Bengara is inorganic red pigment whose main ingredient is iron oxide, Fe2O3, and it is the oldest coloring agent known to mankind.
Bengara is written弁柄, in some cases紅殻, in Kanji and is also known as Indian Red and Venetian Red.
Bengara was thought to be introduced from China, via the Korean peninsula, into Okinawa. The name Bengara was believed to have been derived from Bengal, the Indian province that most of the iron oxide came from.
Bengara’s ingredient, iron oxide Fe2O3, was produced naturally more than any other iron oxide based coloring agents. However because its mineral composition is very similar to that of red rust from iron, nowadays artificially composed dyes have become more common than naturally produced ones. Nariwa-cho, Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture, is the only remaining place in Japan that still produces Bengara naturally.
In ancient time, Bengara was rare and much treasured as a noble color. Shuri Castle in Okinawa is known to have Bengara red color. Because Bengara was superior for coloring and sealing as well as resistant to heat and water, it was applied to wooden buildings to prevent aging damage.
The color of Bengara might lack certain brightness more common in other red based pigments, but its flamboyance today still keeps holding people’s affection.
Aokage Castle located in Innoshima Takuma-cho, Onomichi City, Hiroshima Pref. was a fortress built by Murakami Yoshihiro, the head of the Murakami Suigun (maritime warrior clan), during the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392). Since then it had been the base of the Murakami Suigun for 270 years.
As Innoshima Island was the base of the Murakami Suigun, there were a lot of castles or fortresses built in the Middles Ages. Aokage Castle was at the top of Mt. Aokage (277 m) in the mid-western part of Innoshima Island. It is presumed that the castle was built to reinforce the defenses for Dozaki Castle located in the east against the attack of the Kobayakawa clan standing to the North Imperial Court side. After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, it was dismantled.
At the present time, only the ruins of Honmaru (the main castle), the stone walls and other residences remain in the mountain. Kinrenji Temple to the north of this castle is known as the family temple of the Innoshima Murakami clan. The graveyard of the successive generations of the clan lies in the precinct.
Odaigahara Plateau is located in Kamikitayama Village, Nara Pref. The annual precipitation of this area is 5000 mm, which ranks the heaviest in the world. The wet climate has created a primitive forest that is comparable to the one in Yakushima Island. The forest with its floor covered with green moss as well as magnificent and powerful waterfalls is the figurative art that nature has created. The primitive forest is also the home to wild life such as antelope, Japanese deer and rare plants of the season. If you are lucky, you might come across a group of lovely deer on your way. For walking, “Higashi Odai” walking trail extending about 9 km is recommendable. At the top of Daijyagura Cliff with a height of 1,000 m, you can command a 360-degree panoramic view including Ominesan mountains. Pure forest of Tohi (medicine plant) in Masakigahara is known as the south bounds in Japan. While walking along the trail, you will enjoy the twittering of Japanese robins and other wild birds.
Tatekoshi Shrine located at the top of the hill next to Guzeiji Temple in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine known for housing the guardian god of this area. The enshrined deities are Ukano Mitama no Kami, Omiyahime no Kami and Sarutahiko no Kami.
It is said that Kobodaishi Kukai transferred the deity of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto to this place and founded this shrine as an attached shrine of the temple when he founded Guzeiji Temple in 811. As the area around the shrine was on the Old Oshu Kaido Road and the Abukuma River, it was called “Tatenokoshi,” which meant “the strategic spot to protect the lord’s residence” from the enemies; hereby the shrine was named Tatekoshi Shrine. In 1867, the shrine was separated from the temple according to the ban of Shinbutsu Shugo (the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) by the Meiji government.
At the entrance of the shrine is a unique stone lantern erected in 1924. The lantern is supported by four Sumo wrestlers and a fox is placed inside the lantern. The main gate and shrine pavilions were burned down by fires and the present buildings were all constructed in the Showa period.
Sorayoi, handed down in Chiran-cho, Minamikyushu City, Kagoshima Prefecture, is a moon festival event to appreciate the moon and the god of land for rich harvest. It is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property.
The origin of the festival and its name is unclear. Some says the name derives from the words “Sore wa yoi,” meaning “That’s good.” Others say it is the corruption of “Sora ga yoi,” meaning “The sky looks nice.”
The festival begins when the moon rises. Two boys go into the straw house called “Warakozun,” which is placed at the center of a rice paddy and start revolving it clockwise, while other boys wearing the loincloth, straw coats and straw hats go counterclockwise, mystically dancing and singing “Sorayoi Sorayoi Sorayoiyoi.” around the Warakozun.
After the dance, the adult team vs. the children team play a tug of war three times. Then, they destroy the Warakozun and make a sumo ring out of the straw and do sumo wrestling.
Sorayoi is a mystic but enjoyable traditional event.
Tenjiku Shrine in Tenjiku Town in Nishio City, Aichi Prefecture, is the only shrine in Japan which enshrines Niihadakami, the god of cotton.
In 799 in the early Heian period, a Tenjiku-jin (Indian) drifted ashore to the beach of Nishio with cotton seeds. He lived in a village, which was later named Tenjiku Village, and gave the villagers the cotton seeds as a token of his appreciation. Unfortunately, the seeds did not grow well due to the climatic conditions, but Tenjiku Village is considered the birthplace of cotton in Japan.
After his death, the village people had worshipped his portrait as Koso-shin (the god of cotton). In 1883 in the Meiji period, when a shrine was to be founded in this village, people created the name “Niihadakami” for the god of cotton and enshrined it as their guardian god.
In Menso-sai held in October every year, local people carry boat-shaped portable shrine called Funa-mikoshi, reenacting the scene of the god’s drifting ashore. Also, the traditional rite of Watauchi (cotton beating) is performed by priests. The shrine is crowded with visitors including people from the cotton industry.
The Shikiro Waterfall is located in the valley behind Eigenji Temple in Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture. This 25 m tall waterfall flows down in two stages; the upper stage is 20 m tall and the lower is 5 m tall.
The name “Shikiro” derives from “Shikiro-an,” a hermitage built by Ogura Sanezumi, who was both a good warrior and a good scholar in the late Muromachi period (1336-1573). It is said that he took clear water from this waterfall to offer it to the statue of Buddha every morning. A small statue of Fudo Myoo stands beside the waterfall today.
The waterfall dynamically gushes down the tall cliff. It looks especially beautiful in fall, when it is surrounded with autumn leaves. The water flows at a slant in the upper stage into the first basin, from which it flows down as if it was kinked into the lower basin. The white flow and the emerald green basin make a wonderful contrast. You can enjoy a moment of coolness even in the midst of the hot summer.
Nihonkoba is the 934 meter high mountain in Eigenji-Takano Town in Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture. Located to the north of Eigenji Dam, it is the highest point of the long mountain ridge that separates the dam area from the plain on the eastern side of Lake Biwa and continues to the Suzuka Mountain Range.
The name “koba” means “a lumberyard” and it is said that, as its summit commands a wonderful view of Lake Biwa, it was named “Nihonkoba” meaning “Japan’s No.1 lumberyard.” Its extraordinarily flat summit is very impressive.
Located far away from the main peaks of the Suzuka Mountain Range, there are few climbers seen in this mountain, so it is very suitable for one who prefers tranquil atmosphere. The summit is a flat open space where 30 to 40 people can take a rest. It commands a fine view of the Suzuka Mountains including Ryozendake, Oikedake and Fujiwaradake.
Other places of interest include the wide gully of Fujikawa, a wetland and Kijin-no-iwaya (Eccentric’s Cave).