At the foot of Yahiko mountain soaring high in the middle of the Chikugo plain in Niigata pref. stands the Yahiko(Iyahiko) Shrine. The grounds are covered by a dense grove of aged trees, such as cedars and Japanese cypresses. Though the exact year of construction is not known, the shrine is referenced in Manyoshu, an old poetic anthology dating back to 750 AD, so it certainly predates that time. The shrine is devoted to Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto. Ordered by Emperor Jinmu (the legendary first emperor), Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto taught the people of Echigo region of Niigata pref. various agricultural methods of fishing, salt making, rice farming, and sericulture amongst others, and contributed greatly to the development of the region. The shrine was once affectionately called Iyahiko-sama and flourished as a spiritual home of the mind and the soul for people in Echigo. In its museum, shrine treasures such as Shidano-Ootachi, a prominent long Japanese Katana and designated as an Important National Property, and armors that are said to have once belonged to Yoshiie Minamto and Yoshitsune Minamoto, both being legendary warriors from 12th century, are exhibited. The hall was rebuilt in 1961after being destroyed in a large fire.
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.
he collection of villages comprising Gasshou-zukuri farmhouses located in Shirakawago of Gifu pref. and Gokakuyama of Toyama pref. was designated as a World Cultural and Heritage Site in 1996. Shirakawago is generally referred to as a village at Ogimachi in Shirakawa region. Most of the farmhouses were built between the late Edo Period and early Meiji Period.
Gasshou-Zukuri, or Gasshou-style, is made by laying timbers on beams to form a high mountain like shape and are characterized by a steep thatched roof. Its tall triangular roof is designed to displace heavy snow. The houses are built aligned in a north south direction so that they can minimize the wind’s effect and also receive plenty of sunlight; it is an effective system to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in winter.
Bruno Taut, a German architect, described the design in his book as “It is considerably logical and rational, and architecture designed for the common people which is rare in Japan”. This helped introduce Shirakawago to the world.
The view looking out over hundreds of Gasshou-Zukuri houses is full of serenity and may bring back fond memories of the landscape of your childhood home town.
Sannai Maruyama Historical Sitein Aomori City is one of Japan’s largest historical sites dating from the Jomon era. The existance of the site was known as early as in the Edo period. It was revealed by the excavation research made in the Showa period that the site was the ruins of large colonies where people lived in permanent settlements which dated back to the Jomon period (about 4,000 to 55,00 years ago). Many remains of large and small pit dwellings, large and small buildings with supporting pillars, storage pits, mounds of debris, clay mining pits, refuse disposal pits, roads and graves for both children and adults were discovered at the site. The concrete images of the natural environment, people’s lives and village community life have became clear through the excavations conducted several times. The site was designated as a Special National Historical Site in 2000. It is open to public all through the year.
Gudabutsuan is a historical place associated with Soseki Natsume. It is a two-story-house located in Matsuyama City, Ehime Pref., which Soseki rented in 1893 when he came to teach English at Matsuyama junior high school. A poet Shiki Masaoka also stayed with Soseki in this house because they were good friends. The house was removed and reconstructed in the back of Matuyama Municipal Shiki-Memorial Museum and Bansui-so. Shiki called the house Gudabutsuan, which means a stupid Buddha in Japanese. Many friends who were enthusiastic haiku poets visited Shiki there, and they had haiku gatherings led by Shiki. Soseki also joined them and he was also very enthusiastic about haiku writing. Shiki taught how to write a good haiku to the members of Shofu-kai Haiku School. For Soseki, who was hovering as a literator at this time, haiku was a soft target of his literary expression. Later in 1905, he published his first novel “I Am a Cat” and started to take steps on the way to the great author. We can say the Soseki’s first step to his writing was made from Gudabutsuan.
Shiki-do located in Matsuyama City, Ehime Pref. is a sightseeing facility concerned with the great poet Shiki Masaoka. The eight-jo shioin (reception room) of the house where Shiki spent his first 17 years was removed and rebuilt in the precincts of Shouju-ji Temple. Inside the house is a corner that reproduces Shiki’s childhood study room, where his favorite low desk, zabuton (a cushion for sitting) and ink brushes are displayed as they were. Also the house functions as a literary museum with the exhibition of very precious documentation including his posthumous work of calligraphy, photos and literary documents. In the precincts of the temple, monuments related to Kyoshi Takahama and Meisetsu Naito, and the passenger coach commonly named “Bocchan train” which Soseki described it as “a train like a matchbox” in his novel, all of which creates a lot of atmosphere unique to Matsuyama, a city of haiku. Shiki-do was designated as a prefecture’s Historical Site in 1948.
Watanabe-tei is a wealthy farmer’s residence designated as National Important Cultural Properties, located in Sekikawa Village , Iwafune County, Niigata Pref.. The total area of nearly 10,000 m2 including the 1650 m2 of the main house and gardens is open to public. The founder of the Watanabes had been a samurai who served under a daimyo of Murakami-han (province) but he moved to this village after his retirement. His descendants lend money to some of daimyos and were blessed with prosperity. One of such daimyo, the lord of Yonezawa, was so thankful that he treated the Watanabes as the same rank as his kanjo-bugyo (magistrate of finance). At their best days there were 75 servants. The Watanabes ran 1,000 hectares of woodlands, rented 700 hectares of rice fields to tenants and got 10,000 straw rice bags as rent. The main house in kirizuma style (a house with gabled roof) and six dozoes (warehouse made of soil) including rice-warehouse and miso-warehouse are designated as National Important Cultural Properties. Also the kaiyuusiki-teien (stroll style garden) is designated as National Scenic Beauty. Inside the main house, calligraphic works, paintings, antiquities, agricultural tools and body armor are displayed and you can get the idea of their prosperity and well-to-do life-style. After walking around the garden, it’s a good idea to warm yourself at the irori fireplace preserved as it use to be.