Himure Hachimangu Shrine in Miyauchi Town in Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture, is a historic shrine visited by a lot of historical figures. It is said that the shrine was founded by Takenouchi no Sukune by the order of the 13th emperor Seimu in 131, when Seimu ascended the throne at Takaanaho Palace.
It was given the present name by the 15th emperor Ojin when he traveled to Omi province and his tentative palace was set up at this shrine. As the emperor saw double rings around the sun, he ordered to build a shrine hall here and named Himure no Yashiro Hachimangu Shrine, which means Sun Gathering Shrine.
Later during the reign of Empress Jito (690-697), the shrine was renamed Himure Shrine after the poem written by Fujiwara no Fuhito when he visited this shrine. According to one theory, the name “Himure” was derived from Hifure no Omi, the founder of the Wani clan, which ruled the northern part of Nara Basin from the 5th to 6th centuries.
As the shrine housing Homutawake no Mikoto, the god of war, it was visited by many powerful warrior clans including the Ashikaga and the Tokugawa clans. At the time of the Mongol Invasions of Japan, the Japanese Imperial court presented heihaku (offerings) to the shrine. After the Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu also visited this shrine.
In 1966, the shrine was renamed Himure Hachimangu Shrine. A lot of important cultural properties are preserved in the repository.
Shitoro ware is pottery made in Kanaya, Shimada City, Shizuoka Pref. This craft dates back to the late Muromachi period (in the 1500s), when a potter from Mino province (present-day the southern part of Gifu Pref.) built a kiln in this town. The craft was given a vermillion-seal certificate for pottery industry by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1588 and thrived through the early Edo period. Shitoro ware leaped to fame when Kobori Enshu, a notable artist and tea master of the time, nurtured this pottery as one of Enshu Seven Kilns. Shitoro ware is sober in color and has a taste of antiquity. A good point of this pottery is that you don’t have to care about compatibility with other vessels or flowers to be put in. It is well-known that the authentic ancient vases of Shitoro ware have exergues of “Sobokai” or “Ubagafutokoro” on their bottoms. As Shitoro ware is solid and tolerant to moisture, it is suitable for tea caddies and other tea utensils.
The Kensen Ritual is performed on September 9 to 10 every year at Kashima Shrine in the Yonekura area in Osaki City, the rice producing center of Miyagi Prefecture, where famous rice brands such as Sasanishiki and Hitomebore were born.
Kensen is a Shinto ritual of offering food to the god. It is performed before a shrine priest offers a prayer. As the oldest and most historic shrine in Osaki City, this ritual had been performed by the descendants of the vassals of the Osaki clan (a branch of the Ashikaga clan, who were descended from Seiwa Genji) until the end of World War II. Today it is performed by the hands of local people.
On the first day, the first rice ear of the season is offered to the god in appreciation for a rich harvest. Then, it is followed by other rites and ends with Naorai (banquet), in which holy sake wine and votive offerings are served to the participants. The finale of the festival is the parade of Mikoshi performed on the second day. This solemn ritual is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property (manners and customs).
Ankoku-ji is a generic name for temples which were built by Ashikaga Takauji under his grand plan of creating one temple in each provincial state following the earlier example of Emperor Shoumu who built Kokubun-ji temples.
Most of Ankoku-ji still remains today and this Ankoku-ji in Oozaki City, Miyagi, is also one of sixty six Ankoku-ji temples build under the plan.
While Kokubun-ji were built to pray for each state’s achievements in culture and education, though having the similar basic concept, Ankoku-ji differs slightly as they honor the fallen soldiers since Genko War and pray for the peace and security of the nation.
Ankoku comes from word “Ankokurijyou” meaning to make the nation peaceful and safe, and save all mankind and create prosperity. With this vision and its respect for all dead soldiers, Ankoku-ji are temples designed to unify Japan.
Miyagi Ankoku-ji was destroyed several times by fire during military conflict but since then it was rebuilt by Date Tadamune, the lord of Sendai Clan, in 1760. It remains intact to this day.
The principal image of Buddha in the temple is a wooden Amidanyorai statue, which is designated as a Miyagi’s cultural asset. Along with the other sixty five temples scattered in the nation, Miyagi Ankoku-ji watches over worldly life.
The Takashimizu Castle ruins are located in Takashimizu in Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture. The castle was constructed in 1356 by Takashimizu Naokata, a clansman of the Osaki clan, who served as the Oshu Tandai (the responsible head of the shogun’s executive office in the Tohoku region). After the Osaki clan was destroyed, it was resided by the Watari clan since 1604. Later the Ishimoda clan moved to this castle in 1757 and ruled the area until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). It was dismantled after the Meiji Restoration (1868).
Most part of the outer moat was reclaimed and the ruins site was converted into Takashimizu-jo Sotobori (Outer Moat) Park, where visitors can enjoy viewing flowers of each season. A part of the moat still remains and it makes visitors think of the bygone time. The pottery plate with the picture of old Takashimizu Castle is placed at the center of the park. As Takashimizu is known as a town of spring water, the park also has a pond where children can play and bathe.
Shokyoto, which literally means “small Kyoto,” is a nickname given to the townscape that is similar to Kyoto. Most of the cities called Shokyoto were built by the daimyo in and after the Muromachi period, who adored Kyoto as the center of politics, economy and culture.
In some cases, Shokyoto was built because the daimyo had a yearning for the sight of home. In other cases, the land features were similar to those of Kyoto; being surrounded with mountains in the three directions, having a river running through the town, or being located in a basin. It is also called Shokyoto because the town has a shrine where the deity was transferred from Kyoto. In the modern times, the places with the features that remind visitors of Kyoto are also named Shokyoto. Such features include townscape, festivals, traditional handicraft, landscape and atmosphere.
Among the places that represent Shokyoto in Japan today, those built because the powerful ruler of the area had a yearning for Kyoto are Yamaguchi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Takayama City in the Hida region (Gifu Prefecture), and Chiran Town in Kagoshima Prefecture and Nakamura City in Kochi Prefecture. Those with the similar land features to Kyoto are the old castle towns in Hagi City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Takahashi City in the ancient Bichu province (Okayama Prefecture) and Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture.
The Zo-onna mask portrays a young woman with nobility, decency and intelligence. It is used for a holy character like a heavenly maiden and goddess. The name is said to have derived from its creator, Zoami, one of Ashikaga Takauji’s cultural advisors, Doboshu. Though its face is rather small, it has the broad forehead. The small jaw creates a firm features. Different from other female masks, the both ends of the lips slightly drop downwards. This mask is used for the plays such as “Yuya” and “Eguchi.”
Seihakuji Temple in Sangasho, Ymanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture is a Zen Buddhism temple of the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect. Its sango (the name of the mountain where the temple is located) is Kaiyusan. The main object of worship is Shaka Nyorai. It is said that the temple was founded in 1333 by Muso Soseki, who was invited here by Ashikaga Takauji. The temple buildings except Butsuden (the building where Buddha statue is placed) were destroyed by fire in 1682, right after which the reconstruction works started and completed in 1693.
The Butsuden hall, a designated National Treasure, is a 3-bay Irimoya-zukuri building with mokoshi (pent roof enclosure) and cypress bark roof. It has a simple structure, but has the lacquered kagami-tenjo (a flat ceiling made of smoothly planed boards) with colorful paintings, which are very rare for a Zen temple.
As the palm trees line along the front approach, the temple is called “Plum Temple.” Surrounded by vineyards, the temple buildings stand in tranquil nature, which relieves the mind of visitors.