Nokami Hachimangu Shrine is an old and distinguished shrine located in Kimino-cho, Kaiso-gun, Wakayama Pref. It is said that the shrine dates back to the period during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (around A.D. 550). It is one of the 3 largest Hachiman shrines in Japan. As a branch shrine of Iwashimizu Shrine in Kyoto, Nokami Shrine has been worshipped by people for a long time. The shrine is also known for a lot of nationally designated cultural properties including the Main Hall built in the Azuchi Momoyama period (1568-1598), the Main Hall of Takeuchi Shrine (one of the branch shrines), and a sword. Brilliant vermillion of the Main Hall reminds us of its ancient flourishing times. At the autumn festival held on Sunday in the middle of October every year, flamboyant Shishimai dance (lion dance) is dedicated to the god and a lot of local people come to enjoy the festival.
Sanmyoji Temple is said to have been established at the beginning of the 8th century. Its principal image worshipped at the main hall is Benzaiten (the goddess Saraswati). During the period of the Genpei Wars (1180-1185), a priest at this temple, Mochizuki Chugen, fought with Minamoto no Noriyori’s forces and was defeated. When Noriyori became a lord of Mikawa province later, he ordered one of his retainers, Kawai Goro, to burn the temple down, from which the temple was destroyed. The temple was restored by a Zen monk Mumon, a son of Emperor Godaigo, in the 14th century. The 15 m three-story pagoda built in 1531 is well-known for its beautiful shape. It is an eclectic-styled building; the 1st and 2nd floors are built in Japanese style, while the 3rd floor in Chinese style. As architectural styles in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) varied form region to region, the pagoda is a precious building structure to know the architecture in the late Muromachi period. The pagoda and Guden Hall (the main hall) are designated as National Important Cultural Properties.
Awa Dance originates in Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku, but is now performed in many locations throughout the country. Some local businessmen, who were from Tokushima Prefecture and lived in Minami-koshigaya Town, proposed to hold Awa Dance Festival in their town in the late Showa period. The 1st Minami-koshigaya Awa Dance Festival was then held in 1985 with 1,000 dancers and 3,000 spectators.
It is held for three days in August every year. Now 5,000 dancers including the dancing troupes from Tokushima Prefectures join the parade. And the town receives as many as 500,000 spectators. It became the biggest summer event of the town and is now counted as one of Japan’s three largest Awa Dance festivals, together with the one in Tokushima and another in Koenji in Tokyo.
There are many types of dances including Nagashi (dance parade) to the music of up-tempo Ohayashi, Kumi-odori (pair dance) and Butai-odori (stage dance). You can fully enjoy yourself by only spectating the parade of dancers dancing with cheerful calls of “Ya-to-se!” However, you may find yourself swinging your body to the rhythms as the song goes “You're a fool to dance and a fool to watch, so you may as well dance, ha ha!”
The Omagari Fireworks Competition is held in Omagari, Daisen City in Akita Prefecture on the 4th Saturday every year. It started in 1910 as a local fireworks display of the annual festival at Suwa Shrine. In 1915, the association of fireworks manufactures in 6 prefectures in the Tohoku region hosted the fireworks display to raise the level of fireworks technology, changing the name to the present one.
The competition is held on the banks of the Omonogawa River. The most overwhelming is the association’s display of 1,500 fireworks, which are shot up into the night sky with powerful sparks. Solemn back ground music increases the magnificence.
Many prizes such as the Prime Minister’s Award are given to the excellent fireworks manufactures. The best of the best fireworks manufacturers come from all over Japan and battle for the title of “Best in Japan.”
One of the three largest production areas for roof tiles (kawara) in Japan is Sanshuu in Aichi Prefecture. It is believed that tile-production started here in about 588. According to records, there is information that kawara craftsmen existed at that time.
Sanshuu became a tile-production area in 1700 because clay could easily be brought in from the nearby towns of Anjo, Toyota and Seto. Furthermore, Sanshuu's position in the center of Japan meant that tiles could be transported easily to other parts of the country.
There are three major types of tiles: ibushi, yuuyaku, mu-yuuyaku and shioyaki. The tiles are fired for a period of between 13 and 16 hours. The length of the firing ensures that the tiles are tough. In the past. the firing process was carried out manually, but today electric kilns are used. These days, with the rise in environmental awareness, new tiles suited for recycling and for solar panels have been developed.
Nishi-Iya Kazurabashi (Vine Bridge) is located at Zentoku, Nishi-Iya village, Miyoshi, Tokushima Prefecture. It is one of the three major 'strange' bridges in Japan. The bridge is a primitive suspension type using vines like 'shirakuchi' vines.
The origin of this bridge is uncertain: one story has it that the famous priest Kukai (Kobo Taishi) built it to help villagers cross the ravine; another story has it that an easygoing member of the Taira clan constructed the bridge with vines so that they could be cut immediately if an enemy was in pursuit.
The ravine of the Niya river is so deep that it was very difficult to cross between banks. The villagers most likely made this bridge after trying many ideas.
Now, Nishi-Iya Vine Bridge is 45m in length, 2m in width, and suspended 14m above the ravine. It has been designated an National Important Tangible Folkloric Property.
Crossing the bridge is a thrilling experience; even if a single person crosses the bridge, it shakes, while the crossing is simply made of rough logs. The ‘Iya Mill Song’ is a well-known song that describes the bridge.
Seki-juku, with “seki” meaning checkpoint, was a post town with a checkpoint as the name suggests. However, it was not a checkpoint in Edo period, but was built in 672 at the time of Jinshin War. It was known as Suzuka no Seki at that time and was referred to as one of Three Great Checkpoints in ancient Japan, along with Arachi in Echizen and Fuwa in Minou. The checkpoints were abolished in 789.
During the Middle Ages, under the control of Seki Clan, the town developed around Jizou-in Temple first as a temple town and later prospered as a post town.
In 1601 (Edo period), Tokugawa government brought back the checkpoint system and Seki-juku became the 47th post town starting from Shinagawa-juku, covering the present areas of Kizaki, Nakamachi and Shinjo in Seki Town, Kameyama, Mie Prefecture. The area is the only post town along Fifty-three Sations of the Toukaidou where stores and houses from ancient times still remain intact. Since it was designated as an Important Cultural Buildings Preservation District in 1984, the town has been reinventing itself utilizing and preserving unique local historical assets.
Seki-juku post town consist of four boroughs each with unique characteristics; Kizaki, where a line of low rise housing exists: Nakamachi with “honjin” (inns for lords and samurai) , “hatago” (inns for general people) and wholesalers gathered: Shinjo, an area in front of Jizou-in Temple: Kitaura where there are many temples and shrines.
Genchuji Temple, standing alone and forsaken on a quiet street in Shinhonji-cho, Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture, is where Araki Mataemon lies under a tombstone. Araki Mataemon was a renowned swordsman, who helped the vengeance of a young man at Kagiyanotsuji in Iga province, which is counted as one of Japan’s three most famous vengeances.
Traditionally, it is considered to be particularly good luck to dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant. One theory suggests that an eggplant was included because the calyx of an eggplant feels prickly (“iga-iga” in Japanese), which is a pun of Iga, the place of the vengeance, and thus means the attainment of one’s desires.
In the precinct of the temple is a history museum, where Mataemon’s mementoes including the sword and chain armor actually used in the vengeance are displayed. In kuri (the priest’s quarters), a fine painting on a fusuma (sliding doors) “Rakan fusuma-painting” by Byakusetsu Takagi, a Japanese painter from Kurayoshi City in the prefecture.