Numata Castle was located in Numata City, Gunma Pref. It is said to have been built by Bankisai Akiyasu, the 12th generation head of the Numata clan. The castle was called Kurauchi Castle in those days. As it stands at the strategic spot on the way to Kanto region, a lot of battles to capture this castle were fought among warring lords such as the Uesugi clan of Echigo region (present-day Niigata Pref.), the Hojo clan of Odawara, and the Takeda clan of Kai province (present-day Yamanashi Pref.). In the Edo period, this area came under control of the Sanada clan. Sanada Yukinobu started its modification work in 1597, and in several years it was modified into an early modern-styled castle with the five-story donjon, Ninomaru (the second castle), Sannomaru (the third castle), and the stone walls, which were rear for Kanto region. At the present time, only a part of stone walls and moats remains, which remind us of the ancient times. In spring, a 400-year-old cherry tree called “Goten-zakura (palace cherry tree)” is in full bloom. It looks as if it were talking of rise and fall of the castle.
This festival is held at Oyama Shrine in Fuse on Oki-Dogo Island in Shimane Prefecture on the first Day of Ox in April every year. The origin of the shrine is not clear. It has no shrine pavilion housing the deity but it enshrines the old cedar tree, which is some hundred years old.
It is said that Oyama Shrine Festival was first held by a mountain practitioner hundreds of years ago. According to the historical record of the festival written in 1825 by a mountain practitioner in Fuse village, it seems that the festival had already been performed hundreds of years before.
Locally called “Oyama-san” or “Yama-matsuri,” the festival is the event that tells people of the coming of spring. It is nationally designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
On the day before the festival, villagers perform the ritual called Obitachi-no-shinji (the belt cutting ritual), in which they go into the nearby mountain to cut out vine stems, which are put around the sacred cedar tree, and parade through the village carrying a large sakaki (a holy branch). On the following festival day, the Obishime-no-shinji (fastening belt) ritual is held, in which the vine stem is put around the sacred tree seven and a half times.
Kamitera Fudoson Shokeiin is a temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It was founded in 1591 by the priest Jitsuetsu.
In those days, there was a pine grove with old palm trees in the area around the temple, which was located between the Tajiri River and the Bijo River. Likening the buds coming out from the ground by the river to bamboo trees, Jitsuetsu said, “This is a very celebrated place, where pine, bamboo and palm trees grow together. I am going to build a temple for ridding people’s bud luck and bringing them better luck,” and named the temple “Baikozan Shokeiin,” which literally means “Pine Landscape Temple in Palm Light Mountain.”
The temple was called Kamitera (God’s Temple) because the ascetic training in the Shugendo method (mountain practice in which Shinto and Buddhism were mixed together) has been performed at this temple. Even after the Meiji period (1868-1912), when the movement of Haibutsu Kishaku (the anti-Buddhism movement) arose, the tradition of Shinbutsu Shugo (fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) has been uniquely handed down at this temple.
The principal image of worship, Kamitera Fudoson, is about 7 m tall and weighs 40 tons. It is the world’s largest clay statue. The statue is made of clay in which the ashes of 210,000 prayer sticks, which were burned for 21 days in the Goma fire kept burning by the priest who was observing a fast, were mixed.
Akiu Shrine in Akiu-cho, Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded in 1513. It is said that in this year Akiu Morifusa, the 15th head of the Akiu clan, transferred the deity of Suwa Shrine in Shinano province (present-day Nagano Prefecture) and founded Suwa Shrine to pray for his victory in the battle with the Nagai clan in Natori. It is said that he decided on this place because it was where Kumano Shrine founded by Sakanoue Tamuramaro used to have been located.
Being called “Osuwa-sama,” the shrine had been faithfully worshipped by local people since then as the guardian god of nearby five villages. In 1909, all the minor shrines in the Akiu area were integrated into this shrine and it was renamed Akiu Shrine.
Surrounded with old trees including the gingko tree, which is designated as a protected tree of the city, and weeping cherry trees, the precinct is filled with tranquil atmosphere. However, it is bustled with visitors on the days of Akiu Grand Festival held in September.
