Chokoji Temple in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, is a Bekkaku (a kind of title, which literally means “special”) temple of the Tofukuji school of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. The principal object of worship is Juichimen Kanzeon Bosatsu (Kannon with 11 faces). Its mountain name is Shuunzan.
The temple was founded in 1335 by Nakajo Hidenaga, the castellan of Koromo Castle, as his family temple. The temple thrived in the early Muromachi period (1336-1573) possessing the precinct of 545 meters from north to south and 436 meters from east to west, where as many as 18 branch temples were built. After the Onin War (1457), when the Nakajo clan declined, the temple also lost its power. It was attacked by Oda Nobunaga and destroyed by fire in 1567. However, the temple was immediately restored by a retainer of Nobunaga, Yogo Masakatsu.
Chokoji Temple possesses several cultural properties, one of which is the portrait of Nobunaga. It was painted by Kano Motohide by the order of Yogo Masakatsu after his master’s death. The picture is now designated as a cultural property by the national government.
Tage Castle was located at the top of Mt. Tage about 7 km to the northeast of the central part of Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Pref. It was built in the middle ages as a branch castle of Utsunomiya Castle, which was the base to control the North Kanto region. In the late Warring States period, the Utsunomiya clan improved it into a large-scale fortress as well as the military base against the Hojo clan’s gaining power in the Kanto region. Utsunomiya Kunitsuna, the 22nd generation head of the clan, joined Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea, by which he was allowed to assume the surname of Toyotomi and ranked as Ju-Goi-no-ge (the fourteenth rank out of 30 ranks). However he was suddenly subject to punishment of “kaieki (confiscation of all the property)” and exiled to Bizen province (present-day Okayama Pref.), by which the Utsunomiya clan, one of the most powerful clans in Kanto region, was destroyed and Tage Castle was abandoned. With a lot of moats, earthworks, kuruwa (outer compounds) set out in the whole mountain, Tage Castle was constructed with all the strength of the Utsunomiya clan and it is said to have been one of the best castle in the Kanto region.
Jun Isezaki was born on 20 February, 1936. In 2004, he was designated as a Living National Treasure for his work as a Bizen ware craftsman.
Jun Isezaki was the second son of Yo Isezaki, who was a fine and detailed potter himself. Jun Isezaki studied pottery from a young age and in 1960, together with his brother Mitsuru, he set about the restoration of a medieval basement kiln that was part of an old kiln on Mt Koya: this was the first Bizen basement kiln.
True to his words 'I want to find my own way, not imitate others', he has continually presented many unique works using his creativity to rework traditional styles. His various ceramic ware ranges from flower vases, dishes and teapots to artistic objets. He believes that 'making new works leads to a tradition'. He is a leading Bizen ware craftsman with an exceptionally creative and wide output.
The town of Osafune, in Okayama Prefecture, thrived as the land of swordsmiths from the Kamakura period. The Bizen Osafune Touken Village is a unique museum specializing in Japanese swords, a once flourishing craft that continues today.
At Bizen Osafune Touken Village, each process relating to swordmaking can be seen closely. There is a forge, for example, where the 'tamahagane' metal is heated and extended at a temperature of 1,300℃. There is also a sword craft center, where swords are sharpened and sword hilts are made.
The reason why Bizen thrived as an area for sword production was, firstly, because high-quality materials and fuel were easily found here. Secondly, Bizen lay at a key junction for transportation between the Sanin and Sanyo areas. The iron sand found in the Chugoku Mountains was good for swordmaking, while the local sawtooth oak trees provided good fuel for the strong fires needed for the forges. In addition, the Sanyo-do highway running east-west was a major transportation route at that time. This enabled the easy circulation of materials and fuel for swordmaking.
Shizutani Gakko is the first school of its kind for the general public in Japan, and was established some 330 years ago by order of Mitsumasa Ikeda, lord of the Bizen domain.
Shizutani Gakko is located in Shizutani, in the town of Bizen, Okayama Prefecture. From its foundation, the school's education was based on Confucianism. Students from other domains could enrol at the school, while many scholars and intellectuals often came here.
After the Meiji period, Shizutani Gakko became a middle school in the education system at that time. It then became a high school under the new education system, and is now a prefectural youth education center. Over more than 300 years, many talented people have graduated from the school.
Structurally, Shizutani Gakko is distinguished by its Bizen yaki roof tiles. When the school was being built, a kiln was specially made nearby and craftsmen from Ibe were brought over. The roof tiles give the school the appearance of a Confucian temple. The hog-backed stone walls that enclose the school premises are also beautiful. They were made in imitation of Chinese-style construction with stones carefully placed. Most of the construction features inside Shizutani Gakko, including the temple and the stone walls, have been designated as either national treasures or important cultural assets.
Bizen ware (or Bizen-yaki,also called Inbe-yaki) is a type of pottery that is manufactured in Inbe, Bizen District, Okayama Prefecture. It first evolved from Sueki pottery that was made in the Heian period. In the late-Kamakura period, the present brownish-red pottery was fired using an oxidizing firing technique. The pieces made back then are called “kobizen” and are much prized. The development of the tea ceremony made the pottery popular. However in the Edo period, its recognition declined due to the diminishment of the tea cult. During the Showa period, Kaneshige Toyo and others made a challenge to the return of Momoyama-tou pottery. It succeeded, and cultivated the artistry of Bizen ware again and reestablished its popularity. Toyo and his pupil became ‘national treasures’ and the vogue set for Bizen ware. The characteristics of this pottery are a smooth ‘tight’ feel and a strong red color, which come about from the firing technique. No glazes are used and ‘Youhen’ creates various types of surfaces.
Born in Honami in Bizen City, Okayama Pref. in 1899, Kei Fujiwara is the founder of Fujiwara Bizen Ware. He wanted to be a novelist in the first place, and it was in 1939 when he was already 40 years old that he first tried making Bizen Ware. Having resigned his position as an assistant teacher, he went up to Tokyo at the age of 20 to study not only literature but also painting and music. He was even engaged in scriptwriting and making of films. However, he hadn’t been able to get a chance to be a novelist during the 18 years of stay in Tokyo and finally decided to go back to his hometown in 1937. He was 38 then. In his hometown he began to make Bizen Ware according to the advice by Atsuo Masamune, a famous novelist and literary critic Hakucho Masamune’s brother. Being already in the middle age and having known nothing about pottery making until then, he’d had to go through hardship for a long time to establish himself as a pottery artist. He improved his skills and attained maturity through close friendship with Toyo Kaneshige, both of whom were later designated as Living National Treasures. Fujiwara’s simple and openhearted style is loved by many people.