Bengara is inorganic red pigment whose main ingredient is iron oxide, Fe2O3, and it is the oldest coloring agent known to mankind.
Bengara is written弁柄, in some cases紅殻, in Kanji and is also known as Indian Red and Venetian Red.
Bengara was thought to be introduced from China, via the Korean peninsula, into Okinawa. The name Bengara was believed to have been derived from Bengal, the Indian province that most of the iron oxide came from.
Bengara’s ingredient, iron oxide Fe2O3, was produced naturally more than any other iron oxide based coloring agents. However because its mineral composition is very similar to that of red rust from iron, nowadays artificially composed dyes have become more common than naturally produced ones. Nariwa-cho, Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture, is the only remaining place in Japan that still produces Bengara naturally.
In ancient time, Bengara was rare and much treasured as a noble color. Shuri Castle in Okinawa is known to have Bengara red color. Because Bengara was superior for coloring and sealing as well as resistant to heat and water, it was applied to wooden buildings to prevent aging damage.
The color of Bengara might lack certain brightness more common in other red based pigments, but its flamboyance today still keeps holding people’s affection.
Great Green Grid is a lattice-shaped windbreak forest in Konsen Plateau in the eastern part of Hokkaido. It is a globally “large-scale” forest, which can’t be constructed in this country except in Hokkaido. It is registered as one of Hokkaido Heritages.
The side of each lattice is 3,000 m in length, the green belt is 180 m in width, and the total length of the forest is as long as 648 km. It became famous after astronaut Mamoru Mori captured it with a video camera when he flew aboard the space shuttle “Endeavor,” from which alone we can imagine how huge it is.
It was originally built to protect nearby cattle farms and grazing ground from wind and snow, but it has also become habitats and pathway for wild animals. In recent years, it is a popular spot for horse trekking and animal watching.
Taue Odori (the rice planting dance) handed down in the Shinjo area in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a folk performing art that is designated as a prefecture’s intangible folk cultural property.
It is said that this dance dates back to the Tenpo era (1830-1843), when the area was attacked by a great famine. The villagers dedicated the dance to Taira Hachiman Shrine in hope for a good harvest. The dance performed by the Edo-period farmers who were in an abyss of despair tells the modern people the importance of overcoming difficulty with a light-hearted manner.
In the old times, the dance was performed on Koshogatsu (little New Year), which refers to the three-day period in the middle of January that includes the 15th day. Today, they are performed at various festivals and on New Year’s Day on the lunar calendar, when the dancing team visit every house in the area and perform it.
The dance is performed by two “Yajuro” dancers and five “Yassaka” dancers. The Yajuro dancers wearing naga-eboshi caps (long cloth caps) and jinbaori jackets gives the words of prologue, shaking the bamboo stick with gold rings called “Shurosuri.” After that, the Yassaka dancers wearing hachimaki hair bands, long jackets and apron-like cloth with small bells on it join the dance and jump around, chanting “Yando Ya Hi!” and beating handy drums altogether.
Fujikawa-shuku was the 37th of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). However, it had already been established as a lodging town in the Kamakura period (1192-1333).
Off the present Tokaido Road, namely National Route 1, which runs to the north of the JR Nagoya Main Line, and located on the old Tokaido Road, present-day Fujikawa is a relatively quiet town. A wooden stake indicating the eastern entrance of the post station remains at the point where the road branches from National Route 1.
As the city government works actively on preserving this old post town, there remain many old structures such as the gate of Waki-honjin, old street lights in Akibayama and houses with lattice windows. About 1 km away from the eastern entrance stands another wooden stake indicating the western entrance, which is in front of Fujikawa Elementary School to the south of Fujikawa Station. A little further ahead is the cross point with the Kira Kaido Road, an ancient road of salt, where a stone monument is erected. The lines of old pine trees remain along both of the ancient roads.
Yagura was a weapons storage house in old-day Japan, and yagura with high ceiling was used as a watch tower, which was called monomi (lookout) yagura.
The residence of the Masuda family, who acted as Eitaigaro (the first rank feudatories) of the domain, used to be located in San-no-maru (the 3rd castle) area of Hagi Castle. It was a one-storied house in Irimoya-zukuri style, standing on the stone wall of 1.8 m tall. It functioned as the watch tower to check the visitors going through the Somon Gate.
The Masuda family’s residence was one of “yagura nagaya (a tenement house with the watch tower),” which were constructed at every Somon Gate of the castle. Today, this is the only existing yagura nagaya in this town. Elaborate decorative techniques such as ridge tiles, embellishment of gable pediments and lattice windows can be seen.
The area around the residence is designated as a preservation district for historic site, where many nagaya-mon (the gate of yagura nagaya) remain and create an atmosphere of old-fashioned castle town.
Daisenji Temple located in Daisen, Daisen-cho, Saihaku-gun, Tottori Prefecture is a temple of the Tendai sect. It was founded in the Yoro era (717-723) during the Nara period. The main hall with vermillion pillars and green latticed windows used to be called the Dainichi Hall (the hall that housed the statue of Dainichi Nyorai), which was the main hall of Chumonin Temple, one of the three main temples among over 100 sub-temples that composed Daisenji Temple in the ancient times.
The Amida Hall built in the early Heian period (794-1192) is thought to be the oldest existing building in the present Daisenji Temple. It houses the principal image of Amida Buddha, which is said to have been carved by a master Buddhist sculptor Ryoen. The statues of Kannon Bosatsu and Seishi Bosatsu surround the 2.79 m tall Amida Nyorai. The Amida Hall was destroyed by a landslide in 1529. Later in 1552, it was rebuilt into the present form. The building and the statues inside are designated as National Important Cultural Properties.
This farmhouse is presumed to have been built in the late 17th century or even earlier. Very old architectural style is used for this house. The three sides of the housed except the front are huge walls with a thickness of more than 20 cm. The lath used on top of rafters is made of round bamboo and other miscellaneous wood. The house has two main transverse beams, which are supported by pillars. Horizontal beams are used at two points to support the main transverse beams instead of the pillars when removed to and reconstructed at the present place. All the other pillars stand in the original forms. The pillars are made of square timbers of the same size, which were scarped with chona (a Japanese hand ax) and finished with a planer. The inner room called “dei” has an alcove, which was very rare in those days. As is seen in old-fashioned houses, the heavy lintels are used instead of tie beams to fit around pillars. To get less air circulation for the sake of warmth, doma (the earth floor space) and the adjacent room are partitioned with a wood door with a lattice window and the store room has a single sliding door.
In Japanese, the word 'koshi' is a mathematical term for equidistant segments and dividers. Generally, though, koshi is used to represent lattice doors or iron grates.
From olden times, Japanese lattice doors were doors of temple-style architecture. This changed during the late Heian period when double sliding doors became more popular. Black laquered sliding lattice doors are described in the 'Tale of Genji Picture Scroll' and the 'Annual Event Picture Scroll'.
Lattice doors can separate spaces, ventilate rooms, take in light and make rooms look more beautiful, all at the same time. All of these things connect to the introduction of shoji: paper sliding doors.