Hideaki Tokita, born in 1979, Tokyo, is a rising star in the world of “netsuke”. There are said to be less than a hundred netsuke artists left in Japan.
Netsuke, which became popular during Edo period, is a small accessory which serves as a toggle on a crafted box called “inrou”, or money pouch both of which hang from obi sash. Today, there are more netsuke collectors abroad than in Japan. Mr. Hideaki was exposed to netsuke for the first time while studying in New Zeeland which also led him to start learning jade sculpture
He met with Mr. Mick, a sculptor, who later became his teacher. Under Mr. Mick’s guidance, Mr. Tokita started carving and soon attracted attention and praise from world leading netsuke collectors. In 2007, he received a Newcomer Award from Japan Ivory Sculpture Association.
“Time spent observing is the same as time spent learning. Even for a piece of leaf, if you make an effort to learn something, you will be rewarded”.
His work, born from his ethos in which he pushes himself to the edge in order to sharpen and polish his artistic intuition, releases a powerful presence which is unique in the world.
Tokamachi Akashi crepe is a traditional handicraft handed down in Toka-machi, Niigata Prefecture. This elegant fabric is suitable for a summer kimono due to its distinctive thinness and lightness like the wings of a cicada.
The weaving technique of Akashi crepe dates back to around the end of the 19th century, when a crape wholesale merchant brought back a sample roll of crepe cloth to Tokamachi from Nishijin in Kyoto. He asked a local textile worker to create a new type of crepe fabric here in Tokamachi by studying the sample and adapting an existing local weave called Tokamachi sukiya (silk crepe).
A great deal of effort was made to make an improvement in the ways of tightly twisting up threads, resulting in creating sukiya chirimen, which was named Akashi Chijimi, or Akashi Crepe. Even after that, several improvements such as waterproof finish were added to the product. Tokamachi Akashi crepes dominated the market with annual production of 200,000 rolls of fabric in the early Showa period (1926-1989).
Thread made of raw silk and dupion are used. In order to give the cloth its distinctive crepe effect, the weft is coated with starch and then put on a twisting machine and tightly twisted. Finally, the crepe effect is produced by rubbing the cloth in warm water, which produces its original winkling called “shibo (wave-shaped winkling).” Because of this winkling, the cloth does not stick to the skin and keeps you feeling cool. The climatic conditions of the town; the heavy snowfall, high humidity and little strong wind and the zest of local weaving workers have produced this elegant crepe fabric.
There are many legends about Yoshitsune and Benkei in Mogami district. The 'Yoshitsune Story', supposedly written in the Muromachi period, relates that when Yoshitsune was being hunted by his brother Minamotono-no-Yoritomo and was heading for Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture, he passed through Mogami district in the third year of the Bunji period (1187).
The district around Semi hot springs has many legends and traces about Yoshitsune's masters and servants. For example, the Koyasu-Kannon deity is supposed to have overseen the birth of Kamewakamaru, Yoshitsune's child.
The name 'Semi' has several possible origins: one is that it derives from 'Semi-maru', Benkei's long-handled sword; another is that it derives from 'no-crying semi (cicada)', the nickname of Kamewakamaru, who was reputed to have never cried, even when he knew that he was a son of a fleeing warrior. A third possible source is that it is named for a wounded cicada that was resting on a tree and curing itself in the steam from a nearby hot spring.
There are many tourist attractions in Semi, Mogami, that relate to Yoshitsune and Benkei, such as Yagen Hot Water and Benkei's Inkstone that Beinkei was supposed to have used.
Semimaru Noh mask is used in the Noh play called “Semimaru” and expresses the sad real life story of a boy who, despite being a son of Emperor Godaigo, was abandoned in the Aisaka Mountain by the order of his father because of his blindness. The mask, in which his eyes are covered faintly leaving them slightly open, is made to show his elegance even with a gloomy expression.
There is another blind Noh mask called “Jaykuhoushi”. While Jakuhoushi has the look of common people, Semimaru has the grace of a person who was born into nobility. The characteristics of the mask are emphasized by the eyes, which are carved out all the way so the performer has a better view than other masks which are usually carved out so that only the pupils are view holes. The color of the mask emphasizes white. His hair is dirty and matted in parts.
Semimaru, who was left at the Aisaka Mountain, was visited by his older sister who was born with her hair growing upward. The two disabled siblings sought solace in each other. The play ends with the poignant departure of the sister.
Yoroboshi Noh Mask, used in the Noh play called “Yoroboshi”, represents an unfortunate boy who was driven out from his home and his unbearable grief caused him to go blind, forcing him become a beggar. The mask has exaggerated ragged hair to emphasize his life as a wanderer. The mask has a slight rounded face to show the boy’s youth. His closed eyes looking down are also characteristic of the mask. There is another blind mask called Semimaru.
In the play, Saemonnojou Michitoshi, who lived in Kawachino-kuni, today’s eastern Oosaka, heard slanderous accounts of his son, Shuntokumaru, and drove him out from his house. Later when Michitoshi realized that the charge was false, he prayed to undo his actions at Tennou-ji Temple. Meanwhile, Shuntokumaru, with so much suffering from his sorrow, went blind and became a beggar called Jakuhoushi. Using a cane for support, he managed to reach Tennou-ji Temple. Although Michitoshi realized the beggar was his son, he didn’t say a word to his son to avoid attention. Jakuhoushi suffered from many conflicted feelings but managed to pull himself back from insanity. Michitoshi acknowledged he was his father in the evening and they went back home together.
Noto-jofu refers to the high-quality hemp fabric from the Noto region of Ishikawa Prefecture. It is an Ishikawa Intangible Cultural Asset.
Hakui City and Rokusei Town in the Noto Peninsula are often associated with hemp. According to legend, the daughter of Emperor Sujin spun wild hemp into thread and taught women in the area to weave. There are some sources that say that the hemp thread was dedicated at Todaiji-temple in Nara.
Until the early days of the Edo period, local high-quality hemp leaves were used to make what is called Omi-jofu. During the Edo Period, the production of original jofu gained momentum. People from Noto invited craftsmen from Omi to learn their famed dyeing techniques and the two combined to create a new type of jofu. Jofu is used to refer to hemp fabric of the highest quality.
In the first year of the Bunsei period (1818), this new type of fabric was given a special name, Noto. Since then weaving technique has improved, and starting from the end of the Meiji Period, Noto-Jofu has become the term used to refer to this type of cloth.
Noto-jofu is often likened to a cicada's wing for its lightness. It is a clever way to stay cool during the summer.
The Yamadera Main Hall (Konpon Chudo) is located at the base of the Yamadera temple complex in Yamagata prefecture. The Main Hall is designated as an Important National Cultural Property, and is the only religious school in the Tohoku area. It is also the oldest architecture in Japan that was made using beech wood.
Yamadera is a branch temple of Enryaku-ji on Hieizan in Kyoto and was established by the priest Jikaku in 860. The official name of the temple is Mount Houshu Ryūshaku-ji.
Yamadera is famous for Matsuo Bashō's haiku.
The cries of the cicadas
Sink into the rocks
Within the hall are several statues, including an 800-year-old wooden statue of Bhaisajyaguru (Yakushi Nyorai), said to have been carved by the priest Jikaku. The hall is very large. Because it was built on the mountainside, visitors must climb over 1000 stone steps. Maybe it is better to say mountaineering than sightseeing.
There is much for the visitor to see here, including the Buddha halls, a bronze statue of Bashō, a sacred flame, and a rare Japanese antelope called serow. It is a place where the grandeur of history and nature can be enjoyed together.