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.
Reizanji Temple located in Shimizu Ouchi, Shimizu-ku, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Pref. is a temple of the Kogi Shingon (old Shingon) sect. The temple is said to have been established by Priest Gyoki in 749. The main hall houses the principal image, the standing statue of Senju Kannon (Kannon with 1,000 arms), which is said to have been carved by Priest Gyoki. It has been worshipped by people as one of the Seven Kannon in Suruga province (present-day Shizuoka Pref.) and friendlily called “Kannon-san at Ouchi.”
The temple used to be located on the eastern side of the mountain but it was relocated to the present place during the Shogyo era (1332-1334). Going up the winding mountain path called “Thirty-three Curves,” you will get to Nio-mon Gate at the entrance, which is supposed to have been built at the end of the Muromachi period (the 16th century). It is one of the oldest structures in the prefecture and nationally designated as an Important Cultural Property.
The best time to see this temple is early spring, when the mountain path to the temple is lined with cherry trees in full bloom. After visiting Reizanji Temple, it is worth hiking thirty minutes further to Ipponmatsu Park at the summit.
Rokutanji Temple located at the foot of Mt. Nijo in Taishi-cho, Minami-Kawachi-gun, Osaka Pref. is the oldest rock-cut temple in Japan. In the Nara period (710-794), the temple was created by carving natural tuff rock bed. At the center of the precinct stands a 13-story stone pagoda. The sitting images of Nyorai Sanzon-butsu (Nyorai Triad) are carved in line on the rock in the alcove hollowed in the eastern cliff. The head and chest of the Nyorai on the left have already been weathered away. Although a lot of rock-cut temples ruins are found in the Asian continent, they are rare in Japan. Rokutanji Temple ruin is one of those rare rock cave temple of Japan’s ancient Buddhism.
To the south of the famous 365 stone steps that lead to the Daimon Gate of Kotohira-gu Shrine in Kotohira-cho, Kagawa Prefecture stands the Old Konpira Oshibai Kabuki Theater, which is popularly called “Kanamaruza.” As the oldest existing Kabuki theater in Japan, it was designated as a national Important Cultural Property in 1970 and moved to the present place in 1976, when it was restored to the original form with a large amount of funds including government subsidy.
Since its original construction in the Tenpo era (1830-1843), Konpira Oshibai Kabuki plays at Kanamaruza Theater were enthusiastically seen by pilgrims to the Kotohira-gu Shrine, for entertainment was extremely scarce in those days. The theater was comparable in size to those in big cities such as Edo, Osaka and Kyoto. It is said that all the nationally famous actors were eager to perform at Kanamaruza, which proves that Kotohira was prosperous as a gateway town.
The Shikoku Konpira Oshibai has been performed at Kanamaruza since 1985, and the revival of the Kabuki performance has attracted a great deal of interest from all over the country. When no performances are held, the inside facilities of the theater are open to sightseers.
A long and steep approach way continues from JR Kotohira Station to the Main Sanctuary of Kotohira-gu Shrine halfway up Mt. Zozusan in Kotohira-cho, Kagawa Prefecture.
Since the Edo period (1603-1868) up to the present time, the pilgrimage to Kotohira-gu Shrine, or familiarly called Konpira-san, has been a pleasure for Japanese people as well as that to Ise Shrine. Lined with souvenir shops and eating houses, the approach way to the shrine is always bustling with visitors. To the south of the stone steps stands the Old Konpira Oshibai Kabuki Theater “Kanamaruza,” where pilgrims to the Kotohira-gu Shrine enjoyed kabuki plays in the days when entertainment was extremely scarce.
The approach way has the famous 365 stone steps to the Daimon Gate and further 421 stone steps to the Main Sanctuary. Passing through the Daimon Gate and climbing up further, you will at last get to a grand shrine building. But don’t make haste. It’s not the Main Shrine yet. It is a sub-shrine, Asahi-sha, which is famous for the episode that once Mori no Ishimatsu, a famous yakuza of the Edo period, mistook it for the Main Shrine and dedicated the sword that he was entrusted by his boss. There area many historic buildings including the Main Shrine a little further ahead of it.
Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, is the Bakkaku-Honzan (extra-status cathedral) of the Toji Shingon sect. The principal object of worship is Nyoirin Kannon. It is the 31st Holy Place of Saigoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage, the 1st of Goshu 33 Kannon Pilgrimage and the 3rd of Omi Kannon Pilgrimage.
The temple was founded in 747 by the priest Roben under the order of Emperor Shomu. Together with Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto and Hasedera Temple in Nara, it is one of the few magnificent temples in Japan.
Tahoto pagoda at this temple was constructed in 1194. It is the oldest of all the Tahoto pagodas whose construction years are identified. It is a 17.2 m tall pagoda with a Japanese cypress-bark roof. Surrounded by the railings with Giboshi (onion-shaped metal decorations), it has the wooden paneled doors in the center, on both sides of which are lath windows. The struts placed in the spaces between pillars are simple short posts.
The beautiful curved roof line and well-balance and stable building design are in good harmony. As a masterpiece of the ancient architecture in Japan, it is designated as a National treasure.
The pagoda houses the statue of Dainichi Nyorai carved by Kaikei, the master Buddhist sculptor in the Kamakura period.
As it was proved by a geological survey that Mt. Gionyama (1,307 m) located in the central part of Kyushu was formed about 430 million years ago, it is called the birthplace of Kyushu Island.
The name “Gion” derives from the oratory to worship the mountain built at the foot in the ancient times by a mountain practitioner, who trained himself at Gion Kannoin Temple, a temple housed in the precinct of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto before Shinto and Buddhism were separated. People called the oratory Gion Shrine and the mountain Mt. Gion.
The mountain is one of the few places in Japan where a lot of fossils from the Silurian period of the Paleozoic Era. The fossils of marine life such as chain corals and trilobites have been excavated from the limestone layer near the summit. The mountain is also known as the treasure trove of alpine plants. The summit commands a wonderful view including Mt. Hayabinomine (Futagoyama) and Mt. Aso.
Kozuke Sanpi is the generic name of the three stone monuments erected in the areas around Takasaki City in the ancient times. Yamanoue-hi and Kanaizawa-no-hi are in Yamana-machi in Takasaki City and Tago-no-hi is in Yoshii-machi in Tano-gun. They are nationally designated as Special Historic Sites.
Yamanoue-hi Monument is considered to have been erected in 681 and to be the epitaph of Yamanoue Kofun located next to the monument. It is Japan’s oldest epitaph.
Kanaizawa-no-hi Monument was erected in 726. It is written in the clerical script and reads that some descendants of the management officer of the Imperial agricultural land in Takada in Kozuke province (present-day Gunma Prefecture) formed a Buddhist group and were praying to Buddha for their parents’ safty and ancestors’ souls.
Tago-no-hi Monument erected in 711 is considered to be one of Japan’s Three Old Monuments. It is thought to be the memorial stone that celebrated the establishment of Tago County, but there are several other opinions about its interpretation. Calling it “Hitsuji-sama,” local people had worshipped it as the tomb of Hitsiji Tayu, a legendary hero of the county.
Kozuke Sanpi monuments are precious historic sites, by which the political situations of the time can be inferred.