From the end of April through the early May every year, Hirosaki Cherry Festival is held in Hirosaki Park in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture. It is counted as one of the four big festivals in Hirosaki City; the others are the Snow Lantern Festival in February, The Neputa Festival in August and Autumn Leaf Festival in October.
Hirosaki Park is the ruins site of Hirosaki Castle, where the Tsugaru clan had resided during the Edo period (1603-1868). The only existing donjon in the Tohoku region remains in the park. The castle ruins site was arranged into Hirosaki Park and open to the public in 1895. It is now one of Japan’s representative cherry blossom viewing places.
The cherry trees were first planted in Hirosaki Park in 1715, when 25 stocks of Kasumi-zakura (Prunus leveilleana) were sent for from Kyoto. Later in the Meiji period (1868-1912), additional cherry trees were planted several times. Today as many as 2,600 cherry trees in about 50 sub-species including Somei Yoshino cherry come into bloom in spring.
The cherry trees that stand at the edge of the water moat extend their branches over the water, reflecting their beautiful images on the surface. When the park is lit up at night, the donjon shows its elegant figure in the midst of the cherry blossoms, which creates a fantastic scene.
A gorgeous Japanese Doll Festival is held at Sairi residence in Marumori Town in Miyagi Prefecture from early February through late March every year.
Sairi Residence, which is the symbol of the town and open to the public as a history museum, was a residence of the Saito family, a wealthy merchant family counting seven generations from the Edo to Showa periods. As every generation of patriarch took the name of Saito Risuke, people called the residence “Sairi Residence.”
The gorgeous Hina dolls and doll fittings pertaining to the family are displayed in the large Japanese-styled room with 20 tatami-mats. Visitors can enjoy looking at antique dolls including a Hina doll made in the Kyoho era (1716-1736) and the Ichimatsu doll which a bride was carrying in her arms when she married into the family. You will be dazzled by the sight of so many gorgeous dolls assembled altogether. From the dolls’ features and atmosphere that differ from those of modern dolls, you will feel a long prosperous history of the family.
During the festival period, visitors can enjoy joining other events such as the Hina doll making class.
Imao-no-sagicho, also called Dondo, is a festival for burning old amulets, 'kadomatsu' for the new year, and 'shime' ropes in order to pacify the god of fire and bring about good health and harvest.
The festival takes place on 11 February each year at Akiba Shrine and is designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset by the Prefecture. Several bamboo trunks with their branches and leaves intact, are tied together to make a large ring 2m in diameter, 6m high and weighing 2 tons. This becomes the sacred bamboo foundation for the burning.
On the day of the festival, young men with make-up on their faces and wearing 'juban' undershirts and 'tabi' socks, walk across the city to light the bamboo pyre. They then carry the burning pyre all over the city while dancing and chanting.
The burnt leftover bamboo pieces are worshiped as amulets that protect against fire and lightning, while ricecakes cooked with the leftover fire are said to be effective against any kind of illness.
The Imao-no-sagicho is a festival that allows visitors to take a peek at 400 years of tradition in Imao.
Sumitsuke Festival or formally Yama-agari Festival is held at Kiura Mine located at a town of Ume in Saiki City, Oita Pref. It started to be held in hope of safety and prosperity of the mine when the operation at Kiura Mine was resumed in 1598. At the present time, the festival is held in February once every two years. The parade with Kojin (kitchen god) wearing red clothing and a mask in the lead comes down the hill from Yama Shrine and visits every nearby house. Each person joining the parade holds a Japanese radish with sumi (Japanese ink) painted on it in his hand and dabs sumi on whomever he meets, saying “Let me give you my blessing.” It is believed that the more sumi one is dabbed on, the happier he will be. One story about its origin goes that once upon a time a woman who was the only survivor from the cave-in accident had a face smudged with soot. Another explanation is that because silver ore is black, black is a lucky color to bring rich yield of silver.
Jun Isezaki was born on 20 February, 1936. In 2004, he was designated as a Living National Treasure for his work as a Bizen ware craftsman.
Jun Isezaki was the second son of Yo Isezaki, who was a fine and detailed potter himself. Jun Isezaki studied pottery from a young age and in 1960, together with his brother Mitsuru, he set about the restoration of a medieval basement kiln that was part of an old kiln on Mt Koya: this was the first Bizen basement kiln.
True to his words 'I want to find my own way, not imitate others', he has continually presented many unique works using his creativity to rework traditional styles. His various ceramic ware ranges from flower vases, dishes and teapots to artistic objets. He believes that 'making new works leads to a tradition'. He is a leading Bizen ware craftsman with an exceptionally creative and wide output.
In the east of Nara City, farther inside of deep green at the foot of Misaka Mountain, stands a big temple. There you can find a colossal Buddha statue, or Daibutsu, sits gracefully and illuminates its gilded bronze. This is Toudai-ji Temple, a head temple of Kegon-shuu religious sect. The statue depicts the sect’s principal Buddha image called Rushanabutsu, or Buddha Vairocana, simply known as “Nara no Daibutsu” in Japan. Toudai-ji was first built as Konshu-ji Temple in 728 by Emperor Shoumu, to hold a memorial service for his son. The Buddha statue was completed and the eye-opening ceremony was held in 752. However, it was not until 789 that the temple building and Daibutsu-den the Great Buddha Hall were finished. Since then, the statue has been repaired and renovated a number of times due to damages inflicted by the flames of wars. According to historical records, both arms were recast during the Azuchi-momoyam period, and the head was also recast during the Edo period. Apart from the Daibutsu statue, a building in Todai-ji complex called Nigatsu-dou has recently become quite well-known. It is where the Omizutori ceremony or Water-Drawing festival is held. The festival is held every spring, where people prays for world peace and good harvest, and attracts many visitors. Toudai-ji Temple was registered a World Heritage site as “Historic Monument of Ancient Nara” in 1998.
Namioka Castle was built by the Namioka Kitabatake Clan in the 1460s. The clan prospered in the early 1500s when it interacted with Kyoto and built temples and shrines.
But trouble within the clan in 1562 weakened their power base and in 1578 Ora (Tsugaru) Tamenobu attacked them and the castle fell. For the following 400 years, the castle remains were used as fields for growing rice, etc. On 10 February, 1940, the castle was designated as Aomori prefecture's first national historical site.
The castle's 8 buildings originally spread out like a fan, and were divided by dual moats 20m wide and 5m deep. There were pathways on clay walls. These unique constructions were intended to make the castle more maze-like and to protect it from enemies.
Moreover, more than 40,000 excavated articles have been found on the site, including dishes, cooking equipment, weapons, agricultural tools and artefacts for everyday and religious uses as well as architectural relics.
Mt Ibuki has an altitude of 1377 meters and is the dominant peak in the Ibuki range. It straddles the border of Gifu and Shiga prefectures. As a peak, it is a part of the Biwako Quasi-National Park.
In ancient times, when Fuwanoseki was built, it was known as Utamakura. The mountain appears frequently in 'Records of Ancient Matters' and 'The Chronicles of Japan'. There is a legend that Yamato Takeru fought Shironu the avatar of the mountain and was wounded. When recovering from his injuries, Takeru stayed in Shimizu, a town located at the foot of the range.
On February 14, 1927, snow fell to a world-record-breaking height of 11.82m. In the ancient records mentioned above, changes in the weather were attributed to a 'god of nature'.
Nowadays, Mt Ibuki is a sightseeing spot. From the foot of the mountain to its peak, there are various alpine meadows. Mt Ibuki is listed as one of the Japan's 100 Best Mountains. From spring to summer, people enjoy hiking and trekking, and in winter they come to ski.