• 文化伝承の新たな一歩を踏み出したアイヌ民族

    [From December Issue 2013]

    Including Sapporo, 80% of place names in Hokkaido have their origin in the Ainu language. These kind of place names show us that “the Ainu have lived in Hokkaido,” but they don’t show us how they lived, or tell us anything about their present way of life.
    Ainu are an indigenous people of Japan. Wajin, or ethnic Japanese (other than Ainu), settled in Hokkaido in order to fish its waters in the Edo era (17-19th centuries) about 400 years ago. Analysis of excavated earthenware shows that Ainu already lived in and around Hokkaido some 20,000 years ago.
    Ainu made their living mainly through hunting and fishing. Trading animal skins and dried fish, it’s known that they traded with what are now Russia, China and Japan’s Honshu. Free trade, however, was banned by wajin during the Edo era. During the Meiji era (19-20th centuries), Ainu culture was destroyed; the use of Japanese language was made compulsory and hunting and fishing, their main livelihood, was restricted by the infrastructure imposed by the country’s modernization policies.
    Because of this history, the Japanese government has recognized the state’s responsibility to ensure the preservation of Ainu culture and has decided to build the national “Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony” in Shiraoi Town, Hokkaido. It’s scheduled to be completed before the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.


    Entrance to the Museum

    YOSHIDA Kenji of the Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office at the Cabinet Secretariat explains the role of the building, “Ainu culture and history can be studied at this facility and memorial services for remains that have been kept at universities can be performed in this space. As well as being a place in which the spirit of the Ainu people can be housed, it is also a symbol of respect and harmony between different ethnic groups.”
    The Ainu Museum, founded in 1984 and run by Ainu themselves, stands beside Lake Poroto in Shiraoi and has some 180,000 visitors a year. There you can enjoy performances of traditional dancing and music and learn about Ainu culture by trying your hand at activities like cooking or playing musical instruments.
    Affiliated with a Finnish museum that introduces the culture of the indigenous Sami people of Northern Europe, the Ainu Museum has many visitors from abroad. There were eight possible sites on which to construct the Symbolic Space, however, the existence of this museum was the deciding factor in the selection of Shiraoi.
    This museum has played an important role in passing on a cultural heritage to younger generations of Ainu. Today about 24,000 Ainu live in Hokkaido alone. They all reside in ordinary Japanese houses and their lifestyle is the same as that of other Japanese people. Even if they have Ainu blood, they have few opportunities to learn about their culture.



    As there were times when Ainu were discriminated against just for being Ainu, the majority of Ainu families avoided teaching their children their culture and customs. Traditional rituals held regularly at the museum, therefore, provide precious opportunities for Ainu themselves to learn about, and practice, their culture. The museum creates jobs, too. “I’m grateful that I can pass on my culture through my work,” says YAMAMARU Ikuo, administration officer of the Ainu Museum.
    Yamamaru was in his 40s when he rediscovered his Ainu heritage. “There had been a fire in a chise (house) at the museum site. I was working in construction in those days and I helped with the reconstruction. I was surprised to learn for the first time that Ainu had unique ways of choosing building locations and of building houses.” That experience led to him working for the museum. Now, alongside performing a variety of traditional rites, he’s also involved with a project to pass on cultural traditions to younger generations.


    Experiencing playing the tonkori, a traditional musical instrument

    The museum has been running a “leadership training course” for six years. The course, which lasts three years, gives young people of Ainu descent an opportunity to learn about their heritage. The second class is now in its final year. Besides Shiraoi, the lakeside of Akan lake and Biratori Town in Hokkaido are also known for their kotan (Ainu villages). Each has its own unique style of traditional dancing and wood carving. The students also go to those places to get a comprehensive understanding of Ainu culture.
    Yamamaru says that people need to take pride in their own culture in order to pass it on to future generations. Since things like Ainu craft works have enjoyed a revival in recent years, more and more people are now feeling that “our culture isn’t something to be discarded after all.” When they go to Tokyo to participate in events, some take the subway in ethnic clothing. He really feels that attitudes are changing.
    Yamamaru says he hopes some graduates of the course will act as leaders at the Symbolic Space in order to create new traditions. He says, “Culture is a living thing, so it’s natural for it to change.” He hopes that, instead of stubbornly preserving old things, by fully understanding them, it will be possible to create something new.
    Yoshida says that the Tokyo Olympics, to be held in the same year the Symbolic Space is due to be completed, “will be a good opportunity to disseminate information. I hope we can make it appealing.” The Olympics is a festival for ethnic groups. In the past, indigenous people displayed their culture at the opening ceremonies of the Sydney and Vancouver Olympics. Ainu have just taken new strides in passing on their culture. It will be the right occasion at which to let the world know about the Ainu.
    Ainu means “people” in the Ainu language.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2013年12月号掲載記事]






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  • 大分県――地球のエネルギーを感じる「温泉天国」

    [From December Issue 2013]

    An area of hot springs, Oita Prefecture is visited by tourists not only from within Japan, but from all over the world. Although located in the Kyushu region, links with the Chugoku region, Shikoku, and Kansai have flourished via the Seto Inland Sea. This is because Oita is surrounded by mountains, and therefore, until the advent of modern roads and railroads, interaction with other prefectures in Kyushu was rather limited.
    In terms of their sheer number and output, the hot springs in Oita Prefecture outstrip any other in Japan. Within the prefecture there are 4,471 individual sources, the greatest concentration in the world. There are 11 varieties of hot spring in the world, ten of which can be found in Oita. Whether you’re talking sand baths, mud baths or steam baths, Oita’s springs are also characterized by their rich diversity. There are also carbonated hot springs, hot springs that turn from being transparent to brown when the water comes into contact with the air, and hot springs that you can drink from to help alleviate stomach disorders.
    In Beppu City, where over half of the prefecture’s spring sources are located, hot springs have been typically utilized as public bathhouses for centuries. That’s why, even today, many old houses do not have a bath. Moreover, these days it’s not unusual for baths in modern homes to draw their water from a hot spring.


