Hanatori Odori is a kind of sword dance handed down in Ehime Prefecture since the Middle Ages. It is a gallant dance performed to pray for good health. Today several towns in the prefecture have handed down their own Hanatori Odori dances, each of which is slightly different from town to town.
In Shirokawa Town in Seiyo City, Hanatori Odori is performed in the precinct of Hachiman Shrine on August 21, the memorial day of Kobodaishi, as a part of the Buddhist ritual held at the Taishi-do Hall next to the shrine.
When straw mats are spread on the ground and the Japanese drums and gongs are placed, Ohayashi music starts at the call of the leader and the dancers carrying bamboo branches decorated with colorful paper strips on their backs stand in two lines. The dancers are local junior and senior high school students. Then at the call of the leader, they perform six kinds of gallant dances by wielding swords or grain sickles. Hanatori Odori is designated as an intangible cultural property by the city.
Izunuma and Uchinuma are lakes forming a wetland in Senhoku Plain in Miyagi Prefecture. The total area of the wetland is 4 sq. m and the water depth is only 1.6 m at the deepest. Being designated as a Ramsar Site, the lakes provide wintering places for waterfowls such as Greater White-fronted Goose (National Natural Monument) and Bean Goose and habitats for aquatic plants and insects.
Izunuma-Uchinuma Lotus Flower Festival is held from the end of July to the end of August, when the surface of the pond is covered with beautiful lotus flowers. Pale pink lotus flowers among green leaves make a brilliant contrast with clear blue sky. Flowers can be viewed from the walking trails and surrounding roads. Also, as a sightseeing-boat is operated during the festival, you van enjoy viewing the lotus flowers from the boat in the center of the pond.
Nanrakuen Garden, which is located in Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture, is one of the largest Japanese gardens in Shikoku. The construction having taken 10 years, two fine pond, Kami-ike and Shimo-ike, are surrounded with the four zones built on the concept of “mountain,” “village,” “town” and “sea.” There are about 200,000 trees of over 180 species growing in the 150,000 sq. km garden area and about 10,000 carp swimming in the pond. It is a stroll garden, where visitors can enjoy viewing colorful carp and seasonal flowers.
Azalea Festival is held in this garden from early April through early May every year. About 32,000 stocks of Rhododendron obtusum, Rhododendron hirado azalea and Enkianthus perulatus and about 36,000 stocks of Rhododendron indicum come into bloom all at once. Deep and light red, pink and white azalea flowers brilliantly spread along the promenade and entertain the visitors with the taste of spring.
Maruoka Castle, located in Maruoka town, Fukui pref, is the oldest standing castle with a remaining donjon. The castle, built with an old style stone wall that uses natural found stones, is rather small but has a simple beauty that remains unchanged to this day. The castle was built in 1576 by the order of Katsuie Shibata who was awarded the Echizen territory, now a part of Fukui pref., by Nobunaga Oda, who ruled a vast area of Japan in the Sengoku Period. The castle was built originally in Toyohara town, however, for more convenient road access, it was moved to Maruoka by Katsuie’s nephew, Katsutoyo. The castle employs a unique architectural method. It is three stories high with two layers of roof and there is a watch tower with handrails going around the donjon on the top story. The castle was roofed with Shakudani stone, a local stone, and has thick lattices and black wooden walls, which are unmistakable characteristics of the early style of castle making. The castle has lived through many war-torn periods of deadly strife and carnage. The castle is also known as Kasumiga Joh, Mist Castle, owing to a legend that, at a time of battle, a giant serpent appeared and blew mist over the castle and concealed it from attackers. In 1934, it was designated as a National Treasure. It was destroyed by an earthquake, then later reconstructed and was designated an Important National Property.
Mt. Katsuragi is located on the border of Kushira, Gose City, Nara Pref. and Chihaya Akasaka-mura, Minami Kawachi-gun, Osaka Pref. It is a part of Kongo-Ikoma-Kisen Quasi-National Par. Among the Kongosan mountains, this 959-meter mountain is the highest mountain next to Mt. Kongo.
Mt. Katsuragi is believed to be the residence of Hitokotonushi no Okami. Legend has it that when En no Ozuno, the founder of mountain practice, was building a bridge from Mt. Katsuragi to Mt. Kongo, this god helped him with his work only at night because he was ashamed of his ugly face.
The tableland at the top of the mountain called “Katsuragi Highland” is famous for mountain azaleas in spring and Japanese pampas grass in fall. Its diversified mountain path with natural beauty that changes from season to season is popular among hikers.
Iris Festival is held from May 25 to June 20 every year in Chiryu Park, the outer garden of Chiryu Shrine. The Japanese irises in this park were donated by the imperial Meiji Jingu Shrine in 1955, 1957 and 1960. Sixty different species of irises that were loved by Emperor and Empress Meiji come into flowers during the festival. The best time is around June 10, when visitors can enjoy viewing gorgeous and colorful flowers of about 30,000 stocks of iris.
During the festival period, various enjoyable events are held in the park, such as the children’s sketch contest, the photo contest of the iris flowers, the demonstration of Karakuri dolls, tea ceremonies, the tanka poem contest and the exhibition of the shrine treasures.
Hanamaki Festival is held in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture for 3 days centered on the 2nd Saturday in September every year. It originates in the float parade held in 1593 to revere Kita Shosai, the founding father of the town.
The festival features a number of events such as the parade of Furyu-dashi floats, which were originally made of bamboo and represented a whale but later changed its form into a Kyoto-styled Yakata float, and 140 taru-mikoshi (portable shrine made of barrels), and the prefecturally designated intangible cultural property, Deer Dance, which represents the ancient rituals to pray for peace of the town and to get rid of the evils.
The highlight is the Hanamaki-bayashi Dance Parade, in which 1,000 dancers elegantly dance to the Hanamaki-bayashi music, which is modeled on the Gion-bayashi of Kyoto. The pompous mixture of the sounds of large drums, small drums, Japanese flutes and Shamisen enhances the festival mood of the town.
The Fudo-Otaki Waterfall in Kasukawa-machi, Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture is the most magnificent waterfall in the prefecture. It is counted as one of Japan’s 100 Fine Waterfalls. It is in the upstream of the Kasukawa River, which flows out of Lake Ko-numa near the top of Mt. Akagi-yama. The waterfall has a height of 50 m. The water dynamically falls down with roaring sounds.
With dark green leaves and acacia blossoms in early summer, fantastic mist and rainbows in summer, autumn foliage, and ice pillars in winter, the waterfall shows different scenery from season to season. Surrounded by the steep cliff formed by erosion, it is nothing but an exquisite work of natural art.
There are places of interests around the waterfall such as the rock cave where Kunisada Chuji (the Japanese Robin Hood) hid himself and Takizawa Fudoson Temple, which had been a training ashram for mountain practitioners in Mt. Akagi-yama until the Edo period (1603-1868).