Nakatsu Castle is a 'water castle' located in Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture. Construction of the castle was undertaken by the master of fortifications, Yoshitaka Kuroda, who was gifted six Toyomae counties by Hideyoshi Toyotomi.
The foundations for the castle were arranged in a fan shape on a piece of land near the mouth of the Yamakuni River, and it was also known as 'fan castle'. Due to the fact that the Yamakuni River flows into the Toyomae sea, the castle moat is filled with seawater. This makes Nakatsu Castle a water castle, and it is counted as one of the three best water castles in Japan.
Inside the castle are many interesting displays of costumes, swords, armory, as well as old pictures and writings. Nakatsu Castle is now part of Nakatsu Park. It is also part of the premises of Nakatsu Shrine. A mock main keep and corner tower were built in 1964 and are currently used as a museum.
Nakatsu Castle is an ancient fortress built during the Warring States period, and is also the symbol of Nakatsu.
Red beko is a famous local folk toy made in Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima prefecture.
In the dialect of the Tohoku region, 'beko' means a cow, so 'red beko' is a red cow. The red is said to be effective as a talisman and red bekos are popular as bringers of good luck.
About 1200 years ago, in 807, Tokuichi Taishi built Fukuman-Kozoson in Enzoji Temple. At that time, much wood was brought from the village near the upper Tadami. But the Tadami River was so fast-flowing that the conveyance was difficult. Then, a herd of cattle came from somewhere and helped to carry the wood.
Conveying the wood was very hard, many cows could not make the journey, and only a red cow survived and kept working. The story spread and red beko became a popular gift to encourage the growth of a child and as a charm to ward off plagues.
Taimo brushes (baby-hair brushes) are made from the first hair to be cut from a baby. This means that they can be made only once in a lifetime. They are presented as a special amulet or treasure and represent the wish that a child will grow to be smart, healthy and have good-handwriting (because Japanese was traditionally written with a brush).
Taimo brushes are presented more often than umbilical cords these days to the 'child' at their coming-of-age ceremony or their wedding. It is one good reminder in the world today of the parents' love for their child.
You can order a taimo brush through a calligraphy store or a barbershop, or directly from a brush store. To make a good brush, the length of baby hair needed is about 5-6cm, and the diameter should be the equivalent of an adult pinkie. Even if the hair is frizzy or wavy, it can be straightened in a process called 'hinoshi'.
As for children of other nationalities than Japanese, brushes made with brown or blond hair are possible, too.
The word for wrapping in Japanese is 'tsutsumu' and has the kanji character '包', which is derived from a Chinese pictogram of a pregnant woman with a baby inside her. Therefore, the word 'tsutsumu' carries the sense of tender motherhood.
In Japan, tsutsumu will remind you of furoshiki, the cloth for wrapping things. One furoshiki cloth can freely be used to wrap many things of varying shapes. It gives a feeling of flexible softness and tenderness.
包 can also be read as 'kurumu'. You could say 'be tsutsumu-ed in a fog' but never 'be kurumu-ed in a fog'. The word 'kurumu' is used mainly in the sense of 'wrapping your belongings'. Kurumu also means 'wrapping like rolling' and is matched with furoshiki and other cloths.
Following Japanese tradition, you can carry and give a gift 'tsutsumu-ed' in wrapping paper and 'kurumu-ed' in furoshiki; such a gift would be wrapped in double tenderness.
Celebration Envelopes (shuugi bukuro) are specially designed paper packets for holding gift-money presented at someone's celebration. There are fine rules depending on the event celebrated: marriage, childbirth, or birthday.
In the old Shinto religion, dedications to gods were wrapped in paper, and this is said to be the origin of the Celebration Envelope.
Usually, a paper sash called 'noshigami' is attached to the outside of the folded paper pocket, which is then tied with strings called 'mizuhiki'. On the front, the title of the celebration and the words 'motegaki' are written by brush.
Today, Celebration Envelopes complete with the noshigami, mizuhiki and omotegaki are available, even at convenience stores. But the custom of Celebration Envelopes demonstrates a certain Japanese finesse and we should preserve this tradition.
Mizuhiki is decorative paper twine often tied around an envelope containing a monetary gift on an occasion of celebration or sorrow. Mizuhiki is made from washi (traditional Japanese paper) cut into long thin strips which have been twisted into string. It is then stiffened by coating with glue. It originated as long ago as in the Asuka period (6 - 8 century) when it was used to tie an offering during religious services.
Often one or two combinations of colors are used in Mizuhiki which is said to be originally based on the ancient Japanese dress code of social standing or the Chinese Yin and Yang principles. Each color, number of twines used, and the way of tying has a subtle but significant meaning. Though there are regional differences, in many cases, a combination of red and white or gold and silver is used for an occasion of celebration while black and white or silver and white for a more somber or sorrowful event. A bow tie Mizuhiki, which can be retied easily, means “we want this joyful celebration to happen again many times”. Expressing ones feelings discreetly through Mizuhiki is a beautiful Japanese tradition.
Cedar Avenue of Nikko is a road lined with 13,000 cedar trees on both sides stretching in total 36km along the three roads of Nikko, Reiheishi, and Aizunishi. Cedar Avenue is the only cultural property designated as both a Special Historic Site and a Special Natural Monument by the Japanese Government.
The cedars were planted by Masatsune Matsudaira, a feudal lord serving Ieyasu Tokugawa, as an offering to Nikko Toshogu Shrine and it took more than twenty years to finish. It is listed in “The Guinness Book of World Records” as the longest avenue in the world.
Recently though, more than one hundred cedar trees a year have been dying due to deterioration of the environment caused by such pollutants as car fumes and some are simply dying of old age. Cedar Avenue of Nikko is in danger of losing its magnificent looks. One of the measures recently started to tackle this crisis is the “Ownership System of Cedar Avenue”.
Cedar Avenue of Nikko, with its tall majestic cedar trees, some of which date back over 370 years, soaring up as if they are touching the sky and invoking solemn awe, is a magnificent site that needs to be kept intact for future generations.
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.