    View of Beppu Onsen

    Taking the best part of the day to cover, the “Hell Tour” begins just five minutes by car from the Beppu Interchange. From the blue “Umi-jigoku” (sea hell) to the red “Chinoike-jigoku” (blood pond hell), it’s possible to see eight individual hot springs. Scalding hot water gushes out from each spring with tremendous force, allowing visitors to experience the enormous power of the Earth’s energy firsthand. Jigoku-mushi savory dishes and puddings are cooked instantly by harnessing the power of the high temperature steam.
    Only a 40-minute drive from The Hell Tour, is “Yu no Tsubo Kaido” (Hot Spring Boulevard) in Yufu City, another popular tourist spot. The street is lined with gift shops and eateries. One street away from the main road is the Oita River where one can take a stroll and enjoy the scenery that changes according to the season. Only a 15-minute walk away is Kinrin Lake, in which a hot spring bubbles up from the bottom. On winter mornings this creates a fog on the surface of the lake; a fantastic spectacle.
    Another 50 minutes by car from Kinrin Lake is Kokonoe “Dream” Suspension Bridge in Kokonoe-machi. At 173 meters high and 390 meters long, it is Japan’s largest suspension footbridge. From the highest point of the bridge, it’s possible to enjoy some spectacular scenery: the Kuju Mountains, the Kyusui Ravine, the Shindo Waterfall and the Naruko River Canyon. A 45-minute drive from there takes you to the Kuju Flower Park on the Kuju Plateau in Taketa City. With the Kuju Mountains as a backdrop, in this extensive flower park, depending on the season, a variety of different flowers bloom including, tulips, lavenders, and cosmoses.


    Usa Jingu

    Situated on the north side of the Kuju Mountains, the Tadewara Wetlands in Kokonoe-machi is a marsh formed from an alluvial fan created by volcanic activity. Along with the Bogatsuru Wetlands, it was registered in the Ramsar Convention (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance) in 2005. It is possible to stroll freely through these wetlands and the surrounding forests along a trail that was constructed for the purposes of studying the nature in the area.
    Those with an interest in history should head for the Stone Buddhas of Usuki in Usuki City. Carved into a natural cliff face, the statues have been designated a natural treasure. Believed to have been carved around the 12th century, there are four groups of over 60 stone Buddhas. In the nearby Stone Buddha Park different flowers can be enjoyed in different seasons, but it’s recommended that visitors go in July and August when the Sacred Lotus blossoms. In Oita City there are also the Oita Motomachi Stone Buddhas and Kamezuka Kofun (an ancient burial mound). In Bungo-ono City there are the Sugao Stone Buddhas.
    Usa Jingu in Usa City is the head shrine for over 40,000 Hachiman shrines across the country. The grounds are so enormous that it takes about an hour to walk around the whole perimeter. One notable feature is that, along with many of its surrounding buildings, the main shrine – which has been designated as a national treasure – has been lacquered in vermillion. Only used once every ten years, another highlight is the covered bridge and courtyard. The road leading up to the shrine is lined with a number of gift shops.


    Suya no Saka

    An Edo period (17-19th centuries) townscape has been preserved in Kitsuki City. The sloping streets of “Suya no Saka” and “Shihoya no Saka” used to connect the higher level samurai manors with the merchant town below and, because of their scenic beauty, are often used as a backdrop for filming TV dramas and movies. Before taking a stroll, it’s recommended that you visit Waraku-an, where you can rent kimono to wear for only 2,000 yen, this also earns you free admission into Kitsuki Castle, a museum and other places. If you don’t speak Japanese, it is no problem, but English-speaking representatives can be made available if you call ahead of time.
    Those who want to immerse themselves in nature are encouraged to visit the Inazumi underwater limestone caves in Bungo-ono City. Caves of this scale are rarely found anywhere else in the world. Formed 200,000 years ago during the glacial period, there, countless stalactites can be found. The water inside is over 40 meters deep. Magical scenery can also be found at Yufu River Gorge in Yufu City. The v-shaped gorge, measuring between 20 to 50 meters deep, with its innumerable strings of cascading water and smoothly eroded rock is a natural work of art.


    Inazumi underwater limestone caves

    These days the “Olle” style of travel, which originated in Korea, is attracting attention. With a map in one hand, participants walk along at their own pace, looking out for ribbon signposts placed along the route while enjoying the scenery. In the dialect of Jeju Island in Korea, Olle means “the narrow road home.” In Kyushu there are eight routes. Passing by various parks and temples along the way, the Oita route starts at Asaji Station in Bungo-ono City and gives hikers an enjoyable taste of the rural landscape. Finishing at Bungo Taketa Station in Taketa City, the route is approximately 12 kilometers long and takes five to six hours to complete.
    Blessed by nature, Oita has lots of delicious local cuisine to offer. Its dried shiitake mushrooms and barley shouchuu liquor are renowned throughout Japan. Oita brand seki aji (Japanese horse mackerel) and seki saba (Japanese chub mackerel) are considered to be of the highest quality. Normally chub mackerel has to be cooked to be eaten, but this variety can be eaten raw as sashimi. Oita produces 97% of the kabosu (a type of citrus fruit) grown in Japan. With its juice poured over sashimi, tsukemono (pickled vegetables) or into beer, most of it is consumed in the prefecture. Toriten deep-fried chicken dipped in tempura batter is a staple local specialty as well as a traditional home-cooked dish.


    Seki saba

    In the Oita Prefecture Tourism Guidebook are a number of different coupons offering discounts and special promotions. Information and directions are available in English, Korean and Chinese both inside JR Beppu Station and on the street just outside the station. A “Friendly Guide” service can be provided if requested at the cost of 3,000 yen for two hours, excluding travel expenses.
    It takes roughly six and half hours to get to Oita Station from JR Tokyo Station on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), transferring at Kokura along the way. From Haneda Airport in Tokyo it’s roughly a one and a half hour flight to Oita Airport. At Oita Airport, plastic replicas of sushi plates of shrimp and sea urchin revolve around the conveyor belt as you wait for your luggage.
    Tourism Oita[2013年12月号掲載記事]







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  • 島根県――神々と世界遺産で知られる地

    [From November Issue 2013]


    Shimane Prefecture is located in the Chugoku region of Honshu (Japan’s main island) on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Until recently many Japanese people didn’t know where Shimane Prefecture was, or confused it with neighboring Tottori Prefecture, but now the prefecture is drawing more attention because of the historic Izumo Taisha (Izumo Grand Shrine) and the Iwami Ginzan silver mine, which has been designated as a World Culture Heritage Site. A land with a deep connection to Shinto legends, the surnames of many of its citizens have a connection to Shinto gods.

    Izumo Taisha is dedicated to Okuninushi no Okami, a deity associated with matchmaking. The shrine has such a long history that it’s even mentioned in Japan’s oldest historical chronicle, the “Kojiki.” The tenth month of the old lunar calendar is known as kanna-zuki (month without gods) throughout Japan, but in Shimane Prefecture it is known as kamiari-zuki (month the gods are present). This is because all the gods from across Japan gather at Izumo Taisha during this period. To this day the Shinto ritual of kamimukaesai (god welcoming festival) is performed around November.

    For the first time in 60 years, a process known as senguu (transfer ritual), involving the temporary removal of the goshintai (objects of worship believed to contain the spirit of the gods) to repair the shrines, was performed recently. In May this year the main deity, Okuninushi no Okami, was successfully transferred back to the honden (main hall). It is believed that this process not only helps to preserve the wooden building, but also helps to purify the resting place of the deity, thereby restoring his energy.


