day was held every three or four days, as decided by an obscure calculation, when it was crowded and bustling and known for hawkers selling all manner of goods to passers-by.[6]

Finally, the central Mixed District was the site of food shops, restaurants, taverns, and tea gardens, as well as liveries and stables. This was where folk of all castes, trades, and walks of life might be found. It was especially active in summer, through the day and deep into the night.[6]

Notable Locations[edit | edit source]

A map of Aru with districts highlighted. Note that north is to the right.

Temples & Shrines
Shining Temple of BishamonShrine of the West Windgraveyard
Drowsy BlossomsThe Apple Tree InnThe Waiting Stone
Taverns & Tea Gardens
The TenguWhispering Breeze
House of Heavenly Sand
Grand Noh Theater

Activities[edit | edit source]

The Shining Temple of Bishamon was the undoubted center of the faith for many Wanese, especially commoners, peasants, and others of the lower classes (nobles and upper classes preferred the Great Temple of Bishamon in Kurahito).[1][8] Moreover, travel within the country was restricted, so pilgrimage also offered the chance of tourism. Thus, pilgrims from across the country made the perilous journey over the islands and through the mountains to Aru to worship and were rewarded with the amazing site of the Shining Temple.[1] They came in summer, when it was easier to travel the passes.[4]

Much of Aru's meager industry was devoted to the comfort and service of pilgrims. There were countless inns and stables to house them, and many merchants hawking all manner of religious wares and holy texts. Peddlers in the street sold ceramic apples in imitation of the sacred apples, and necklaces comprising 3,333 brass beads after the statues. Wealthy or footsore pilgrims could hire a palanquin to carry them up the 3000 steps.[1]

A special ceremony in Aru involved believers making an individual prayer of thanks to each and every one of the 3,333 priest statues in the Shining Temple. True faithful were required to do this each year.[1]

Appendix[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. This may be in error in another way: Uwaji was not the capital of Wa at the time, instead, Iiso is.

Appearances[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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