Gohara lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in Hiruzen, Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture. It is designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the prefecture. It is said that the craft dates back to the Meitoku era (1390-1400) of the Muromachi period. The production reached its peak in the Edo period (1603-1868), when a lot of Gohara lacquer products were shipped to areas in the Sanin region.
Local chestnut wood is cut in a round slice, which is directly placed on a turner and shaped into a desired form, by which the grains of wood remain unimpaired. Then natural lacquer from Bicchu area (the southwestern part of the prefecture) is applied many times to create solid surface.
Because of its beautiful curbs of grains as well as the practicability for daily use, Gohara lacquered vessels are still loved by many people.
Kamo Grand Festival dates back over 940 years and originates around the Heian period. The festival, an important intangible cultural asset of Okayama prefecture, takes place on the third Sunday of every October.
During the festival, parades consisting of portable shrines and taiko drums start from eight different shrines around the town and come together at the head shrine at Kamo Ichiba where the ancient religious rituals occur.
To the sounds of flutes and drums, exciting events take place in the precinct of the shrine which is possessed by the festive mood. There are demonstrations of “Tachifuri” in which performers wearing the tamadasuki sash and hachimaki headband wield a Naginata sword and “Boutsukai” in which performers wearing Tengu goblin masks and demon masks in bright colored dresses engage in mock battle.
The climax of the festival is “Gojinkou”. With red banners held aloft lining the route, and amid the noise of flutes and drums, the performers unite with a loud shout of “whoh”, raising the portable shrines high above their heads. This is the moment when performers and audience unite.
Kamo Festival is a captivating festival evoking an ancient painted scroll from the Heian era.
The Okayama Momotaro Festival is held annually for three days in August in Okayama. Originally, there were various festivals called Okayama Momotaro Festival, Okayama Summer Festival, Uraja-odori parade, and Nouryou Firework Display, each held separately. All of these festivals came together as the Okayama Momotaro Festival in 2001 (Heisei 13).
The highlight of the first day is the Nouryou Firework Display. 5,000 fireworks are set off toward the night sky to gorgeously celebrate the opening of the festival.
Later, the Uraja-odori parade features dancers wearing bizarre makeup called 'ura-geshou'. The motif for the ura-geshou is a man named Ura from mainland Asia, who later became king of the ancient Kibi kingdom (part of today's Okayama Prefecture). There is also a Family Festa, which can be enjoyed by the whole family. There are many events held over the three summer days of the festival in Okayama.
Regardless of age and sex, anyone can join in the Uraja-odori dance, with its distinctive rhythm and bizarre makeup, that has its own unique traditional Japanese style. The three-day festival creates an atmosphere of joyfulness over the summer nights.
There are several opinions about Miyamoto Musashi’s birthplace; the theory that he was born in Harima province (present-day the southwestern part of Hyogo Pref.) is a widely accepted historical fact, but in his novel “Miyamoto Musashi,” Eiji Yoshikawa writes he was born in Miyamoto Village in Mimasaka province (present-day Mimasaka City, Hyogo Pref.). In the city of Mimasaka is an area called “Musashi no Sato (Musashi’s village),” in which many monuments and remains pertaining to Musashi are located including his birthplace, his grave, and Sanomo Shrine. Musashi spent his early life in this house until he left the village at the age of 17, having high hopes of success in life. It used to be a large house with a thatched roof, but was destroyed by fire in 1942. In the reconstruction work, the roof was changed to the present tiled roof, but the Daikoku-bashira (the main structural post) was located at the same place as it was, which reminds us of the old times.
Kamadono Hall is part of Kibitsu Shrine in Okayama and is designated as an important national cultural asset.
Kamadono Hall is also popular for a peculiar fortune-telling ritual involving a 'kami' (a large metal cauldron) standing on a 'kamado' (a cooking range with a place for fire underneath). In the hall, people seeking to know their fortune, place offerings such as sacred sake in front of the cauldron and pray to the oracle. The fire below keeps the cauldron hot. If the cauldron produces a loud sound, it represents 'good fortune'; if it stays silent or creates a soft sound, it means 'misfortune'.
There is a legend that the head of the ogre Ura (the origin of the Oni demon) is buried under the kamado. Akinari Ueda in the 'Ugetsu' relates the story that, one night, Prince Kibitsuhiko (the model for Momotaro, the legendary Peach Boy) dreamt of Ura's spirit, which tells the prince to have his wife Azome light the fire beneath the cauldron. The spirit says that a 'rich' sound from the cauldron will bring good fortune, while a 'wild' sound will bring misfortune.
From this legend, we can clearly see how Kibitsuhiko's dream became part of the fortune-telling narukami ritual we see today at the shrine.
Saidaiji Temple and Kannon'in Temple are located to the north of Eian Bridge, which spans the Yoshii River. This river flows through eastern Okayama prefecture.
The principal image of Saidaiji is of the Senju Kannon or Thousand-armed Avalokiteśvara, and the temple flourished as a branch of Mt Koya's Shingon Buddhism. Saidaiji was established about 1200 years ago. Anryu-shonin founded it in 770~781, but it was renamed as Saidaiji in 1221. According to the temple's history, there were several halls (including Hondo, Jyugyodo, Miedo, Shodo, Kyozo and Kairou) before it was destroyed in a fire in 1229. We know from this that it was a huge temple.
Other than the temple itself, it is famous for a hadaka matsuri ('naked festival') that takes place annually on the 3rd Saturday in February. During the event, nearly naked men undergo a water ritual called 'mizugori' then fight for two wooden sticks called 'shingi'. It is counted as one of Japan's three major eccentric festivals.
Mt Washu is located in Shimotsuitanoura, Kurashiki district, Okayama Prefecture. More precisely, it lies at the southern tip of the Kojima peninsula.
It is called Mt 'Washu' because, from the northeast side, it resembles an eagle ('washi') spreading its wings. The mountain is famous for its view of islands and the Seto Ohashi Bridge in the Seto Inland Sea. Even Nanba Tendo, a haiku poet, claims: 'I want the whole mountain as a souvenir.'
At night the Seto Ohashi Bridge is illuminated making a fascinating sight. In clear weather the mountains of Shikoku, on the opposite shore, can be seen from the observatory tower. In 1934 Mt Washi was designated as the Setonaikai National Park and in 2004 it was selected as a special region within the park.
Because of its preserved streets, its history and its natural scenery, Kurashiki is the foremost sightseeing spot of Okayama Prefecture. In 1979, the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Area was designated as a Preservation District of Historical Buildings.
The old town of Kurashiki embodies the atmosphere of the Edo period. The town has a subtle harmony of white walls, black 'hongawarabuki', 'nameko' ('sea cucumber') walls, warehouses, lattice windows and the willow-lined river. The town also has many cultural attractions, such as the Ohara Museum of Art. Beautiful buildings, such as the Kurashiki Museum of Folk Craft and the Kurashiki Museum of Archaeology, may be visited. In addition, the Kibi Tumulus is an historic site dating to the ancient Kibi kingdom, which prospered in past.
Other sites around Kurashiki that are popular to visit include Mt Kijo, the birthplace of Momotaro, as well as the historic Kibi-Tsu shrines. Moreover, Kurashiki is known for its scenic views of the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. From the peak of Mt Washu, there is a splendid view of scattered islands among silent waves and the magnificent Seto Ohashi Bridge.