Yasaka Shrine in Kokura, Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture, is the highest ranked shrine in the city and it stands on the ruin of the Kitanomaru building of Kokura Castle. The shrine was once called Gionsha and it was located in Imoji-machi. It was renamed Yasaka Shrine in the Meiji Period and transferred to íts current location in 1934.
The shrine already existed in the beginning of the Heian Period (794 to 1185) and it honored the god Susanouno-mikoto. After the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), Hosokawa Tadaoki was awarded a fiefdom in Kokura and he moved to Kokura Castle from Tango. He rebuilt the shrine in Imoji-machi and named it Gionsha, at where twelve deities including Susanouno-mikoto were worshiped.
According to legend, during his hunting trip with a falcon, Tadaoki found a small shrine and peeked inside for closer look at the statue of a deity. Suddenly, a falcon flew out from the shrine and damaged Tadaoki’s eyes with its talons. Facing the possible crisis of losing his eyes, Tadaoki saw it as a god’s punishment and he built a magnificent shrine to ask for forgiveness. His eyes are said to have healed after that.
Yasaka Shrine has long been deeply venerated as a guardian shrine by locals. The Kokura Gion Festival, held every July, is known as one of the Three Greatest Gion Festivals in Japan and the splendid performance of the Gion Taiko Drum is a must-see event that enchants spectators.
Shimekazari is said to come from shimenawa rope which is used in shrines to mark the boundaries of a sacred area.
In welcoming the New Year, it is hung over the front of the house to mark it as a sacred space. It is also used as a lucky charm to prevent misfortune or evil spirits from entering.
In Kyuushuu, especially in the Fukuoka and Miyazaki regions, the crane is often used as a design on shimekazari. Radially spread bundles of straw are positioned to indicate the wings and tail of a crane and the part that represents the beak is often colored in red. In rare cases, shimekazari may also have a turtle design.
Since ancient times, both the crane and the turtle have been valued as animals that bring good fortune and a long life. Their design has been a fixture at celebratory occasions. Pine, bamboo and plum trees as well as treasure ships are also added to the decoration of the shimekazari, combining, strong wishes for both a happy New Year and a long, healthy life.
Akizuki-jou, or Akizuki Castle, was once located in Akizuki-cho, Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture.
The origin of the castle dates back to 1203 when Harada Tanekatsu built a mountain castle in Mt. Koshouzan (856m above sea level) and his residential castle at the foot of the mountain. He changed his name to Akizuki Tanezane and the residential castle was occupied by generations of the Akizuki family.
In 1587, faced by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s massive army surrounding the mountain castle, Akizuki Tanezane surrendered to Hideyoshi and the mountain castle was abandoned.
In 1924, Kuroda Nagaoki, who was granted the land of Akizuki, transferred the residential castle to the old mountain castle and made extensive renovations. The ruins we see today are from this castle, in which successive lords of Akizuki family of Kuroda Clan resided until Meiji Period.
The castle’s main gate, Kuromon, is still remaining and the area is known for its fall foliage.
The ruins of Akizuki Castle is a historical site dating from Kamakura Period.
Kurume-jou, or Kurume Castle, was once built in Sasayama-machi, Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture.
The castle originated from a fortress made by a local clan during the period of Eihyou Era (1504 ~ 1521). It is believed that it was after Toyotomi Hideyoshi conquered Kyuushyuu region that the castle was renovated extensively using a more modern building technique by the order of Kobayakawa Hidekane in 1583.
In 1620, the castle was given to Arima Toyouji as recognition of his contribution to the victory of Osaka no Jin Battle. Since then, until the end of Edo Period, the castle was occupied by the Arima family, the lord of Kurume Clan.
The Chikugo River ran along the Northwest side of Kurume Castle and it functioned as a natural protective moat and the castle was built making the most use of other natural geographical advantages to protect it. The castle compound had seven castle towers with two or three stories soaring above high white stone walls. Among them, the three storied Tatsumi castle tower, the main castle in the southeast corner, was the most imposing and impressive.
