Shouemon Kotabe was born in the Ibaragi Prefecture in 1971.
Mr. Kotabe is the 37th successor to his family’s foundry business which has been handed down for over 800 years.
Since his childhood, Mr. Kotabe helped his father make temple bells. After graduating with a Metal Engineering degree from National Takaoka College (now Toyama University), he went into training at an iron kettle studio in Morioka. He then, returned to the Kotabe Foundry run by his father and took charge of it at the age of 25.
At the foundry, on the foot of Tsukuba Mountain, Mr. Kotabe makes temple bells, fire bells and rainwater bowls. Orders come from all over Japan as well as from other countries.
After consulting about letters and patterns, he creates a mold with local sand and clay and then pours copper and tin heated to 1200 ºC into the mold. Because he doesn’t color the bells, he takes considerable time to create an elaborate mold. It takes four to six months and occasionally as long as one year to make one temple bell. A bell newly taken out from a mold is orange-brown in color. Its tone gradually changes to red, then purple and finally to blue-green. As time passes, the local air makes the bell change its color.
Wanting the sound of his bells to resonate in people’s hearts, Mr. Kotabe continues his quest for the perfect bell-tone.
Kamegaoka Ruins in Tsugaru City in Aomori Prefecture is a large-scale ruins site, which is emblematic of the Jomon period of the Japanese history. The site was first discovered as early as in 1622 during the Edo period.
Kamegaoka Site is most famous for “Shakokidogu,” the 34.5 cm tall clay figure with a sun shading device. Its distinguishing features are not only the slitted eyes but also the exaggerated shape of the body. Furthermore, the abdomen is covered with elaborate patterns. It is nationally designated as an Important Cultural Property.
The site is also famous for many pieces of beautiful pottery such as pot or vases decorated with fine patters and colored with black or vermillion lacquer. During the Edo period, the pottery pieces discovered in Kamegaoka were highly esteemed as first-class art objects.
Today, the replica of Shakokidogu is erected in the ruins site and a variety of excavated items are displayed in Jomon Museum on top of the nearby hill.
Onta Folk Pottery Festival is held on the 2nd weekend of October every year in the mountain village of Sarayama in Ono Motoemachi, Hita City, Oita Prefecture. Onta pottery is a high-fired ceramic ware made in this area for more than 300 years. It is said that the first kiln was built in 1705 by a potter from the Chikuzen province (present-day Fukuoka Prefecture). Today, the traditional techniques are handed down by ten potters, who are producing practical and simple but very beautiful ceramic ware. The potters in the village were designated as a holder group of a National Important Intangible Cultural Property in 1995.
Onta Folk Pottery Festival is held in appreciation for the development of Onta pottery as well as for the founder, ancestral potters and customers who favors their products. Plates, dishes, tea cups, flower vases and so on are displayed in the garden of each potter’s work place and sold on the spot. A part of their works are displayed at Ono Folk Cultural Museum “Kototoi no Sato.” As people can get Onta ware at the prices much lower than usual, the quiet village of Sarayama, where one can only hear the grinding sounds of the “karausu (a crusher that uses river flow for molding clay),” is bustled with tourist on the festival day.
Hachimangu Kinomiya Shrine located in Yawatano, Ito City, Shizuoka Pref. is a shrine that is full of nature and tradition. The enshrined deities are Honda Wake no Mikoto and Ihakura Wake no Mikoto. The legend has it that the deity of this shrine drifted on a vase and reached the rock bed called Kongotsu near the present shrine. People worshipped this deity in the cave near the beach and later transferred it to the present location. This shrine is actually composed of two shrines; the one in the right is Hachimangu Shrine and the left is Kinomiya Shrine. The existing Honden (the main hall) was built in 1795 and Haiden (the hall of oratory) in 1824, both of which were built by excellent carpenters all over Izu Peninsula. Huge trees of Castanopsis cuspidataI, Japanese evergreen oak, cedar, and Japanese conifer as well as broad leaf evergreen trees in temperate climate and tropical ferneries grow in the precinct. This is also the northernmost wild boundary of Angiopteris lygodiifolia. The whole wood in the precinct is designated as a nationally protected species.
Iron kettle-making is one of Japan's major traditional handicrafts. To make an iron kettle, metal is melted at a temperature of over 1500℃ and poured into molds in a technique known as 'fuki', which takes many years to learn.
This traditional technique has been passed down over the ages, and products are still being made by hand. The 'nanbu iron kettle', made in Morioka, Iwate prefecture, is famous in Japan.
In fact, recently there has been a small boom in iron kettles. Mankind today is said to be deficient in iron. It is said that one in five people suffers from anemia or semi-anemia. Water boiled in iron kettles carries enough iron to effectively replace any deficiency in iron. Connoisseurs can tell the difference between tea or coffee made with or without water boiled in an iron kettle. The taste of hot water boiled in an iron kettle is highly valued even abroad.
Ryukyu handcrafted glass is made on the main island of Okinawa, and was probably first manufactured some 100 years ago.
Ryukyu glass production developed rapidly after the last world war, with the demand for Coca Cola and juice by the American forces. This development formed the basis for today’s Ryukyu glass handicraft.
The craftsmanship of the glassmakers gives a distinctive warmth to the glass: in the wave-like cracked patterns and the tiny bubbles that have formed in the tinted glass objects.
In today’s materialistic and technical world, the distinctive appearance of Ryukyu glass is recognized as an artwork of light, blended in everyday life.
In 1988, Ryukyu glass was designated a Traditional Craft of Okinawa, and a representative Okinawan craft.
The Yoshino River (also known as Shikoku Saburo) is the mainstream of the Yoshino Riverine System, originating from springs located in Kamegamori (elevation 1,896m), which bears its peak near the town of Saijou, in Ehime Prefecture. The limpid river cuts across Kouchi Prefecture and joins the Kii Waterway in Tokushima City. Stretching across 194km and with a watershed of 3,750 km² it is one of Japan’s three rivers most likely to break into torrents. It is often said that the flow of the river represents the heart and emotions of the citizens of Tokushima. Since the river relates to Kouchi, Ehime and Tokushima prefectures, it was once called the Midochi (Three Lands) River. In the lower reach of the river where the river is wedged between the Sanuki Mountain Range and the Shikoku Mountain Range, are the Tokushima Plains. Where the river traverses through the Shikoku Mountain Range is a perfect example of an antecedent valley in Japan, and is home to many scenic spots such as Ooboke and Koboke. The reason for the nickname Shikoku Saburo is because of an old saying, “it is a river whose reeds grow thick on its banks”. Although it is true that this river, which snakes through four prefectures, has a notorious history of flood disaster, it also has brought many blessings, acting as a life line for the people who live by it.
Kigami Shrine in Ota City, Shimane Pref. was rebuilt in 1812. It is an old and prestigious shrine, which is listed in the Jinmyocho (the list of deities) of the Engishiki (codes and procedures on national rites and prayers). The domain lords for generations visited the shrine to make a prayer. The main hall is a double-storied hip-and-gable roof construction, which was modeled after Kameido Tenmangu Shrine in Edo (Tokyo). There is a colorful painting called “Roaring Dragon” on the ceiling of the main hall. This mural was painted by Kajitani Enrinsai, an ink artist from Sanbe village. When clapping hands in prayer under this dragon, the sound of “RING RING” echoes off the ceiling, as if the dragon is roaring. To hear this sound in the silent hall, you will feel yourself purified.