Gottan is a stringed instrument that has been passed down in the Miyazaki Prefecture.
It is very similar to shamisen, which is a more broadly used traditional instrument in Japan. While shamisen uses animal skin, gottan uses Japanese cedar wood and is smaller than shamisen. Gottan is generally perceived to be a cross between shamisen and sanshin, a traditional instrument in Okinawa.
In the past, when carpenters built a house, they would make a gottan out of the wood left over and present it to the owner of the house as a gift. This custom has been almost totally lost today although the instrument itself has been preserved.
During the rule of the Satsuma Clan, when the ban on some Buddhist sects (especially the True Pure Land sect) was imposed, people are said to have kept their religious faith by singing songs instead of chanting and the gottan, which was used to accompany these songs, became widely used as far as the Miyakonojyou region.
The gottan is often used to accompany a popular style of song known as Yassabushi. This is lively music performed with the shamisen, drums and other musical accompaniments. The gottan, also called Hako (box) shamisen or Ita (board) shamisen, produces a simple yet sharp and crisp sound that invokes the local mood.
Blade forging industry in Yoita area in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture, has a history of about 400 year. The products are well known for being sharp and trouble-free.
The making of Echigo Yoita forged blades dates back to 1578, when a retainer of Uesugi Kenshin invited wordsmiths from Kasugayama to the area and asked them to make various kinds of forged blades. In the Kyoto era (1716-1736), carpentry tools from Yoita became known as Tohi-nomi and Hyobu-nomi. At the start of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the wordsmiths in Yoita turned their hand to making plane blades, which soon became famous all over the country.
In 1986, chisels, planes, axes and chona (a Japanese ancient hand ax) were designated as a Traditional Craft Product, Echigo Yoita Forged Blades by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (present METI).
Yoita forged blades are made by traditional hand forging even today, in which the hard steel being laid on the soft metal is heated, and then it is taken out of the forge and beaten with a spring hammer. Careful and hard-working efforts are made in these repeated tempering processes, which result in creating such reliable tools.
Nikko carving is a traditional handicraft in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. In 1634, the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu declared that he was going to give a large-scale improvement to Toshogu Shrine, by which it was rebuilt into the present magnificent forms. Then he assembled as many as 1,680,000 workmen including miya-daiku (carpenters specialized in building temples and shrines), horimono-daiku (specialist carpenters engaged in transom sculpture), lacquerers, metal workers, and painters from all over the country. Among them, 400,000 were horimono-daiku and what they made at their leisure was the origin of the present Nikko carving.
After the construction of Toshogu Shrine, some of the horimono-daiku settled in the town of Nikko and were engaged in repair work or improvement work of Toshogu, while kept on making wooden trays or furniture, which were sold to sightseers as souvenirs. Since the Meiji period (1868-1912), a large number of Nikko carved products have been exported.
Most of the products are made of chestnut wood. Nikko carving products have a warm feeling of wood and a nice taste that is created by careful handiwork. There are also expensive products made with Tsuishu technique, in which thick layers of solid lacquer is engraved with designs.
Hida Shunkei lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in the cities of Takayama and Hida in Gifu Prefecture. The origin of this craft dates back to 1606. A head carpenter, who were engaged in building temples and shrines in the castle town of Takayama, happened to discover beautiful straight grains, when he chopped a piece of sawara cypress wood apart. He made it into a tray and lacquered the surface. Because the coloring of this tray resembled “Hishunkei,” a famous tea ceremony tea jar made by master potter, Kato Kagemasa, the name Shunkei was given to this lacquer ware.
What makes Hida Shunkei lacquer ware so special is the way that the beauty of the surface of the wood is brought out by the application of a transparent coating of lacquer. It is also characterized by its delicate technique of hegime (grooves that are carved out between the wood grains). When exposed to the light, the grains with hegime grooves glow gold through the transparent lacquer. The more it is used, the more gloss it takes on. Hida Shunkei is extremely appealing and robust form of lacquer ware.