    Lake Shinji

    Besides this shrine, there are many other shrines associated with the Shinto gods in the Izumo area, as well as “power spots” (locations thought to be flowing with mystical energy). At Yaegaki Shrine in Matsue City people use coins placed on washi (Japanese paper) to have their fortunes told. Legend has it that Suga Shrine in Unnan City was the first palace that Susanoo no Mikoto built. One of the deities appearing in the Kojiki, Susanoo defeated the Eight-Forked Serpent, Yamata no Orochi – a monster that had been devouring one young woman each year.

    Next to Izumo Taisha is Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo. Bronze swords and other artifacts related to ancient Izumo, as well as documents concerning the history of Shimane Prefecture itself can be found on display there. In addition, there are an array of gift shops and food stalls lining Shinmon Dori, the road that leads up to the shrine.

    The prefecture capital, Matsue City is also known as the Water City. Built in the 17th century, Matsue Castle is an important cultural property of Japan. English speaking volunteer tour guides are always available here. A popular attraction even in winter is the “Horikawa Meguri Yuransen” (Hori River Sightseeing Cruise). The Hori River surrounds the castle and it takes about 50 minutes to sail along it. Lake Shinji, located within the city itself, is known for shijimi clam fishing. However, the lake is also a popular destination for lovers wanting to catch a beautiful sunset.

    Arriving in Japan in the 19th century as a correspondent for an American publishing company, Lafcadio HEARN is a Greek man who introduced Japan to the rest of the world. A collection of Japanese ghost stories that Hearn compiled and simplified is well known to Japanese. In 1896 he acquired Japanese citizenship and changed his name to KOIZUMI Yakumo. His house and a memorial hall dedicated to his memory are located in Matsue.


    Adachi Museum of Art

    The Adachi Museum of Art is located in Yasugi City, about 15 kilometers east of Matsue. Known for its beautiful, spacious Japanese garden, the museum contains numerous works of art, including sculptures and Japanese-style paintings by artists such as YOKOYAMA Taikan. An American magazine about Japanese gardens has listed this garden as the best in Japan for ten years in a row.

    In terms of world renowned sites, Iwami Ginzan, in Ohda City, is a must see. The remains of an old silver mine that was worked for 400 years, there – except for the year-end and New Year holidays – you can see tool-scored walls, deep pits, and tunnels which are so high as to make you crane your head right back. The mines were registered in 2007 as a World Cultural Heritage Site. To get a better understanding of the site it’s necessary to have a tour guide explain its significance. Portable audio guides, in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese, are available for 500 yen. Close to the mines are: the Iwami Ginzan World Cultural Heritage Center and the “Streets of Omori,” which still retains the atmosphere of the Edo period (17th-19th centuries).

    For those wishing to view nature at its most dynamic, a visit to Oki Islands is highly recommended. This chain of over 180 small and large islands contains geoparks in which are located the Matengai Sea Cliffs – which look as if the earth has been sliced open with a knife – and the Sekiheki Cliffs (Red Cliffs). Also popular is Akao Observatory where you can see cows and horses roaming around eating grass, and Amanbou Seaview Cruise where you can enjoy the feeling of taking a stroll out in the middle of the sea.


    Iwami Ginzan

    In 2012, a cosmetic company conducted a dermatological survey and announced that the people of Shimane Prefecture have the fairest skin in Japan. It is thought that this is because the ratio of smokers there is relatively low and that the favorable climate conditions in the prefecture naturally moisturizes the skin. In Shimane Prefecture there are over 60 hot springs, including one named “Bijin no Yu” or Spring of Beauties. Renowned as “nature’s skin lotion,” the waters of Tamatsukuri Hot Spring are especially thought to promote beautiful skin. Tonbara Hot Spring (Ramune Ginsen) is one of only a few naturally carbonated springs in Japan.

    Since Shimane faces the ocean, a large amount of fish and shellfish can be caught there. When boiled in a salty-sweet soup, shijimi clams harvested in Lake Shinji are used in a popular dish called kanroni. In Shimane the tobiuo flying fish is known as “ago” and is consumed as kamaboko (a paste of minced and cooked fish). Izumo soba (buckwheat noodles) and Shimane beef are also local specialties.

    Items traditionally crafted in the prefecture include stone garden lanterns and Japanese abacuses. Shussai tableware, Hii River washi, and intricate metal candle holders and vases are recommended as souvenirs.



    Kagura (traditional song and dance numbers performed in honor of the gods) are popular in the Iwami area – in the western part of the prefecture – and performances depicting the defeat of the Eight-Forked Serpent are particularly colorful. Typically traditional performing arts have suffered from a lack of fresh blood, but here in Shimane Prefecture children become extremely familiar with kagura from an early age, even to the extent that some kindergartners play at putting on performances. Prajna masks are used in kagura plays and are also sold as decorative charms used to ward off evil spirits at the entrance of homes.

    The flight from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Izumo Enmusubi Airport is about 80 minutes. The flight time to Hagi Iwami Airport is 90 minutes and to Yonago Airport about 80 minutes. The overnight limited express sleeper train “Sunrise Izumo” departs from JR Tokyo Station every day and takes roughly 12 hours to arrive at Izumoshi Station. Known as the “traveling business hotel,” passengers can relax in privacy. It is popular with women on their way home from work wishing to enjoy a comfortable trip to Shimane in the company of good friends.

    Shimane Prefectural Tourism Federation



















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  • 佐賀県――豊富なやきものと遺跡の地

    [From October Issue 2013]


    Saga Prefecture is located in the northern part of the Kyushu region. The Genkai Sea to the north in the Sea of Japan is popular for farming wakame seaweed and abalone. Nori (dried seaweed) is found to the south in the Ariake Sea, which is the number one area of production in Japan, both in quantity and quality. Since ancient times this area has had strong ties with the Asian continent, and there are many places and crafts that reflect that history.

    Saga is known for pottery such as Imari ware and Arita ware. Generally, this kind of porcelain has a luxurious image, but Arita ware is an everyday item for locals, some of whom even use it as a container for school lunches. Pottery festivals and fairs are held throughout the year, and a number of places offer opportunities to experience the art of ceramics.

    In order to prevent trade secrets from being stolen, top quality Imari ware was made at Hiyo no Sato Okawachi-yama (The Village of the Secret Kilns Mt. Okawachi), in Imari City. There, checkpoints and artisan’s homes have been faithfully reproduced. There, too, is Meotoshi Tower, where ceramic wind chimes make beautiful music, as well as Nabeshima Hanyo Park.