Umoregi-zaiku (bogwood carvings) is a traditional handicraft handed down in Aobayama in Miyagi Prefecture. “Umoregi” is carbonized, or fossilized, conifer, which lay buried in the layers of 3 to 5 million years ago. It was found a lot in the areas of Aobayama. .
The history of this handicraft dates back to the late Edo period. In 1822, Yamashita Shukichi, a foot-soldier of the Sendai domain, discovered pieces of bogwood in Aobayama. He made all kinds of efforts and finally succeeded in making out a plate to put on vessels or votive offerings to deities. The making of this craft rapidly spread among the low-ranked warriors in the domain as their side jobs.
Umoregi-zaiku is a unique handicraft that isn’t done in any other part of the country, and Umoregi itself is a unique material for crafts that is difficult to obtain today. In the making of Umoregi-zaiku, a piece of wood is hollowed out into a desired shape with chisels. Then lacquer is applied with fuki-urushi (buffing of coated lacquer) technique to create gloss. After lacquer is applied and buffed out 7 to 8 times, the product takes on deep gloss and stately appearance. With its beautiful grain and graceful luster, this blackish brown Umoregi becomes a high-grade work of art. .
Senkoen Garden in Ebetsu City, Hokkaido is the site where the residence of Magozaemon Sekiya used to be located. It is the city’s designated historic site and the first cultural property designated by the city. Magozaemon Sekiya was the second-generation president of Hokuetsu Shokuminsha, an organization of pioneer farmers from Niigata Prefecture. In 1918, one year after he died, the farmers volunteered to perform maintenance to the premise and arranged it into the park garden named Senkoen in memory of the pioneer farmers who were devoted themselves to the development of the city. The Doan teahouse was also built at this time.
The name “Senko-en” derives from an episode that when the stone monument inscribed with “Ryukon (meaning that “the spirit will yet remain)” was erected by the villagers who were thankful to Magozaemon’s devoted efforts, he was very pleased and chanted “Senko-no-ku // Ippenn-no-ishi ni // Todomaru (Emptiness of thousand years // stays in // this piece of stone)” when he took a walk around the garden.
A lot of trees including magnolia (Magnolia praecocissima var. borealis), beech, cherry, alder and yew, most of which were planted in those days. Visitors can enjoy viewing beautiful blossoms of cherry and magnolia in spring and crimson foliage in fall.
Enkatsura is a gigantic Japanese Judas tree standing in a state forest in Otobe-cho, Hokkaido. The tree is more than 500 years old and towers to a height of over 40m with a trunk circumference of 610cm. It’s a majestic and imposing tree.
Enkatsura actually comprises two Judas trees standing next to each other, connected by a branch 7m above the ground, and over time it became known as “the tree where a matchmaking god resides” and it has become a popular symbol of love. The tree is well protected by the locals and celebrated by a festival called “Enkatsura Festival” every September 23rd.
A fine shrine was build in front of the tree and a wooden bridge over the stream in front of the shrine was restored. A bell hangs where people pass the bridge and recently it became a place for people who wish to wed in front of the tree.
Enkatsura was selected as one of “the One Hundreds Giants in woods” in 2000.
The 400-year-old oak tree stands at the entrance of Kannonyama Park atop Mt. Kannon (80 m above sea level) in Samani Town in southern Hokkaido. It has been worshipped by the local people as the sacred “god” tree. Mt. Kannon had been called “Sopiranupuri,” meaning “a mountain with cliffs and waterfalls” by the Ainu people.
During the Meiji period (1868-1912), a priest of Tojuin Temple, which is one of the three temples constructed in Hokkaido by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Edo period (1603-1868), placed 33 Kannon statues in this mountain by modeling after the Saigoku 33 Pilgrim Route; thereby the mountain was called Mt. Kannon as the years passed by.
The sacred god tree is 12 meters tall and 116 centimeters in diameter. It was designated as a protected tree of Hokkaido in 1973. Many holes and warts on the trunk and the bristling dead thin branches make the tree look like a hairy monster.