The Kabuki theater in Kamimiharada (Akagi-machi, Shibukawa City, Gunma Prefecture) was constructed in 1819 by master carpenter Chojiro Nagai and is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property. Having leaned carpentry in Osaka and invented many mechanical devices, Chojiro applied this same ingenuity to stages. He created stages whose sidewalls could be laid outward to extend stage width (the Gando mechanism), stage mechanisms that made it possible to view the rear area of the stage from a distance (the Tomi mechanism), revolving stages on supporting pillars (the Hashira-tatemawashi mechanism), and mechanisms for raising stage trapdoors (the Seri-hiki mechanism).
The theater was originally constructed in the precinct of Tenryuji Temple in Akagi Village and was relocated to the present place in 1882. The Kabuki plays at this theater had been discontinued several times from the Meiji through Showa periods. In 1995, the local volunteers organized the committee to hand down the traditional stage operation techniques and its sub-committee to revive the rural Kabuki plays; thereby the plays are regularly put on stage today.
Apart from the stage mechanisms, the manhandled stage operation skills are also the cultural property that should be handed down. To operate the stage smoothly, not less than 80 people per stage are needed and that they need to be perfectly in tune with one another. Today the people in the town of Kamimiharada join together to hand down this precious theatrical tradition.
Toro Hachimangu Shrine in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded around the end of the 8th century by a Shinto priest from Kyoto. It enshrines Emperor Ojin and other 4 deities. The shrine was so thrived in the ancient times as to supervise attached shrines and a jinguji (a temple built in a shrine precinct).
In 1563, the shrine buildings were destroyed by fire in the battles caused by Ikko-Ikki (the rebellion by the members of the Shin sect of Buddhism) in Mikawa province and the shrine records were lost in fire. Later in the early 17th century, it was restored by Ishikawa Kazumasa under the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The local governor, Kuroyanagi Jugaku, invited Kawakita Sadamori, an expert carpenter from Ise province, and ordered him to reconstruct Honden (the main hall) and Haiden (the oratory), which were completed in 1619.
Honden is a 3-bay building in the archaic Nagare-zukuri style (the flowing style) with a Japanese cypress-barked roof. It is nationally designated as an Important Cultural Property.
Miyadaiku are specialists in the construction of shrines and temples. As miyadaiku stay and work in a construction site away from home for many years, they are also called “peripatetic carpenters.” Different from ordinary carpenters, miyadaiku never build the same building because there are no shrines or temples of the same design in this country. The building they build will stand for hundreds of years by being given many repair works, miyadaiku need to acquire not only excellent carpentry techniques but also knowledge in various fields including archaeology and geology. Using more than 300 kinds of tools, miyadaiku use elaborate traditional wood joinery techniques called “hikite” and “tsugite,” where no nails are used. These elaborate skills are transmitted orally from a master to an apprentice.
There used to be several hundred miyadaiku in Japan, but now there are only about one hundred. Some of the famous miyadaiku are Tsunekazu Nishioka, the Master Carpenter in the Showa Grand Renovations at Horyuji Temple, Kahei Sasaki, who directed the renovation of Asakusa Kannon Hall, and Shoji Matsuura, the specialist in preservation of cultural assets and directed the repair work of the five-story pagoda at Kaijusenji Temple in Kyoto.
Koshoji Temple in Urakawa Town in southern Hokkaido is a temple of the Soto sect. The principal object of worship is Shakamuni Nyorai. It was founded in 1882 on the advice of the priest Kai Yuzen, who was on a missionary tour in this area.
In 1908, when a fire broke out and about 80% of the town was destroyed, Koshoji Temple acted as one of the town’s evacuation centers. The fire, starting from a carpenter’s workshop, expanded into the biggest fire that the town has ever experienced.
After the temple building was damaged by Tokachioki Earthquake in 1952, the repair work was given to the building. As the statue of the Saigoku 33rd Kannon, which had been placed in the grove in the precinct, was also damaged, it was relocated neat the main hall.
Visitors can enjoy the wonderful landscape of the historic garden with an old wisteria tree as well as Sargent cherry (Prunus sargentii) blossoms, which are in full bloom in May.