    Every year between April 29 and May 5, pottery enthusiasts from around the country visit the Arita Pottery Fair held in Arita-cho. It’s possible to buy a wide variety of pottery, from everyday items to top-of-the-line porcelain, from the 550 stores set out side by side across roughly 4.5 kilometers. At Arita Hall, beautiful puppets made of pottery perform local legends. In addition, a pottery theme park and art museum can also be found in the town.

    Saga’s most famous festival, The “Karatsu Kunchi,” is well-known throughout Japan. It’s an autumn festival, held annually between November 2 and 4 by Karatsu Shrine. Participants yell out “enya enya” as they march around the city of Karatsu, holding up fourteen portable shrines called “hikiyama.” The city’s symbol, Karatsu Castle, is also known as Maizuru Castle for its resemblance to a fluttering crane (maizuru). Because it was built facing the ocean, one can also enjoy such sights as the Niji no Matsubara or “Rainbow Pine Grove.”


    Karatsu Kunchi


    Niji no Matsubara is a forest of roughly a million pines approximately five kilometers long. It’s a popular destination for yacht and windsurfing enthusiasts. Those who enjoy hang gliding, paragliding and other aerial sports visit Mount Kagami, located behind Matsubara. This area is part of Genkai Quasi-National Park.

    Described as “art crafted by nature,” one of the highlights at the park is Nanatsugama Sea Caves. The caves have been carved out over centuries by the rough waves of the Genkai-nada. The mouth of the largest cave is three meters tall and goes back nearly 110 meters. You can view the caves up close by taking a pleasure cruise from Yobuko Harbor. Above the Nanatsugama Sea Caves is a meadow with a promenade and an observation deck for sightseers.

    Straddling Kanzaki City and the town of Yoshinogari is Yoshinogari Historical Park, which is worth a visit even if you’re not a history buff. The Yoshinogari archaeological site dates from approximately the 5th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. and has been designated as one of the country’s “Special Historical Landmarks.” In order to preserve valuable cultural assets, it was opened to the public in 2001 as Japan’s second national historical park. Covering an area of 84.7 hectares, there is an Exhibition Hall inside the park that houses many reconstructions based on artifacts found at the site including the sanctum (the most important area where politics and rituals were took place), dugout dwellings, watchtowers, and the natural scenery of the period.

    The ebb and flow of the tide along the Ariake Sea, in the southern part of the prefecture, is very pronounced, rising and falling a full six meters each cycle. Mudskippers and other rare creatures inhabit this area. If you visit the observation deck overlooking the Ariake Sea around November, you can view large red fields of shichimensou – a plant that grows only in salty environments.

    From spring to autumn one can experience this area’s tidal flats. The Kashima Gatalympic (tidal flat races) is held every year from the end of May to the beginning of June. Unique games are played, including “Gata-chari,” in which bicycles traverse a narrow plank laid out along the tidal flats. During the tug of war, the harder players pull, the more they sink and get stuck in the mud, much to the amusement of the spectators.


    Kashima Gatalympic


    Kashima City is the home of Yutoku Inari Shrine, one of Japan’s three largest Inari shrines. Entirely lacquered in vermilion, the shrine contrasts beautifully with the green summertime mountains behind it. The shrine attracts millions of visitors every year who pay homage to a deity thought to promote business success and traffic safety. Famous for its tsutsuji flowers, right next to the shrine is Higashiyama Park.

    People from all over the world come to visit every autumn for the Saga International Balloon Fiesta. This is an international competition in which over one hundred hot air balloons take flight above the Saga Plain. Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, various events are held the banks of the Kasegawa River and around the area.


    Saga International Balloon Fiesta


    Saga’s trademark confectionary is youkan (boiled sweet beans solidified with gelatin or kuzu) and the prefecture consumes the largest amount of it in Japan. As a high-grade Japanese beef, Saga beef has many fans all over the country. With the open sea to both the north and the south, fresh seafood is readily available. Highway 207, running alongside the Ariake Sea, is called “Kaki-yaki Kaido” (grilled oyster coastal road), and from November kakigoya (oyster huts) line the road. You can enjoy barbequed seafood right along the coast.

    A popular food at festivals or celebrations is suko-zushi, a traditional dish dating back 500 years. Local dishes of Saga City include Sicilian rice: rice topped with beef and onions stir-fried with a salty-sweet sauce, garnished with vegetables such as tomatoes, and sprinkled with mayonnaise.

    There are many hot springs in Saga; as evidenced by an anecdote about a hot spring bubbling up when someone was digging a well. Among these, Takeo Hot Spring and Ureshino Hot Spring have a long history. Ureshino Hot Spring is said to be one of Japan’s three great hot springs for promoting beautiful skin. Meltingly soft tofu in a tasty soup, onsen yudofu (tofu boiled in a hot spring) is a tasty dish that utilizes hot water from this spring. At Ganso Ninja-mura Ureshino-onsen Hizen Yume-kaido (Original Ninja Village Ureshino Hot Spring Hizen Dream Road), you can enjoy a spectacular ninja show and get an opportunity to throw a shuriken, or ninja star, (a kind of weapon).

    It takes one hour and 45 minutes to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Saga Airport. You can also take a bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to Hakata Station in about five hours. After that, it takes 40 minutes to Saga by express train and one hour and 20 minutes to Karatsu. You can obtain tourist information and discount coupons from “SAGAPP!” (available in Japanese), a free smartphone app.

    The Saga Sightseeing Information




















    井戸を掘っていたら温泉がわきだしたというエピソードがあるほど、佐賀にはたくさんの温泉地があります。なかでも武雄温泉と嬉野温泉は長い歴史があります。嬉野温泉は「日本三大美肌の湯」といわれています。この温泉のお湯を使った「温泉湯どうふ」は、とうふがとろけるようにやわらかく、スープもおいしいので人気です。また、「元祖忍者村 嬉野温泉肥前夢街道」では迫力ある忍者ショーを楽しんだり、手裏剣(武器の一つ)投げなどの体験ができます。


    一般社団法人 佐賀県観光連盟

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  • 茨城県――最先端科学技術と自然と歴史の地

    [From September Issue 2013]


    Ibaraki Prefecture is located in the northeast of the Kanto region, with its eastern flank facing the Pacific Ocean. The inland area is abundant in nature and Mito City, located in the center of the prefecture, boasts a number of historical assets. To the south is the university town of Tsukuba City, one of the leading centers of technology in Japan. Though many people say “Ibaragi,” the correct way to pronounce it is “Ibaraki.”

