Shouemon Kotabe was born in the Ibaragi Prefecture in 1971.
Mr. Kotabe is the 37th successor to his family’s foundry business which has been handed down for over 800 years.
Since his childhood, Mr. Kotabe helped his father make temple bells. After graduating with a Metal Engineering degree from National Takaoka College (now Toyama University), he went into training at an iron kettle studio in Morioka. He then, returned to the Kotabe Foundry run by his father and took charge of it at the age of 25.
At the foundry, on the foot of Tsukuba Mountain, Mr. Kotabe makes temple bells, fire bells and rainwater bowls. Orders come from all over Japan as well as from other countries.
After consulting about letters and patterns, he creates a mold with local sand and clay and then pours copper and tin heated to 1200 ºC into the mold. Because he doesn’t color the bells, he takes considerable time to create an elaborate mold. It takes four to six months and occasionally as long as one year to make one temple bell. A bell newly taken out from a mold is orange-brown in color. Its tone gradually changes to red, then purple and finally to blue-green. As time passes, the local air makes the bell change its color.
Wanting the sound of his bells to resonate in people’s hearts, Mr. Kotabe continues his quest for the perfect bell-tone.
The Date Masamune Festival is held on the second Sunday of September every year in Iwadeyama Town in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. It started in 1964, when the statue of Date Masamune was moved from the Aoba Castle ruins site in Sendai to Iwadeyama Town, where Masamune spent his adolescent years.
On the eve of the festival, the parade of the Yosakoi Dance, the Masamune Drums, lanterns and the gorgeous Mikoshi goes through the town. The highlight of the main festival day on Sunday is the procession of the warriors of the Date clan. With horse soldiers blowing conch shell horns at the head of the procession, the present head of the Iwadeyama Date family making himself up as Date Masamune rides in a dignified manner, which is followed by the palanquin carrying Masamune’s mistress, the members of overseas delegation to Europe led by Hasekura Tsunenaga. It is a magnificent reenactment of the procession of the Date clan, which makes spectators slip into delusion of being transported back to the Warring States period.
When the festival draws near, there are a glut of applicants who yearn to act as a gallant warrior. It is the charming sight of autumn, in which everyone in the town participates and has fun.
Toridejuku was a post station on the Mito Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). In1687, the residence of the Someno family, Nanushi (village officer) of Toridejuku, was designated as honjin (the inn for the nobility and daimyo) by the Mito Tokugawa clan. The original building was burned down by fire in 1794 and the existing main building was built in the next year.
It is a large-scale private house in Yosemune-zukuri style, with 19 m wide and 13.3 m deep. The bargeboard on the Irimoya-styled roof (hip-and-gable roof) over the wooden step at the entrance hall gives a dignified impression. The inside of the residence was divided into two sections; the honjin section for lodging and the private section. As did the formal honjin, the honjin section had Jodan-no ma, which was the special room for the nobility and daimyo, and the suite of three rooms.
In the garden stands a stone monument inscribed with a poem written by Tokugawa Nariaki, the 9th lord of the Mito domain, in 1840, when he was on a boat going down the Tone River on his way back to Mito. The stone monument was later presented to the Someno family from the Mito domain, which shows the close connection between the Mito Tokugawa clan and the Someno family.
Japan’s largest Jizo Bosatsu statue with a height of 4 m is enshrined at the side of National Route 4 in Sanbongi Town in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. It was erected in 1765 in the Edo period to appease the souls of the criminals who were burned at the stake. Beside the statue is another smaller Jizo Bosatsu holding babies under both arms. Today, a lot of families visit this place to pray for children’s growth and fine health.
In April every year, a festival is dedicated to this Jizo Bosatsu. The Chigo (children in ancient costumes) parade and the traffic safety campaign parade, in which 200 local organizations participate, are held in the town. Spectators along the road applaud and cheer on the children wearing elegant costumes and walking proudly hand in hand with their mothers.
Baba-tate Castle located in the town of Kamata, Hokota City, Ibaragi Pref. is one of Kamata Hakkan (eight secondary castles) of Kamata Castle built by Kamata clan in the early Kamakura period. As the name Baba (riding ground) shows, it used to be the riding ground of the main castle and adjacent Shingu Shrine. Each of the eight castles, which consist of Baba-tate, Fujiyama-tate, Hanawa-tate, Hahagai-yakata, Kanjochi-yakata, Odoue-yakata, Ryugaya-yakata, and Kanashiki-yakata, was resided by a powerful vassal of Kamata clan and functioned as the defense fort of the main castle. Baba-tate was in the shape of trapezoid, and it had a very simple early Middle-Age-typed structure. Now the main building was lost and only a part of the water moat and the earthwork remain at the present time.
This temple is Bekkaku Honzan (a special headquarters) of Jodo-Shinshu. The Buddhist priest Shinran, who had been exiled to Echigo (present Niigata Pref.), was given absolution and invited to this place. He stayed here and promulgated his faith from 1214 to 1232 before going back to Kyoto. The temple is known as the place where Shinran wrote his famous “Kyogyo Shinsho (A Collection of Passages Revealing the True and Real Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way).” There is a unique gingko tree planted by Shinran himself in the precinct, which is called “Ohatsuki Icho (seeds grow on the leaves).” This Ohatsuki gingko tree was designated as a cultural property by the prefecture on November 15 in 2000. A gingko tree is a known example of a living fossil and is thought to have existed for more than one million years. Though Ohatsuki is not confined to old trees, visitors are glad to pick up a nut and bring it home to plant as a token of their visit. Thinking that the tree was planted by the holy man, they may find a special meaning in the nut.
Nichirinji Temple was established by Priest Kukai about 1300 years ago. He sculpted himself the image of Juichimen Kannon (eleven-headed Kannon) and placed it as the main object of worship. Then he lit a holy fire to pray for the national prosperity and rich harvest in the morning and prayed for the souls of the dead in the evening. The temple was flourished as the ascetic training center of the northern Kanto and the southern Tohoku regions. In 989, it was counted as the 21st temple of Bando Kannon Pilgrimage. In 1880, the temple buildings were destroyed by a mountain fire, but the image of Kannon miraculously escaped damage. In 1915, the present temple buildings were built at the site where Kannon had been placed. From the observatory to the left of the main hall, you can see Mt. Fuji on a fine day. If you drive up the mountain for about 5 minutes, you will reach Yamizo Mine Shrine, which is said to have been established by Yamato Takeru.
Oarai Isozaki Shrine located in Oarai-machi, Ibaraki Pref. is said to have been founded in 856, when political turmoil and frequent earthquakes confused people, Okuninushi no Kami descended to this place to cease the turbulence and build a peaceful nation. During the Eiroku era (1558-1569) all the buildings were destroyed by a war fire. Later in 1690, the reconstruction works stared under the order of Tokugawa Mitsukuni, and during the rule of his son, Tsunaeda, all the structures including the Main Hall, Haiden Hall (oratory) and Shin-mon Gate were completed. The present halls and the gate have existed since this reconstruction, which are considered to be the precious cultural properties to represent the early Edo-styled architecture. Enshrined Okuninushi no Kami is worshipped as the deity of business success, family safety, traffic safety, evil avoidance and bringing happiness, attainment of desires, and the deity of sake brewing and healing illness.