Bon Dance Festival is held from August 13 to 18 in Higashiyama Hot Springs in the suburbs of Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. Higashiyama is a fine hot spring town with a lot of Japanese style hot spring inns lining along the both sides of the Yukawa River. The history of this hot spring town dates back to about 1,000 years ago, when hot springs were discovered by Priest Gyoki. It thrived as the entertainment center of the area since then and is still favored by many tourists today as the inner sanctum of Aizu.
During the festival period, a large yagura tower is constructed over the Yukawa River. A lot of chochin lanterns are hung all around and illuminate the town. A lot of citizens together with tourists and geisha ladies in yukata join the circle and dance around the yagura tower to the dance songs such as “Aizu Bandaisan” until late at night. The town is filled with up-tempo dance songs and drum beats every night. The quiet hot spring town takes on a cheerful atmosphere during the festival period.
Saie-Hiogi is a crescent folding fan with blades made of Japanese cypress wood. Hiogi fans were made in the Heian period (794-1192) as the accessory used by the nobility on formal occasions in the Imperial court. The number of blades differed according to the rank of the person who carried the fan. At the present time, there are only seven Hiogi fans remain; one at Atsuta Jingu Shrine, five at Itsukushima Shrine and one at Asuka Shrine in Kumano.
Gofun (powder made from oyster shells) solution is applied as the base coat onto slats of cypress wood threaded with silk. Then after applying mica, pieces of gold and silver leaf and foil are sprinkled on the surface, where colorful pictures are painted with Iwaenogu (mineral pigment).
The motifs of Kachofugetsu (flowers, birds, wind, and moon), noblemen and court ladies are painted in well-mellowed brush strokes. Saie-Hiogi fan was not only an implement but also a work of art that was like a picture scroll. The existing Saie-Hiogi fans are designated as either National Important Cultural Properties or National Treasures.
Ishikawa cypress weaving is a traditional handicraft in Hakusan City, Ishikawa Prefecture. It was designated as a prefecture’s traditional craft product in 1988.
The beginning of cypress weaving was about 400 years ago, when a traveling priest visited a village in Hakusan and taught the villagers how to weave hats with cypress strips. By the middle of the Edo period, weaving hats had become the important source of income for the villagers.
Strips of cypress called hin-na, or hegi, are woven to make articles. The most famous product is the Hakusan cypress hat, which has been made since the early Showa period (1926-1989). As it is light in weight, strong and effectively blocks off the rain and sunlight, it is widely used by farmers. The time before busy farming season is the peak of the production of Hakusan hats. Today, 6 workmen undertake the annual orders of about 700 hats. Cypress weaving is also adapted in folk crafts such as oboke (baskets to store spun hemp thread), baskets, flower vases, etc. Each item is a charming handicraft with utility and beauty.
Nakano Shrine is located in Nakano, Tsukui-cho, Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture. The enshrined deities are Mihosusumi no Mikoto, Toyoukehime no Mikoto and Takuhata Chijime no Mikoto. It is said that the shrine was founded in 835 and restored in 1571. The main hall is made of Japanese cypress wood and decorated with relief carvings. The shrine is known for its annual festival with a history of 300 years, which is held on the 4th weekend of July every year. In this festival, six floats march in the town with a portable shrine. The competition of the floats carrying Oayashi musicians on the stages is very powerful. On New Year’s Day, visitors can experience “Chinowa Kuguri,” in which sins and dirtiness are expelled by walking through a large ring made of thatch. Though old, Nakano Shrine is still visited by a lot of local worshippers today.
Owase wappa is a traditional handicraft in Owase City, Mie Prefecture. It was widely used as a lunchbox by common people in the Edo period (1603-1868). Located in a part of ancient Kii province, which was called “Country of Tree,” Owase was known as a production center of high quality lumber. Owase wappa is made of wood from locally grown Japanese cypress trees. This lunchbox has been and is still favored not just because it is beautiful but because it is so durable as to be used for scores of years and its lacquer coat has bactericidal effect. As it is contrived to vent the air inside, it keeps food warm in winter and prevents rot in summer. In the making of Owase wappa, it is impossible to mechanize any one of the processes, so the manufacturing processes of as many as 45 different stages are all done by hand even today.
Asuke Hachimangu Shrine in the town of Asuke in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded in 673. As the deity of traffic safety, recovery from illness and safe delivery, it has been worshipped by people from far and wide.
Honden (the main hall) is an elegant 3-bay building in Nagare-zukuri (flowing style) with a cypress-barked roof. It was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1950 by the national government. As the remnant of Shinbutsu Shugo (fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) practiced until the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912), there is a bell tower in the precinct. The huge cedar tree, which is presumed to be 500 yeas old, is a designated Natural Monument of Toyota City.
The wooden plaque “Teppo-no-matouchi-zu Hangaku” was made and dedicated in 1612 by Sawada Shiroemon, a local master of gunnery. It is one of the four existing wooden plaques that depict the shooting scenes.
In January, visitors are treated with Nanakusa-gayu (rice porridge with seven herbs of spring) in hope for good health in the coming year. At the annual festival held in October, the gorgeous mikoshi parade is performed.
Kongozanmaiin Temple in Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture is the Bakkaku-Honzan (extra-status cathedral) of the Shingon sect. The principal object of worship is Aizen Myoo. It is the 11th of the 18 Holy Places of Butto-koji (Old Temples with Pagodas) and the 17th Holy Place of Saigoku Aizen Myoo Pilgrimage. .
The temple was founded in 1211 as Zenjoin Temple by the plea of Hojo Masako to hold memorial services for her husband, Minamoto no Yoritomo. In 1223, when Masako died with the Buddhist name of Zenjo Nyojitsu, the temple changed its name to the present name.
Tahoto pagoda was constructed by the order of Masako and under the supervision of the Zen monk Kakuchi. It is a 14.9 m tall pagoda with Japanese cypress-bark roof. The first story is not very tall and the second story has the stability. It is the second oldest Tahoto pagoda and counted as one of the three finest Tahoto pagodas in Japan. It is designated as a National Treasure.
The pagoda houses the statue of Gochi Nyorai, which is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property.
Mt. Akagi-yama, one of the Jomo Three Mountains and Japan’s 100 Fine Mountains, located in the center of Gunma Prefecture, is the generic name for mountains including Kurobi-san, Komagatake, Jizo-dake Choshichiro-yama, and Nabewari-yama.
It is a double-rimmed caldera volcano. There are three beautiful lakes near the mountaintop; Lake O-numa (an atrio lake), Ko-numa (a crater lake) and Kakuman-fuchi (a high moor).
The north wind known as “Karakkaze,” which is characteristic to the Kanto Plain in winter, is also called “Akagi Oroshi,” because it blows from Mt. Akagi-yama.
Mt. Akagi-yama has been worshipped by local people since the ancient times. It is a symbol of Gunma Prefecture.