    The capital of the prefecture, Mito City, thrived in the Edo period (17th – 19th centuries) as a castle town run by the Mito Tokugawa family (relations of the Tokugawa shogunate), one of the top three branches of the Tokugawa family. MITO Mitsukuni, second in charge of the Mito Domain, is well known by Japanese because of the popular historical TV drama “Mito Komon.” Affectionately known as Komon-sama within Ibaraki, bronze statues of this familiar figure can be seen in front of train stations and at other locations. The Mito Komon Festival is held in early August every year.

    Designated as one of the three great gardens of Japan, Kairakuen is a historic garden opened in 1842. One of its main attractions is 3,000 plum trees of 100 species, and in spring it’s bustling with crowds. In addition, against the backdrop of Lake Senba, you can enjoy its vistas of blossoms and greenery that change according to the season. Mito is also a mecca for artists from both home and abroad. Curated by OZAWA Seiji, the Mito Geijutsu-kan (Art Tower Mito) has a symbolic 100-meter-tall tower. The museum houses a concert hall, a theater and a modern art gallery, allowing visitors to experience different forms of art.




    Kasama, to the west of Mito, is known for Kasama-yaki pottery. To get to Kasama Geijutsunomori Park from Kasama Station, take a stroll down a street lined with cafes and galleries displaying the work of Kasama-yaki artists. Within the park is Kogei no Oka (Crafthills Kasama), where you can try your hand at pottery making, as well as the Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum. A visit to Shunpuu Banri-So is also recommended. Moved from Kamakura and rebuilt here, it’s the former residence of the artist KITAOJI Rosanjin. Its gardens are also a delight.

    Tsukuba is another side of Ibaraki; home to research institutions covering various fields from astronomy to agriculture, it’s a town on the cutting edge of science. In order to stimulate people’s intellectual curiosity, 50 research institutes hold science tours that allow visitors to have a look around and get a hands on experience. At Tsukuba Space Center, you can visit the Astronaut Training Center and the control room for “Kibo,” Japan’s first manned space laboratory. Another popular spot is Science Square Tsukuba, where you can encounter the most advanced robots.


    Exibition Hall of JAXA Tsukuba Space Center
    © JAXA


    Science tour buses that connect one institution with another run on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays (except during the year-end and New Year holidays) and other special days. Buses depart from the Tsukuba Center (Tsukuba Station) Bus Terminal. A 500 yen ticket for an adult gives you unlimited bus rides for the day. After the tour, you can stay at Mt. Tsukuba Hot Spring. With cable cars running up the majestic form of Mt. Tsukuba, it’s possible to enjoy an easy hike.

    Tsuchiura, situated to the east of Tsukuba, faces Kasumigaura, the second largest lake in Japan. It flourished as a castle town in the Edo period, and on Nakajo-dori Street traces of these old days remain. At Kijo Park, located where Tsuchiura Castle used to stand, a gate built in the early Edo period can be seen. At Kasumigaura, sailboats are in service from late July till late November. On the lake, the sight of white sails billowing in the wind is strikingly beautiful.

    There are a number of attractive towns along the Pacific coast. Kashima, home to the J. League team Kashima Antlers, boasts not only a stadium but also the Kashima Soccer Museum, a popular place with fans. Believed to have been built in 660 BC, Kashima Shrine is not to be missed. Dedicated to the god of war, the shrine was venerated by samurai governments in the Edo period, and today athletes are amongst its visitors. The shrine buildings are all important cultural properties of Japan.

    With its beaches and outlet malls, Oarai, to the north of Kashima, is a resort area. Aqua World Ibaraki Prefectural Oarai Aquarium is home to about 580 kinds of creatures. It keeps over 50 species of sharks, including the largest species in Japan. Crossing Naka River, you will come to Nakaminato fishing port. At Nakaminato Fish Market, you can enjoy dishes of fresh seafood at reasonable prices.


    Hitachinaka Seaside Railway Minato Line


    The Hitachinaka Seaside Railway Minato Line, a local line stopping at Nakaminato Station, still uses trains from the Showa era (1926-1989) that only have one carriage. This peaceful train journey through the countryside has recently been attracting some attention. Hitachi Seaside Park, a government-managed park built on the seashore where you can enjoy vistas of fields of seasonal flowers throughout the year, covers an area of 190 hectares.

    The route running from the Isohara coast at the northern end of the prefecture along to the Izura coast makes for a fantastic drive. Standing beside green pine trees and blue sea, the red-walled Izura Rokkaku-do retreat was designed by artist and philosopher OKAKURA Tenshin in 1905. Washed away by the tsunami in the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, it was rebuilt in 2012. Kitaibaraki is known for anglerfish fishing, and the fish is often eaten in a nabe (hot pot). Between November and March is the best time to eat. The fish contains ingredients that promote beautiful skin.

    Situated on the border between Tochigi and Fukushima prefectures, Okukuji Prefectural Nature Park contains numerous sightseeing spots. You can look at the beautiful V-shaped gorge that the Ryujin River runs through, and then cross the pedestrian-only Ryujin Great Suspension Bridge, which passes over the Ryujin Dam. At a height of 100 meters and a length of 375 meters, the bridge is breathtaking. Counted as one of the three best waterfalls in Japan, Fukuroda Falls are beautiful waterfalls made up of four sections, through which the water flows down. Izura, Fukuroda and Daigo are also hot spring resorts.


    Ryujin Great Suspension Bridge


    When it comes to gourmet food, Ibaraki is known not only for its seafood, but also for other famous food brands. In terms of meat, there is tender Hitachi beef, healthy and richly flavored Okukuji shamo (gamecocks), and the finely textured, supple Rose pork. Soba noodles, known as Hitachi aki-soba, are also widely produced. Kenchin soba, a combination of those noodles and kenchin-jiru soup, is a local dish of Ibaraki. Nattou, or fermented soybeans, from Mito make a good souvenir.

    Ibaraki is easily accessible from the Tokyo metropolitan area. From Ueno you can get to Mito by JR Joban Line Limited Express in 65 minutes. It takes about 45 minutes to travel from Akihabara to Tsukuba with a Tsukuba Express rapid train. If you take an expressway bus departing from Tokyo Station, it takes roughly two hours to arrive at Kashima-Jingu Station. If you’re using the JR train network, you can take a Sobu Line rapid train from Tokyo and transfer to the Narita Line at Narita; the whole trip takes approximately two hours and 20 minutes.

    Tsukuba Space Center, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
    Ibaraki Navi
    Tsukuba Tourist and Convention Association

    Text: YAMAZAKI Yuriko























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  • 高知県――ダイナミックな自然にあふれる

    [From August Issue 2013]


    Kochi Prefecture is located in southern Shikoku, facing the Pacific Ocean. Although there are a number of famous people from Kochi, the best-known is SAKAMOTO Ryoma. A samurai who worked to modernize Japan in the 19th century, Ryoma is considered to be a historical figure admired by many Japanese. Standing at the square in front of JR Kochi Station, the gateway to the prefecture, are statues of “san shishi” (three samurai who devoted themselves to the same cause): Sakamoto Ryoma and his two contemporaries, TAKECHI Hanpeita and NAKAOKA Shintaro. Kochi is also the location for “Kencho Omotenashi-ka” (The Prefectural Government’s Entertainment Section), a movie released in May. In a corridor at the prefectural office, the actual film set has been reproduced and is open to the public free of charge till September 23.

