Kameyama-juku was the 46th of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1686). It was in the eastern part of current Kameyama City in Mie Prefecture. The town thrived as a post town and a castle town as well. There are a lot of historic sites such as the ruins of Kameyama Castle including the ruins of Edoguchi-mon Gate and Kyoguchi-mon Gate and the site where the Ishii brothers gained revenge.
In Ando Hiroshige’s “Kameyama” of his “The 53 Post Stations of the Tokaido Road,” he depicted a procession of a feudal lord ascending a steep hillside, under deep snow among the trees, to the entrance to Kameyama Castle. The brightness of snow is wonderfully expressed in this monochromatic ink painting, but at the same time we can’t help realizing keenly how hard it was to make a journey in those days.
Presently, there are many historic constructions remaining in the town. These remnants of an ancient castle town include a temple, which used to be a part of the castle compound, old samurai houses, and the right-angled streets.
These dolls appeared in 1810, when Tsugaru Yasuchika, the 9th lord of the Hirosaki domain, invited a potter Takaya Kinzo from the Chikuzen region of Kyushu. A kiln was then prepared for him at Shitakawara, where he produced daily necessities. As it snowed heavily in winter, potters could not make pottery during this time. Then Kinzo created earthenware dolls when he had no work to do, hence the beginning of the earthenware dolls in Shitakawara.
In the making of this doll, red earth and sand are mixed together to form clay, which is put into a plaster to shape the doll. It is then fired at high temperature for several hours, and then painted to create the finished design. Shitakawara dolls features three colors of yellow, purple and red, which are applied on the pure white base color. The pigeon whistles and the dolls of zodiac figurines, warriors and Manekineko (Lucky Cats) are famous. All are made in the traditional hand-making techniques that have been handed down for a long time.
Hidetoshi Matsubara is considered the last falconer in Japan who hunts with Mountain Hawk-eagles and Golden Eagles, the largest raptors in Japan.
Matsubara was born in Aomori Prefecture, 1950. After graduating from Keio University with a major in Oriental History, he was compelled to live in nature and become a falconer. Later he became an apprentice to the late Asaji Kutsuzawa who was a noted falconer and lived in Mamurogawa Town, Yamagata Prefecture. Mr. Matsubara became independent after one year and moved to a hut in a mountainous region of Mamurogawa. He shared his life with falcons and led a self-sufficient existence for eight years until he moved to Asahi-mura and lived there for the following six years. In 1996, he came down from the mountain with his family and moved to Tamugimata in Tsuruoka City. Still today, he continues hunting with Mountain Hawk-eagles and Golden Eagles. Falconry is allowed only during winter (from the end of December to the middle of March) so Mr. Matsubara works as a mountain guide to Gassan Mountain, Asahi Mountain Range and Iide Mountain Range from Spring through Fall. He is also an active educator giving regular lectures and talks on falconry as well as working as a teacher at a nature school.
Katte Shrine located in Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Nara Pref. is one of the eight Myojin shrines in Yoshino. It enshrines Oyama Tsumi no Kami and Konohanasakuya-hime no Mikoto. Legend has it that in 672, when Prince Oama (later enthroned as Emperor Tenmu), who had stayed in Yoshino and gathered an army to battle with the crown prince, was playing the Japanese harp in front of the hall at this temple, a heavenly maiden appeared and showed him a lucky omen.
It is also said that in 1185, when Shizuka Gozen, who parted with Minamoto no Yoshitsune in Mt. Yoshino, was caught by the pursuers, she performed elegant dance in front of the hall at this shrine to make time for her husband to escape.
The main hall was once destroyed by fire and restored in 1776, but in 2005 it was burned down again by the fire of suspicious origin. Presently, only a part of wooden structure remains and there is little possibility of the restoration of this important cultural property.
Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival is held annually in Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture. 300 lanterns and 2000 bonbori lanterns, all of which are made of snow, are lined across Matsugasaki Park on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday of February.
The sight of the candles flickering in the wind creates a magical beauty, inviting visitors into a surreal fairytale-like world. An immense snow monument built for soothing the souls of those who were never able to return to their hometown alive during the World War II, stands on top of the Hill Of Requiem located in the center of the park. Throughout the night, citizens come to light candles in memory of the dead.
A snow-viewing party is held at the neighboring Uesugi Kinenkan hall, where the local cuisine can be enjoyed. It is a great luxury to toast and feast on the local sake and cuisine while quietly viewing the flickering snow lanterns outside.
Mt. Upepesanke is located at the southern end of the Taisetsu Mountains, which are made up of representative mountains in Hokkaido. Mt. Upepesanke with the altitude of 1848 m is a relatively high mountain in the Taisetsu. Contrary to the other mountains, it looks massive rather than steep. A lot of climbers come from all over the country and head for the mountain top at the high season. On the way to the summit, there are several peaks, from which you can enjoy viewing magnificent landscapes and various alpine plants. The edge line that continues to the summit is also very beautiful. It’s the greatest pleasure to walk along the way toward the summit with the grand landscape coming in sight on either side of the edge line. After coming down the mountain, having a relaxing time in Nukabira Hot Spring at the foot may be a good idea. You may find another charm when you soak in a bathtub and look up at the place where you have just left.
The Okhotsk Sea in Hokkaido is famous for drift ice in winter. In the most severe season, 80 percent of the sea is covered with drift ice. In mid-November, drift ice starts forming at points where the Amur River to the north in Sakhalin flows into the sea. This drift ice expands in the north wind and travels with the currents some 2000km south to arrive near Abashiri by mid-January.
Because fresh water runs from the Amur River into the Okhotsk Sea, the surface of the sea here is less salty. Sea water with less salt freezes more easily, thus forming drift ice.
This ice, born in the far north sea, brings rich plankton, which is fed on by sea creatures such as hairy crab, salmon, trout and scallop.
As far as you can see, the drift ice forms a field of white that is completely silent without the sound of waves. Drift ice on the Okhotsk Sea is a poetic world produced by mysterious nature.
Bifukawa-Matsuyama Moor is on Mt Matsuyama and overlooks the town of Bifuka (Nakagawa-gun, Hokkaido).
Bifuka-Matsuyama Moor is located 797m above sea level and is also known as the highest moor in northern Japan. The moor is approximately 25ha in area and includes three ponds of varying sizes, into which kokanee salmon are periodically released.
The moor was designated as a Natural Environment Conservation Area of Hokkaido in 1976 (Showa 51), because of its many small alpine trees dwarfed by wind and snow. Trees unique to the mountain include aka-ezo pine (Picea glehnii) and Siberian dwarf pine, which are considered to be of academic importance.
The moor features a 1km-hiking route that runs through real wilderness. Here can be found highland plants flowering in various seasons, including the tachigi-boushis (Hosta rectifolia) and horomuirindous (Gentiana triflora var. japonica subvar. horomuiensis). The hiking route brings visitors to the great outdoors, where they can see dwarf trees such as the ezo pine and Siberian dwarf pines sitting between the blue sky and the green landscape. Indeed, such views could only be created by nature.