Heiwa Kannon located in Ohya-machi, Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Pref. is a huge statue of Kannon carved into a wall of Ohya Stone in the old Ohya stone quarry. It was made in hope for world peace and in memory of Japan and U.S. war dead soldiers in the World War II. The statue is 26.93-meter in height and 20-centimeter in circumference of waist. It was made in 1954 by a stone mason, Ryozo Ueno, who did its foundation work, and a sculptor, Asajiro Hida, who hand-carved its calm expression. From the top of the stairs beside the statue, you can command a wide view of the Utsunomiya plain over its shoulder.
On the left side of the Kannon was a tunnel leading to Ohyaji Temple, but it is currently closed for the danger of falling. Ohyaji Temple is also famous for its rock-cut Kannon known as Ohya Kannon. Heiwa Kannon is a symbol of the stone town of Ohya.
Gion Castle was resided by the Oyama clan, which gained prosperity in the area around present-day Oyama City, Tochigi Pref. from the time of Genpei War (1180-1185) through the end of the Warring States period (the late 16th century). The time of its construction is unknown, but it is referred to in the historical record written in the 14th century. The name “Gion” is said to have been derived from the name of the shrine, Gion-sha (present-day Suga Shrine), which was worshipped as the guard of the castle. The Oyama clan moved to this castle in the early Warring States period (the 15th century). The castle was an important base for the clan to fight battles in the Kanto region. Assigned as the governor of Shimotsuke province (present-day Tochigi Pref.), the Oyama clan wielded power in this region; however the clan was involved in the conflict with the Hojo clan and was finally destroyed by the Hojo clan in the Warring States period. In 1619, when Honda Masazumi, the castellan at the time, was promoted to the domain lord of Utsunomiya province, Gion Castle was dismantled. At the present time, the castle ruin is improved into a park and provides citizens with the place of recreation and relaxation. It is also known as a cherry blossom viewing spot.
Nikko carving is a traditional handicraft in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. In 1634, the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu declared that he was going to give a large-scale improvement to Toshogu Shrine, by which it was rebuilt into the present magnificent forms. Then he assembled as many as 1,680,000 workmen including miya-daiku (carpenters specialized in building temples and shrines), horimono-daiku (specialist carpenters engaged in transom sculpture), lacquerers, metal workers, and painters from all over the country. Among them, 400,000 were horimono-daiku and what they made at their leisure was the origin of the present Nikko carving.
After the construction of Toshogu Shrine, some of the horimono-daiku settled in the town of Nikko and were engaged in repair work or improvement work of Toshogu, while kept on making wooden trays or furniture, which were sold to sightseers as souvenirs. Since the Meiji period (1868-1912), a large number of Nikko carved products have been exported.
Most of the products are made of chestnut wood. Nikko carving products have a warm feeling of wood and a nice taste that is created by careful handiwork. There are also expensive products made with Tsuishu technique, in which thick layers of solid lacquer is engraved with designs.
Mingei is an abbreviation of “minshu-teki kogei,” which menas “hand-crafted art of ordinary people.” The Mingei products are mostly ordinary and utilitarian objects. The word “Jomon” literally means “patterns of rope” and “Zogan” is a damascene technique. Mingei pottery Jomon Zogan is a style of pottery which involves using silk rope to make impressions in the wet clay and filling the patterns with white slips of clay, which creates clear contrast with the black color of the buisque.
Jomon Zogan style of pottery was created by Tatsuzo Shimaoka (1919-2007), a designated National Living Treasure. He studied pottery in Mashiko, where he became an apprentice of Shoji Hamada, one of mingei’s founding proponents. Based on the techniques in clay kneading and glazing he acquired in Mashiko and the unpretentious creative spirit of mingei, he developed his own pottery of Jomon Zogan. His sober but innovative style of pottery has been highly esteemed at home and abroad.
Nasuno Makigari Hunt Festival is held for two days in October in Shiobara City, Tochigi Prefecture. It is a City’s annual festival pertaining to Minamoto no Yoritomo, who established the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192. The festival was first held in 1994 to honor the 800th anniversary of Yoritomo’s Nasuno Makigari Hunting. In 1193, Yoritomo performed a grand hunting called Nasuno Makigari to make a display of his power to all the provincial lords of the country. The Makigari hunting is a type of hunt consisting of a great number of hunters surrounding and driving animals to an area where they are then killed by a warrior hunter.
During the festival, the atmosphere of Yoritomo’s hunting is recreated by the dynamic performance of Kuroiso Makigari Daiko (Japanese drums) and the Makigari-nabe stew, which is served for as many as 2,500 visitors. With high-ranked warriors and princesses stand watching, gallant warriors and hunters in the samurai armors reenact exciting and realistic hunting.
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.
The Kegon Waterfall located in Chugushi, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture is one of Japan’s Three Finest Waterfalls. There are 48 waterfalls in Nikko, but Kegon waterfall is the most famous among these. The water falls from 97 meters high and you will enjoy natural beauty around the fall. Splashes of water form a mist, over which a rainbow appears on a fine day. In winter, the fall will be decorated with frozen small falls, which looks like a chandelier.
The waterfall is said to have been discovered by the priest Katsudo, and the name “Kegon” was derived from the Buddhist sutra “the Avatamsaka Sutra.”
The Kegon Waterfall became a noted place of suicide when an 18-year-old high school student, Misao Fujimura, jumped into the fall in 1903. He was a student of the First Higher School (pre-war elite prep school) and left his last message entitled “Ganto no Kan (Being Atop a Precipice)” on the trunk of an oak tree on top of the cliff.
Tokuzoji Temple in Saruta-cho, Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture is a temple of the Tendai sect. The main object of worship is Amida Nyorai. The temple is popularly called “Ping Pong Temple” or “Teragoya (temple school) Ping Pong,” because it has been striving to create the place where people can have a lively conversation and have a good time.
The 500 Rakan statues at this temple is designated as a prefecture’s Important Cultural Property and is one of Japan’s Three Finest 500 Rakan Statues; the others are at Rakan Temple in Yabakei in Kyushu and at Kenchoji Temple in Kamakura. This temple possesses many other treasures including the statue of Aizen Myoo, the deity who gets rid of the bad luck, Sen-Koshin-to (stone monument) and Kana Jizo. As one of the Ashikaga Shichifukujin (Seven Gods of Good Fortune) temples, Tokuzoji Temple worships the deity Daikokuten.
People gather together at this temple every month to practice ping pong in the precinct. The ping pong tournament is also held on the first Sunday in September every year. The tournament has been held for over 30 years and has been providing the place for citizens to communicate each other.