    Kochi Castle, standing right beside the prefectural office, was built by YAMANOUCHI Kazutoyo in the 17th century. Kazutoyo’s wife, Chiyo, is known among Japanese for having been a good wife dedicated to the success of her husband, and many TV dramas about her have been produced. Kochi Castle is the only castle in the country that retains its entire keep (the central tower). Depending on the day of the week, there are volunteer guides available who speak English, Chinese or Korean.


    The statues of sanshishi


    The “Yosakoi” is hugely popular in many parts of Japan, but it originates in Kochi. The Yosakoi Naruko dance consists of a team of performers dancing to music while marching in lines. The Yosakoi Festival in Kochi is held from August 9 through August 12 every year, with this year marking its 60th anniversary. During the event, you can see dynamic dances at 16 locations in Kochi City.


    Yosakoi Naruko dance


    Facing the Pacific Ocean, Kochi offers opportunities to enjoy whale watching and dolphin watching. From April to October, cruise ships depart from eight ports in the prefecture to allow tourists to watch schools of dolphins and over-10-meter-long whales swimming about. The Shimanto River, the most famous river in Kochi Prefecture, is the longest in Shikoku. You can try canoeing and rafting on it, and a cruise on a pleasure boat is another tourist attraction.

    Forty seven chinkabashi (low water crossings) across the Shimanto River are popular locations for taking photographs or for shooting scenes for TV dramas. Chinkabashi are bridges without parapets, designed to go under water; preventing them from collapsing during floods. One of these bridges is used as a “virgin road” (an aisle for a bride to walk down) and some couples have their weddings on it. Called “a miracle of clear streams,” the Niyodo River also attracts the attention of many photographers. Highly translucent, between August and October the river takes on a particularly beautiful blue color named “Niyodo blue.”

    Muroto Geopark in Muroto City was designated as a Global Geopark in 2011. It was created after earth and sand flowing from the continent into the ocean accumulated at the bottom of the sea and then rose up due to the subduction of the oceanic plates caused by earthquakes and so forth. There is a boardwalk in place so that visitors can closely observe this geological heritage produced by dynamic changes in nature. At Muroto Dolphin Center, also in Muroto City, you can put on a wet suit and swim with dolphins.


    Cape Ashizuri


    Cape Ashizuri in Tosashimizu City offers a 270-degree panoramic view. If you stand in the middle of the houiban (a metal plate showing directions) at the observatory and shout, your voice echoes and sounds like that of another person, which is quite a mysterious phenomenon. You can occasionally spot green turtles swimming below the lighthouse. Tatsukushi Marine Park, located nearby, is the first marine park in Japan, allowing visitors to see coral reefs and oddly-shaped rocks.

    Kochi is not only blessed with rivers and the sea. Forests cover 84 percent of its landmass and the prefecture also has a number of mountains suitable for hiking and forest therapy. A popular spot for paragliding, it holds large competitions, attracting visitors from across the country.

    Allowing tourists to have various experiences at one place is Tosawashi Kogeimura Qraud in Agawa-gun, which houses a hotel and a spa. At paper pressing and weaving sessions, you can create a work of your own. You can also enjoy rafting and canoeing. At Blacksmith’s Shop Toyokuni in Nankoku City, knife making lessons are given in English.

    All Japanese children are familiar with the character Anpanman. His creator, YANASE Takashi, is from Kochi Prefecture. The Anpanman Museum in Kami City recreates the world of Anpanman. Seven stone statues of Anpanman characters stand on Yanase Takashi Road in Nankoku.

    Kaiyodo Hobby Museum Shimanto exhibits Kaiyodo’s numerous collections and its latest figurines. Nicknamed “the remote museum,” it’s located at the end of a narrow mountain path, despite this it draws a number of visitors from all over the country. The Diorama Class, which teaches you to make a miniature garden of your own, is popular. The nearby Kaiyodo Kappa Museum is a kappa (Japanese youkai) theme museum. It has 1,300 kappa figures on display.

    The most famous local dish in Kochi is seared bonito. Single-hook fishing, a method of catching bonitos without harming their bodies, is well known. The prefecture has the largest ratio of bonito consumption in Japan, five times the national average. There are a number of dishes using fresh bonito and also many processed products made with various parts of the fish.


    Seared bonito


    With a mild climate even in winter, Kochi is suitable for growing vegetables and fruits. In particular, the prefecture produces a wide variety of citrus fruits. It boasts the largest production of yuzu in Japan, with numerous yuzu products available for sale, such as juices and bath salts. Other local products include cutlery – which has been produced in the region for 400 years – Muroto deep seawater, which contains plenty of minerals, and coral goods, which European buyers call “tosa.”

    Another attraction is various markets such as Kayou-ichi (Tuesday Market), Usa Doyou-ichi (Usa Saturday Market) and Kochi Organic Market. At the biggest one, Nichiyou-ichi (Sunday Market), there are about 500 tents set up, as well as a resting area. Those participating in the market will show you how to eat and preserve vegetables and fruits, so please feel free to ask them.

    It takes about one and a half hours to fly from Haneda Aiport in Tokyo to Kochi Ryoma Airport. If you’re using JR trains, you can ride a shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo Station to Okayama, which takes approximately three hours and twenty minutes, and then get to Kochi Station on the Nanpuu Express in roughly two and a half hours.

    Kochi Visitors & Convention Association























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  • 秋田県――日本の素朴な原風景に出あえる

    [From July Issue 2013]


    Facing the Sea of Japan, Akita Prefecture is located in the Tohoku region of Honshu Island. Because daylight hours are shorter there than in other prefectures, there are many beautiful women with fair skin; the expression, “Akita bijin,” refers to attractive women from Akita. In Yuzawa City, a legend persists about the incredible beauty of ninth century poet, ONO no Komachi.

    Hachiko (Sir Hachi), the loyal dog who continued to wait at the train station for his dead master to return, is from Akita. Although the bronze statue of Hachi in front of Shibuya Station in Tokyo is famous, Odate City also has numerous monuments and plaques honoring Hachi. Recently, Akita was featured in the popular Korean drama series “Iris,” and an increasing number of tourists come to visit locations used for the show.

