Nabetsuru-iwa Rock located in the offing to the south of Okushiri Harbor on Okushiri Island in Hokkaido is the symbol of this island. It was named because its center was hollowed by sea erosion to form a shape like nabetsuru (handle of a pot). It is lit up from 7:00 to 10:00 at night and creates a fantastic view. You can view it from the observatory on the island. It may be nice to view this natural work of art and think about the power of nature for some time.
The Ashiribetsu Waterfall in Takino Suzuran Hillside National Government Park in Sapporo City is the largest waterfall in the city. It is one of Japan’s 100 Fine Waterfalls. The word “ashiribetsu” means “a new river” in the Ainu language. The waterfall is in the upstream of the Atsubetsu River, which flows out of Mt. Soradake in the southern end of the city. It flows down the 30 m high cliff with dynamic splashes of water.
The waterfall shows different scenery in each season. It is lit up during the annual summer festival. The illuminated waterfall, together with the river that flows into darkness and white flowers of Pee Gee Hydrangea that shine on the river banks, creates a mysterious landscape. Though it is frozen in winter, visitors can either walk or ski along the trail and enjoy viewing it.
It is said that Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Nosu City, Shiga Prefecture, was founded during the Nara period (710-794). As its name Hyozu literally means “the master of soldiers,” it had been worshipped by the Imperial Court and the warrior class.
The shrine treasure varies from weapons to Buddha’s ashes, which is the reminder of Shinbutsu Shugo (the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism). The vermillion main gate magnificently awaits visitors. It is said to have been dedicated by Ashikaga Takauji and the Japanese ink writing on a rafter shows that it was constructed in 1550. It is a 1-bay and 1-entrance well-balanced gate in Irimoya-zukuri style, which is prefecturally designated as a tangible cultural property.
Beyond the gravel path is the Haiden Hall (oratory). The red thick rope hanging from Waniguchi (the bronze gong) is very impressive. Its magnificent garden was constructed in the Heian period (794-1192). It is a pond-stroll garden. The ground covered with a moss carpet looks superb especially in the rainy season. From the middle to the end of November, the tinted autumn leaves are lit up for night visitors.
Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, is a National Special Scenic Spot and is one of the largest and most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan.
The building of this garden dates back to the early 17th century. In 1625, the lord of the Takamatsu domain, Ikoma Takatoshi, began the construction. Then in 1642, Matsudaira Yorishige took over the domain and continued its construction. The work was completed by the 5th lord of the Matsudaira family in 1745 after 100 years of improvements and extensions. After the new Meiji government took control, the park was designated a prefectural park and opened to the public.
Ritsurin Park is a stroll-type landscape garden exquisitely laid out with mounds, ponds and trees, where visitors can appreciate landscapes from every part of the garden. The building of a garden around the South Pond using the beautiful greenery of Mt. Shiun as a backdrop is specifically exquisite.
Tea ceremonies and garden concerts are held at Kikugetsutei Tea House, which used to be favored by the successive domain lords. In fall, the garden is lit up for visitors to enjoy autumn leaves.
Maizuru Park in Takanabe Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, is where Takanabe Castle was located till the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). As the shape of the premise looked like a crane wheeling in the sky, the castle was called “Maizuru Castle (Flying Crane Castle).”
Maizuru Park Cherry Festival, or also called Maizuru Castle Ruins Cherry Festival, is held from late March to early April. During the festival period, 1,000 stocks of mountain cherry and Somei Yoshino are in full bloom. 2,000 stocks of azalea also come into bloom in this season, making a wonderful contrast with the cherry blossoms. The cherry blossoms are lit up at night.
The park is bustled with people who enjoy cherry blossom viewing as well as a lot of events such an the athletic meet, a local product fair, a sketch contest, an entertainment show, tea ceremony and lighting of Maizuru Lantern.
Wisteria Festival is held from the middle of April through early May every year at Kotoen Wisteria Garden in Hekinan City, Aichi Prefecture. The wisteria trellises in this 1,000 square meter garden were built by Hirosaku Oda, a local wisteria fancier, in 1820.
The garden features the special kind of wisteria trees called “Hiro-no-nagafuji,” which have 1.5 meter long bunches with beautiful purple flowers hanging from long vines that wind around the trellises. Together with Daruma-fuji (Daruma Wisteria) with sweet fragrance, the garden is filled with gentle scent of wisteria flowers.
The flowers are illuminated in the evenings during the festival period. Different from the scenery under the daylight, the lit up pink and purple flowers create a fantastic atmosphere. If you join the traditional tea ceremony held on the selected day, you can enjoy a gracious time.
Himeji Oshiro Matsuri (Castle Festival) held in August every year is the most important summer festival for people in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture. It is held to give tribute to the predecessors who constructed the castle and the town of Himeji.
The Castle Festival begins with “Takigi-Noh”, a Noh play performed outdoors in the light of bonfire at night against the background of the lit-up castle. The main event, Big Parade, starts the next day followed by an introduction of the selected “Queen of Himeji Castle.” Then about 2000 citizens come together to dance the “So-Odori” to the music of Banshu-ondo, which is the highlight of the festival.
In the evening, the “Sen-hime Wedding Procession” is held by the people in historical costumes. This is the reenactment of the wedding procession held when Princess Sen-hime, a granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu, got married to Honda Tadatoki, the lord of the Himeji domain. With Queen of Himeji Castle acting the role of Sen-hime, a gorgeous historical drama is reenacted.
Matabei cherry in Uda City, Nara Pref. is a weeping cherry tree with gracefully-shaped branches. This famous cherry tree, which is said to be 300 years old, is visited by many photographers and tourists when it is in full bloom. The name Matabei comes from Goto Matabei Mototsugu, who took an active part in the Summer War of Osaka on Toyotomi forces and earned his nickname of “Matabei, the Spearer.” His residence used to be at the place where Matabei cherry stands. After Toyotomi forces lost the war, he moved to this place and became a Buddhist priest. This cherry tree had not been known until 2000, when the tree was used for the opening scene of NHK’s Taiga Drama “Aoi Tokugawa Sandai.” Since then a lot of visitors have come to enjoy seeing cherry blossoms every year. When it is lit up at night, the tree looks most fantastic as if a cascade were falling from the dark sky.