Now only the stone wall remains and inside the castle compound are Sasayama Shirine, worshipping the Arima lord, and Arima Kinenkan Museum that exhibits reference materials related to the Arima family.
Kurume Castle is an old castle ruin that is also designated as a prefectural cultural asset.
Yanagawa handballs are traditional Japanese handball made in Yanagawa City, Fukuoka Pref. It is designated as a Traditional Craft Product by the prefecture. In Yanagawa area, three is a custom to present “Sagemon” to a girl on her first girls’ Sekku day (March 3). Sagemon is a kind of mobile with a large handball set in the center of the ring and many small balls and handmade staffed-dolls, mostly lucky items such as a crane, attached alternately to the strings that are hung from the ring. Traditionally, Yanagawa handballs are used for this ornament. In making of Yanagawa balls, a wadded cotton cloth is covered with a sheet of cotton, which is shaped into a ball with basting yarn. Then the ball is whipped up with cotton thread that is dyed with Kusaki-zome technique or modern colored thread of synthetic fiber. It is said that Yanagawa handballs were first made by the waiting maids working at the residence of the domain lord of Yanagawa Province and then the technique spread among the townspeople in the castle town. The making of Yanagawa handballs has been handed down as a cultural property of the castle town.
Akasaka Dolls are clay dolls made in Akasaka, Chikugo City, Fukuoka Pref. It is designated as a prefectural specialty craft product. Three is no record about a precise history of this handicraft and its origin is unknown but it is presumed that those dolls were first made as an odd job of the potters who worked for the official kilns of Arima Province in the middle of the Edo period. The most famous one is an ocarina called “Tette-Poppo (meaning an awkward man in the local dialect), which was popular among children in those days. Now there are more than ten kinds of dolls including Fukujin (a lucky god), Tenjin (a god of scholarship), and a monkey. The doll is made by applying white pigment made of burnt seashell to a simple brown ware, to which colorful painting is given. It is a very simple clay doll but its simplicity reminds us of childish innocence. It is the representative traditional folk craft in Chikugo area.
Takashi Miyake is a master craftsman in Hakata Doll, a traditional handicraft in Hakata area in Fukuoka Pref. He was certificated as a traditional craftsman by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1976. He has been awarded a lot of prizes in exhibitions of Japanese traditional art crafts including Prime Minister Prize (4 times) and Minister of Trade and Industry Prize (twice). He was also the former president of Hakata Doll Association. The history of Hakata Doll dates back to the early Edo period (1603-1868), when Kuroda Nagamasa was enfeoffed to the Chikuzen domain, a ridge-end tile workman, Masaki Soshichi dedicated a biscuit fired toy doll to the domain lord. Later, simple dolls for townspeople were mainly produced and they were loved by the people all over the nation. A great variety of figures are made including beautiful women, kabuki players, children and themes from festivals as well as some modern folkways. Although he has been engaged in this trade for 50 years, he always agonizes before setting to a new work. However, once he has worked out a conception, he makes out an exquisite work using his splendid skills without hesitation. He is also engaged in a broad range of activities such as the making of the dolls for Hakata Gion Yamagasa Festival. He has now exerts himself in training young craftsmen.
Agano Ware is magnificent pottery made in Agano, Fukuchi-co, Tagawa-gun, Fukuoka Pref. It has a history of 400 years and was designated as a National Traditional Craft Product in 1983. Agano Ware dates back to 1602, when Hosokawa Tadaoki, who had learned the art of the tea ceremony directly from Sen no Rikyu, became the feudal lord of the Kokura Province and ordered Korean potter Sonkai to construct a climbing kiln in Agano Village. In the Edo period, the Agano kiln became one of the seven kilns favored by Enshu, who was a famous tea master. Its distinctive warmth was favored by a lot of tea masters at the time. In the Meiji period, however, the Agano kilns had gone into a decline for some time, but it was restored in 1902. Compared with other ceramics, Agano Ware is thin and light in weight. It is characterized by the variety of glazes and the changes which occur during firing and usually no painting is given to create patterns.