    In Akita you can enjoy the changing seasons. In spring, you might want to visit Bukeyashiki-dori in Kakunodate, Semboku City. The avenue is lined with shidarezakura; these weeping cherry trees are often seen in tourism posters. It is said that these trees grew from three seedlings that were part of the trousseau of a Kyoto noblewoman 350 years ago; now 153 trees line the avenue. In Kakunodate you can also find cherry trees growing for about two kilometers alongside the Hinokinai-gawa River.


    Cherry trees at the Bukeyashiki-dori in Kakunodate
    Cherry trees at the Hinokinai-gawa


    A forest of beech trees formed about 8,000 years ago, ranging from the north of Akita Prefecture to Aomori Prefecture, covers the Shirakami Mountains. The mountains were designated as a World Natural Heritage site in 1993. The symbol of this area is a 400-year-old beech tree. Normally beech trees live for about 300 years, but this one has survived much longer than that. To better appreciate the scenery, a guided tour is recommended. There are some guides who speak English and Korean.

    Besides Shirakami Mountains, there are numerous other mountains and waterfalls where it’s possible to go trekking. Shishigahana wetlands are a 40 minute walk along a trail from Nikaho City. Large patches of “choukai marimo” moss are worth a look. You can also see “mototaki fukuryuusui,” which is the sharp contrast between the rich green moss and white spray on the river bed, as well as “Agariko-daiou,” a deformed beech that is the thickest tree in Japan.

    Yasuno-taki (Yasu Falls), located in Kita-Akita City, was designated as “one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan.” There are many other small and large falls in this area. The Kazuno Forest Therapy Road in Kazuno City is paved with woodchips, making it easy to walk on. It’s come to be recognized as a therapeutic forest.


    Mototakifukuryuusui / Yasuno-taki


    Akita has two large lakes. Straddling the border between Akita and Aomori prefectures, Lake Towada is known for its picturesque fresh green leaves and autumn foliage. At 423.4 meters, Lake Tazawa is the deepest lake in Japan, and its iconic landmark is a statue of Princess Tatsuko, who is believed to have been transformed into a lake goddess, as a result of her search for eternal youth and beauty.

    Summer in Akita is short, but to make up for this, numerous festivals are held and people get quite fired up. Drawing over one million visitors each year, the Kanto Festival, held annually from August 3 to 6 in Akita City, is one of the three great festivals of the Tohoku region. Kanto poles, each with 46 lanterns hanging from them, are lifted up in the night sky by performers called “sashite.” The sight of more than 250 poles rising up all at once is spectacular.

    Other festivals attracting huge crowds are Noshiro-yaku-tanabata, held in Noshiro City in early August and Hanawabayashi in Kazuno City on August 19 and 20. At either festival you can hear flutes and drums and see beautiful street stalls and lanterns lining the streets. The All Japan Fireworks Competition takes place on the fourth Sunday of every August. First-class pyro technicians from around the country compete to be the best in Japan.


    Hanawabayashi / The All Japan Fireworks Competition


    In Akita, where it snows a lot, festivals and events are held to celebrate this fact. More than 100 kamakura (small snow houses) are constructed in Yokote City. This event has a 400 year history and is dedicated to the God of water. Inside the kamakura, it’s warm, and amazake (sweet sake) and rice cakes are served. Lamps are lit in numerous other small kamakura, illuminating the town.

    Namahage is another winter event; it’s said that Namahage descends from the mountain once a year to get rid of evil and disease, bringing good fortune and a rich harvest. This god wears a demon mask and goes from house to house, yelling: “Are there any naughty kids? Are there any crybabies?”

    Known for promoting beautiful skin, Akita has many hot spring resorts, but the most popular is Nyuutou Onsenkyou in Semboku City – a hot spring with its characteristic milky-white water. You can buy a yumeguri-chou (a card that allows you to use designated hot springs at a discounted price) and visit seven hot springs, enjoying the waters at each place. Kawarage Ooyutaki in Yuzawa City is a unique hot spring. The spring cascades down from a height of 20 meters into a pool that functions as a bathtub.

    With a supply of clean water, Akita is particularly known for its delicious rice and sake. The Akitakomachi rice brand is sold across the country. Local dishes include: kiritanpo, which are pieces of pounded rice on skewers grilled over charcoal; inaniwa udon noodles; hatahata (sandfish); and shottsuru seasoning made from hatahata. Butter rice cakes and yokote yakisoba stir-fried noodles, which won a B-1 Grand Prix (local cuisine tournament), are also popular.


    Namahage / Akita ginsen-zaiku


    “Magewappa,” or bent wood, that uses the wood grain of Akita cedars to best effect, is a well-known local product. Other traditional crafts include: bouzaiku, crafted from the skin of cherry trees; and handmade Akita ginsen-zaiku accessories made from fine 0.2 millimeter thick silver threads. Kawatsura lacquer ware has an 800 year history, and there are about 200 lacquer ware stores lining the streets of Kawatsura-cho, Yuzawa City.

    It takes approximately four hours to get to JR Akita Station from JR Tokyo Station on the Akita Shinkansen. From Haneda Airport in Tokyo, you can fly to Akita Airport in about one hour.

    Akita Prefectural Tourist Federation























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  • 福井県――北陸の文化と日本海の風景が広がる

    [From June Issue 2013]


    Fukui Prefecture is located in the northwest of the Chubu region. Rich in natural resources, since it faces the Japan Sea, it also has an abundance of seafood such as echizen crab, wakasa puffer fish and amaebi shrimp. Divided into two regions by the Kinome pass; to the east is Reihoku and to the west is Reinan. Reihoku – known as Echizen in the past – has deep snows in the wintertime. Because of its proximity to Kyoto, Reinan – also known as Wakasa – has been heavily influenced by the former capital’s culture.

    Located in Reihoku on the Fukui Plain is Fukui City, the capital of the prefecture. Within the city beside the Asuwagawa river is Yokokan, the villa of the Matsudaira family, who formerly ruled the Fukui domain. These Edo era buildings have been reconstructed and it’s also possible to enjoy the beautiful gardens there. Visitors can see what life was like in the old days deep in the snow country at Osagoe Minka En, where five dismantled private houses from the Edo era, have been reconstructed.

    In the suburbs of Fukui City are the Ichijoudani-asakurashi Ruins; a former castle town from which the Asakura family ruled over Echizen during the Warring States period. The family thrived for a century until they were overthrown by ODA Nobunaga in the War of Unification. As you stroll through the valley along the reconstructed streets, past the Asakura mansion ruins and its gardens, you almost get the sense that you have travelled back in time to that era. Also impressive is Japan’s oldest remaining castle tower, Maruoka Castle, in the neighboring city of Sakai.

