Maruoka Castle, located in Maruoka town, Fukui pref, is the oldest standing castle with a remaining donjon. The castle, built with an old style stone wall that uses natural found stones, is rather small but has a simple beauty that remains unchanged to this day. The castle was built in 1576 by the order of Katsuie Shibata who was awarded the Echizen territory, now a part of Fukui pref., by Nobunaga Oda, who ruled a vast area of Japan in the Sengoku Period. The castle was built originally in Toyohara town, however, for more convenient road access, it was moved to Maruoka by Katsuie’s nephew, Katsutoyo. The castle employs a unique architectural method. It is three stories high with two layers of roof and there is a watch tower with handrails going around the donjon on the top story. The castle was roofed with Shakudani stone, a local stone, and has thick lattices and black wooden walls, which are unmistakable characteristics of the early style of castle making. The castle has lived through many war-torn periods of deadly strife and carnage. The castle is also known as Kasumiga Joh, Mist Castle, owing to a legend that, at a time of battle, a giant serpent appeared and blew mist over the castle and concealed it from attackers. In 1934, it was designated as a National Treasure. It was destroyed by an earthquake, then later reconstructed and was designated an Important National Property.
Yukinodera, or formally named Ryuoji Temple and locally called Nodera, at the foot of Mt. Yukinoyama (308 m) in Ryuo Town in Shiga Prefecture is a temple of the Tendai sect. The principal object of worship is Yakushi Nyorai. It was founded as Yukinodera Temple by Priest Gyoki in the middle of Nara period (710-794). In the later periods, however, the temple buildings were destroyed by fire many times and it was renamed Ryuoji Temple when restored in the Heian period (794-1192).
With the legend of a beautiful woman, who was actually a snake, the bell at the temple is well-known to local people since old days. The statues of Juni Shinso, the twelve heavenly generals, surrounding the principal object of worship are collectively designated as a national Important Cultural Property.
A lot of people visit this temple in hope of recovery from asthma on August 15 on the old calendar, when Hechima-kaji (Gourd Ritual) is performed.
Odaigahara Plateau is located in Kamikitayama Village, Nara Pref. The annual precipitation of this area is 5000 mm, which ranks the heaviest in the world. The wet climate has created a primitive forest that is comparable to the one in Yakushima Island. The forest with its floor covered with green moss as well as magnificent and powerful waterfalls is the figurative art that nature has created. The primitive forest is also the home to wild life such as antelope, Japanese deer and rare plants of the season. If you are lucky, you might come across a group of lovely deer on your way. For walking, “Higashi Odai” walking trail extending about 9 km is recommendable. At the top of Daijyagura Cliff with a height of 1,000 m, you can command a 360-degree panoramic view including Ominesan mountains. Pure forest of Tohi (medicine plant) in Masakigahara is known as the south bounds in Japan. While walking along the trail, you will enjoy the twittering of Japanese robins and other wild birds.
Neike Pond located in the deep mountain in the eastern end of Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, is a pond with an area of about 0.1 hectare. There are a lot of legends about this pond.
It is said that a big white snake, the guardian god of the pond, lives here. It is also said that the pond never dries up no matter how long a drought lasts, nor does it get muddy no matter how much it rains. You will have rain, if you throw a stone into the pond or pray for rain at the side of the pond. You will meet with a misfortune if you catch a fish in the pond and you will have your prayer answered if you release a carp into the pond.
At the entrance to the pond, a red torii gate is erected beside the signboard. Many flags with the name of the guardian god written on them are flapping around this desolate pond, which create a mysterious atmosphere.
The Nyuta Kagura Dance is performed at Nyuta Shrine in Shintomi Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, in February every year as a Shinto ritual to pray for a rich harvest.
Although the shrine was destroyed by a battle fire in 1578, it was reconstructed in 30 years and has been worshipped as the guardian god of the town until today. The enshrined deity is Hikohohodemi no Mikoto. The origin of the Kagura dance is unknown because the old documents are lost.
The Kagura dances are dedicated as “Tata Kagura” at the spring grand festival of Nyuta Shrine and at every shrine in town during the autumn festival season. At the grand festival, a 5-meter square stage is set up in the precinct, where 33 dances are performed. The most attractive scene is the “Hebi-kiri (snake cutting),”in which Tajikarao no Mikoto cuts a straw snake down to the ground with a sword.
Basenkyo Gorge is a scenic place of towering cliffs along the Mabuchi River down the confluence with the Appi River. On the left side of the river rise Ogami-iwa Rock (180 m) and Megami-iwa Rock (160 m), while on the right side is a rock called “Ohogake” formed by erosion. Each takes on different beauty from season to season. The gorge was named “Ba-sen (literally meaning ‘a horse’ and ‘the paradise’)” in 1950 by the late Kenkichi Kokubu, who was from Ninohe City and was a governor of Iwate prefecture. He came up with the name because the city of Ninohe was a famous growing place of horses and the surrounding landscape along the gorge deserved to be called the paradise. Basenkyo Gorge together with Mt. Oritsume in the northern part of the city was designated as Oritsume-Basenkyo Prefectural Natural Park in 1962.
From the Basen Ohashi Bridge, a pair of huge rocks representing the god (Ogami) and the goddess (Megami) can be viewed. Legend has it that when the god of this mountain fell in love with a goddess of another mountain, the goddess, his fiancée, was mad with jealousy and threw herself into the Mabuchi River and became the river goddess.
Nagao Shrine in Nagao, Katsuragi City, Nara Pref. is a shrine that is rich in legend. The enshrined deities are Mihikarihime no Mikoto and Shirakumowake no Mikoto. It is said that this shrine was a guardian god of the Nagao clan, who ruled the area along the ancient Taima Road.
According to a legend, Ryuosha Shrine in Yamato Takada represents the head of a dragon and Nagao Shrine represents its tail. Another legend says Miwa Myojin Shrine the head and the Nagao Shrine the tail of a large snake. The shrine is located in the woods of Nagao, which is the cross point of the Takeuchi Road, Japan’s oldest official road connecting Asukakyo (present-day Nara) and Naniwa (present-day Osaka), the Ise-Hase Road and the Nagao Road.
Dense forest covers most of its 1.3 ha precinct, where visitors will be impressed with the solemn atmosphere. This is the ancient sacred place filled with air of mystery.
Hahakodo located in Dorogawa, Tenkawa-murs, Nara Pref. is a Shingon sect temple. The principal object of worship is Shiratome, En no Ozuno’s mother. Legend has it that Shiratome, worrying about her son devoted to a hard training in Mt. Ominesan, tried to climb the mountain accompanied by Ozuno’s apprentice. When they were going down the valley, they saw a large snake. Feeling danger, they gave up going ahead and returned to the village. She made a hermitage there and prayed for her son’s safety. Then Amida Nyorai appeared and told her not to hinder Ozuno from performing his ascetic practice and to wait for his return. Since then the valley was called “Hebigatani (snake’s valley)” and “Off Limits to Women Gate” for Mt. Ominesan has been set at this valley. The villagers later built a temple where the hermitage was located and called it “Hahakodo (the hall of mother and son).” The stone monument with the engraved words “Off Limits to Women” is still erected in the precinct of Hahakodo now. The temple is now worshipped for bringing safe childbirth.