Nyoirinji Temple located in Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Nara Pref. is a temple of Jodo sect. It was founded in the Engi era (901-923) by the priest Nichizo Doken Shonin, a son of the Monjo Hakase (Professor of Literature) Miyoshi Kiyoyuki. The principal image is Nyoirin Kannon. In 1336, when Emperor Go-daigo was defeated in Nanbokucho Wars and set up the Southern Court in Yoshino, the temple became the place where the emperor offered prayers. The temple is known for the episode that when Kusunoki Masashige set out for the battle of Shijo Nawate in Osaka, he carved the death poem on the door of the hall with an arrowhead.
In 1650, when the priest Tetsugyu restored the main hall, the temple was converted from the Shingon sect to the Jodo sect. A lot of precious cultural properties are displayed in the Treasure House of the temple including the statue of angry-faced Zao Gongen and the picture of Kannon, which is popularly called “Ne-ogami Kannon (Kannon to be worshipped in the lying posture)” because it is painted on the ceiling and which is said to be the largest one of this type. Standing in the precinct, visitors can feel the long history and tradition at this temple of Nyoirinji.
Saigyo-an located in Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Nara Pref. is a hermitage, where Saigyo supposedly spent three years. Saigyo (1118-1190) was a great poet in the Heian period and wrote poems for “Shin-Kokin-shu” and “Sanka-shu.” The wooden statue of Saigyo is placed inside the hut. Cherishing the memory of Saigyo, Matsuo Basho visited the hut and composed a poem in 1684. Two stone monuments respectively inscribed with a poem by Saigyo and Basho stand in front of this serene hermitage. Surrounded with cherry blossoms in spring and autumnal foliage in fall, the hermitage will impress you with the wabi-sabi aesthetic and inspire your poetic mind.
A clear water called “Koke-Shimizu” springs out in the vicinity. It is counted as one of 31 Fine Water in Yamato.
Since the Edo period (1603-1868), a pilgrimage to Kotohira-gu (Konpira-san) has been a great pleasure for people and a lot of pilgrims visited the town of Kotohira from every part of the country. Accordingly, the roads from all directions converged on this shrine, and many stone lanterns were dedicated by people and erected as the landmark for pilgrims.
The Takatoro Stone Lantern located next to Kotohira Station of Kotoden Railway on the riverside of the Yoshino River is the tallest stone lantern in Japan. It is 28 m tall and could be seen from far-off Marugame Harbor when it was lit at night. Using oil and candles as light source, it was designed to prevent light from being blown out by wind. Today, Takatoro Stone Lantern is the symbol of Kotohira Town.
Saigyo was a famous Japanese poet of the late Heian period (794-1192). Born to a military family in 1118, he started his careear as an Imperial Guard to retired Emperor Toba at the age of 18. He was a handsome young man, who was both a good warrior and a good scholar. He came to be known in the political circles of the time, but for some unknown reasons, he quit worldly life to become a monk at the age of 23. Later he took the pen name “Saigyo” meaning Western Journey.
He did not belong to any sect of Buddhism and stayed in a hermitage in a deep mountain to seek for enlightment through writing waka poems. Being attracted by the beauty of nature, he made his temporary hermitage in the suberbs of Kyoto and Nara including Mt. Ogurayama in Saga, Mt. Kuramayama, a holy mountain of Yoshino and Mt. Koya, the sanctuary of the Shingon Buddhism. He also made a number of trips to visit temples and shrines in Shikoku and Ise.
94 poems of Saigyo’s work are collected in “the Shin Kokinshu.” His other important collections of poems are “Sankashu (Mountain Home Collection),” “Sanka Shinchu Shu,” and “Kikigakishu.” He died at Hirokawa Temple in Kawachi province (present-day Kanan-cho in Osaka Prefecture) in 1190.
Katte Shrine located in Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Nara Pref. is one of the eight Myojin shrines in Yoshino. It enshrines Oyama Tsumi no Kami and Konohanasakuya-hime no Mikoto. Legend has it that in 672, when Prince Oama (later enthroned as Emperor Tenmu), who had stayed in Yoshino and gathered an army to battle with the crown prince, was playing the Japanese harp in front of the hall at this temple, a heavenly maiden appeared and showed him a lucky omen.
It is also said that in 1185, when Shizuka Gozen, who parted with Minamoto no Yoshitsune in Mt. Yoshino, was caught by the pursuers, she performed elegant dance in front of the hall at this shrine to make time for her husband to escape.
The main hall was once destroyed by fire and restored in 1776, but in 2005 it was burned down again by the fire of suspicious origin. Presently, only a part of wooden structure remains and there is little possibility of the restoration of this important cultural property.
Koromo Festival is held on the 3rd weekend in October every year at Koromo Shrine in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture. Koromo Shrine is said to be founded in 1189, when Suzuki Shigeyoshi, a retainer of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, transferred Komori Myojin from Yoshino in present Nara Prefecture. Takamimusubi no Kami and other four deities are enshrined.
The festival is said to originate in the dedication of Kyogen Kabuki held at the shrine in around 1354. According to an old record, the parade of decorated floats, Kasaboko (giant floats) and lions was already held Minami Town in the city in 1630.
Today, eight neighborhood towns around Koromo Shrine have their own floats, which are beautifully decorated with gorgeous tapestries and wood carvings carved by specialist float decoration sculptors of the Tachikawa school or Segawa Jisuke, the master sculptor in the Edo period. The eight floats are valiantly pulled through the city. During the parade, men on the float throw confetti at every corner. Koromo float parade represents the valiant spirit handed down among townspeople in this castle town of Koromo.
Yamaage Festival held in July every year in Nasu Karasuyama City, Tochigi Prefecture is a dynamic performance of outdoor kabuki, which is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. The history of this outdoor kabuki dates back to 1560, when Nasu Suketane, the castellan of Karasuyama Castle enshrined Susanoo no Mikoto at Yakumo Shrine and prayed for the country’s stability and a rich harvest. During the Kanbun era (1661-1672), a dance performance was first dedicated to the deity in addition to the sumo wrestling matches and Kagura Loin Dance. In the Horeki era (1716-1763), kabuki dances began to be performed and later it took the form of the outdoor kabuki plays.
On the day of the festival, about 150 young stagehands quickly build a kabuki stage with “yama (backdrops),” which is made of bamboo and traditional Japanese paper produced in the Nasu area. When musicians start playing the Tokiwazu-bushi shamisen, local kabuki players appear on the stage and play kabuki dramas such as “Masakado,” “Modoribashi,” and “Yoshinoyama.” After the performance, the stagehand staff quickly breaks up the set, carries all necessary parts to the next locale and re-builds the stage for the next performance. The performances are held five to six times a day.
Kaishi is Japanese tissue paper folded and tucked inside the front of one’s kimono, used especially for writing poems or letters or for placing sweets, cleaning the edge of a tea bowl and so on at the tea ceremony. It is also called “Futokoro-gami” or “Tatougami.”
Kaishi paper dates back to the early 7th century, when paper making technology was introduced to Japan from China. It became widely used in the Heian period (794-1192), when the Kokufu Bunka (Japan’s original national culture) developed and writing waka (classical court poems) and other forms of poems became popular among the noble class. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Kaishi paper was indispensable article for tea ceremony.
Kumano Kaishi and Yoshino Kaishi are famous as traditional handicraft today. Kaishi paper with various patterns such as cherry blossoms, plum flowers or autumn leaves is sold now. It is not only used for tea ceremony or writing poems but also used for many purposes such as wrapping gifts or serving sweets. Kaishi paper is a Japanese wisdom, which meets the trend of ecological consciousness today.