Shiroishi washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Shiroishi City, Miyagi Prefecture. It is presumed that Shiroishi washi paper originates in “the paper from the Deep North,” which is referred to in Makura no Soshi (the Pillow Book) by Seisho Nagon and the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu as
“very soft, pure, elegant and graceful paper.”
Paper making in this area developed after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, when the town of Shiroishi became a part of the territory ruled by Date Masamune. One of the retainers of the Date clan, Kataoka Kojuro, encouraged local farmers to make paper as a side job during the winter. Since then many craftsmen who were specialized in filtering paper came to this town from the nearby areas. Even today, this elegant and pure washi paper is made by hand in the traditional way. As the paper with very high quality, it has been so highly valued as to be selected the paper used in Omizutori ceremony at Todaiji Temple and the paper for the Japanese Instrument of Surrender after World War II.
The grave of Fujiwara no Sanekata Ason is in Medeshima-Shiote, Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. Fujiwara no Sanekata is known as a young Heian period nobleman who was good-looking and gracious. Also, he is known as the model of the character Hikari Genji in the classic 'The Tale of Genji'. Moreover, he is counted among the Thirty-six Poet Immortals.
In 955, he was banished for striking a rival poet, Fujiwara no Yukinari, on the head in front of the emperor. He received a royal command to travel to see the old ruins in several areas. In 998, he is said to have fallen from his horse and died.
Later, the poet Matsuo Basho visited this site and sang a song here. Nearby is a monument commemorating Basho's visit. The small grave of Fujiwara no Sanekata stands alone within the tranquil forest.
In Japanese, the word 'koshi' is a mathematical term for equidistant segments and dividers. Generally, though, koshi is used to represent lattice doors or iron grates.
From olden times, Japanese lattice doors were doors of temple-style architecture. This changed during the late Heian period when double sliding doors became more popular. Black laquered sliding lattice doors are described in the 'Tale of Genji Picture Scroll' and the 'Annual Event Picture Scroll'.
Lattice doors can separate spaces, ventilate rooms, take in light and make rooms look more beautiful, all at the same time. All of these things connect to the introduction of shoji: paper sliding doors.
Ishiyama Temple, located in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, is the headquarter of Shingon Buddhism. It was built by the priest Roubon under the request of Emperor Shomu in 747. Today, it is the thirteenth destination of the thirty-three temples on the Saikoku Fudasho Pilgrammage. The deity enshrined within temple is the Nyoirin Kannon. Located within its expansive grounds, approximately 120000m2 in area, is the Keikaigan (Keikai Rock). It is a rare type of rock known as Wollonstonite, and the Keikaigan has been designated a National treasure. Rising high over the grounds of the temple, this Keikaigan is where the name of the temple, Ishiyama, meaning stone mountain originates.
Located within the main hall of the temple are all sorts of treasures. Most notably, these are the Shoutokutaishi's Hibutsu (Hidden Buddha), which is said to grant marriage, easy birth, and happiness, the Bodhisattva of the Nyoirin Kannon sealed by Imperial command, and Genji’s Room. It is said that Murasaki Shikibu began writing the Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji) at Ishiyama Temple and a room has been set aside room to commerate this.
Aside from these treasures, many different kinds of cultural properties from the Nara, Heian, and the Kamakura Period are preserved within the temple. This includes the Rennyodo, which are the historic relics of Rennyo Shonin, an eminent monk, and the Tahoto, another National Treasure.
The temple is also famous because many female literary figures like the aforementioned Murasaki Shikibu visited its grounds. These include Seisho Nagon, Izumi Shikibu, Sugawara no Takasue's daughter, and a writer known only by the pen name "The Mother of Fujiwara no Michitsuna" visited the temple. It can be said that Ishiyama Temple is a temple for writers, influencing ancient culture.
Fukumi Shimura was born in Omihachirin, Shiga Prefecture, in 1924. In 1990, she was designated as a Living National Treasure for her work in Tsumugi-fabric.
When she was 17, she started learning weaving from her mother. When she was 30, she decided to work independently as a Tsumugi-fabric craftsman and divorced her husband. She learned plant-dyeing on her own and made lively works one after another.
Her work's charm is in its harmony of rich colors, carefully extracted from nature's plants. She integrated traditional patterns, like stripes, with plant-dyed silk and developed Tsumugi-woven kimonos into art. Her efforts and accomplishment have been highly valued.
Shimura has made many works on the theme of historical stories; she chose 'The Tale of Genji' in particular as her lifetime work. Her gracefully woven tsumugi with plant-dyed silk presents heartfelt images from these stories .
A Japanese word “omocha” meaning a toy originally means a thing to hold in a hand and play with. In the Heian period (794-1192), it was called “mote (or mochi)-asobimono (mote or mochi means to hold in a hand, and asobimono means something to play with),” or it was referred to as simply “asobimono” in the Tale of Genji. In the Edo period, the word “omochi-asobi” or “te-asobi (hand play)” came to be used. Although some of the figures or masks made of clay dug out of Jomon excavation sites are considered as toys, most of the Japanese toys were originally introduced from China. Take koma (a top) for example, this toy is called koma in Japanese because it was introduced into Japan in the Nara period (701-794) via Goguryeo (called Koma in Japanese). Mari (a Japanese ball) was directly introduced from China during the Tang Dynasty and later it developed into “temari” for girls. After coming from China or Korea, these toys were improved and developed into something unique to each locality. Each of the traditional toys still found in various places in the country has been deep rooted in the people’s lives and religious ceremonies.
Ougi was invented around the 8th century in Japan. According to one theory, the origin of Ougi was mokkan (wooden slats) combined together with a string running through the hole made on the slats. Ougi was used not only for fanning but also used as a tool for rituals, gift-giving and communication. It is written in The Tale of Genji or other literary works and history records that noblemen in the Heian period (794-1192) wrote waka (poems) or put flowers on Ougi and present it to their loved ones. Among the warrior class, Ougi was considered to be as important as the swords. As Ougi can be folded compactly, it was highly esteemed and spread to the Western countries via China. It is said that Ougi was all the mode in Paris in the 17th century and there were more than 150 Ougi shops there. As the spread shape of Ougi looks like a Japanese Kanji that means “eight” and since in Japan the number eight is considered to be a lucky number, it is also used as a return present at felicitous events.