    Located further inland is Katsuyama City, a “dinosaur town” that attracts international attention for its excavations of dinosaurs and research into fossils. Shaped like a huge egg, Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum has an impressive collection of more than 40 dinosaur skeletons on display. There is a lot to see, what with its enormous amount of specimens on display and large scale dioramas.

    If you’re interested in Zen, don’t miss out on a visit to Eiheiji temple. Built around 770 years ago by the Buddhist monk, Dogen, this majestic temple, surrounded by huge Japanese cedar trees said to be 700 years old, is the headquarters (to some 12,000 other temples) of the Soto sect. Even today about 200 unsui (monks in training) practice ascetic disciplines according to strict rules. There, it’s possible to experience Zen practices such as zazen (simply sitting single-mindedly) and sutra transcription.

    Well-known throughout Japan, Tojinbo cliffs have been designated as one of Japan’s natural monuments. Created by wave erosion, these rugged, immense cliffs stretch for about a kilometer and the sight of raging waves breaking against them is breathtaking. To the north of Tojinbo is Oshima, a small island about two kilometers in circumference, where, after crossing a long vermilion-painted bridge and climbing stone steps, visitors arrive at a mysterious place. Since ancient times, the island has been revered by locals as being divine.

    East of Oshima is Echizen Matsushima Aquarium. Their popular displays are not only visual, but also creative and interactive. There are also pools in which you can touch dolphins, sharks and huge octopuses, and swim with fish in summertime. It’s possible to experience the sensation of floating on the surface of the sea by lying down on the transparent acrylic floor of the “Coral Seawater Tank,” in which tropical fish swim.

    If you are going to stay the night in Reihoku, we recommend staying at Awara Onsen. This spa resort has a history stretching back 130 years and has gardens, open air baths and plenty of seafood dishes to be enjoyed. Across the rotary from Awara-yu-no-machi station on the Echizen Line, is “Yukemuri Yokocho,” a street with outdoor food stalls. There you can enjoy broiled offal and ramen in an old world atmosphere.

    The Echizen Coast is perfect for driving along. Created by the waves and wind from the Sea of Japan, “Kochomon” is a large natural tunnel of craggy and oddly-shaped rocks. In wintertime, echizen daffodils blossom, covering the cliffs, their yellow color contrasting impressively with the blue of the sea. You can also eat echizen crab, a winter delicacy, and other fresh seasonal seafood.

    Another attraction of Fukui Prefecture is the lacquer ware of Sabae City and the washi (Japanese paper) of Echizen City. Sabae also has more than 100 years of history of producing glasses. With their advanced technology, Sabae enjoys a more than 90% domestic share of the spectacle market. At the “Glasses Museum” dioramas show how glasses were produced 100 years ago and there is a glasses shop that stocks the latest stylish models.

    On the other side of the Kinome ridge, in Reinan is Tsuruga City, which was formerly a way station for cargo ships making their way between Hokkaido and Kyoto or Osaka. Not far from the port area is the “Pine Tree Field of Kehi,” one of three best pine tree forests in Japan, offering a beautiful tricolor landscape of sea, beach and pine trees. To the west of Tsuruga is Mikata Five Lakes; five lakes with different water qualities and depths. These beautiful lakes change color with the seasons and are also known as the “Five-colored Lakes.”

    Further west, the city of Obama is famous for its numerous temples and has been called “Nara by the sea.” Under the cultural influence of the capital, Obama prospered as the starting point of the “Mackerel Way” – a route called “Saba Kaido” that used to run between Wakasa and Kyoto, which transported goods, like seafood, including mackerel. The charming city streets, including the red-light district (pleasure districts containing geisha), of “Sanchomachi” still remain.

    The best known souvenir from Fukui is “habutae mochi.” It’s a sticky rice cake made to resemble “habutae” – a kind of silk that used to be produced in Fukui. Fukui also has many other souvenirs that go well with alcoholic drinks: mackerel sushi named after the Mackerel Way and the dried “heshiko” Wakasa mackerel. Traditional crafts like refined Japanese-style candles and Wakasa lacquered chopsticks are also popular.

    To get to Fukui by plane, use Komatsu airport. It takes just over an hour from Haneda airport (Tokyo). From the airport to the urban area of Fukui City, it takes roughly one hour by bus. By train from JR Tokyo station to Maibara station on the Tokaido bullet train (shinkansen) Hikari, it takes about two hours and ten minutes. After transferring to the Shirasagi special express, you’ll arrive at Tsuruga in around 30 minutes. It takes about an hour to Fukui City.

    Fukui Tourist Association
    Awara-yukemuri Souseijuku

    Text: YAMAZAKI Yuriko



















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  • 埼玉県――歴史が感じられる町並みと、色彩豊かな自然を楽しむ

    [From May Issue 2013]


    Developed as a dormitory suburb for commuters, Saitama Prefecture lies to the north of Tokyo. The western Chichibu district is a mountainous area, rich with nature’s bounty. The Kanto plains take up the rest of the prefecture. Kawagoe, a city in the south-western part of Saitama, is a sightseeing spot where visitors can get a flavor of a historical cityscape. It is popular because it is about one hour away from the metropolitan Tokyo area.

    Having prospered during the Edo era (17–19th centuries) as the castle town of the Kawagoe clan, Kawagoe is also known as Koedo, or “little Edo” (Edo being the former name of Tokyo). Visitors should first make their way to Kura-zukuri Street, a shopping street lined with black warehouses. Built to withstand fires, a peculiar feature of these buildings is their thick walls and well-tiled roofs. Telling the time since the Edo era, the eye-catching Toki-no-kane bell tower is Kawagoe’s most famous landmark.

    Continuing north-east, on Ichiban-gai Street, the Hikawa shrine sits surrounded by trees. With a history stretching back 1500 years, this Shinto shrine is known for honoring the god of marriage. Held every autumn, the Kawagoe festival is one of the events celebrated at this shrine. Approximately eight meters tall, splendid dashi, or floats, are wheeled around the downtown area and the sight of these floats passing by each other is really impressive. These dashi, along with footage of the festival, can be seen on display and on screen at the Kawagoe Matsuri Kaikan (festival hall).

    By providing an important line of defense to the north for the Edo Shogunate, the Kawagoe clan played an important role during the Edo era. Symbolizing this is the Honmaru-goten, (where the lord of the castle carried out his daily life and dealt with affairs of state); part of the entrance and the big hall of this building still remains standing and has a distinct architectural style. A deeper insight into the history of Kawagoe can be attained at the the Honmaru-gotten and Kawagoe City Museum.

    Another 15 minutes’ walk away is Kitain. During the Edo era, this temple had ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Buildings, such as the reception hall where the third shogun, Iemitsu, was born, were moved from Edo castle and reconstructed in the temple grounds. Also worth seeing are the Gohyaku Rakan: 538 carved stone statues of Buddha’s disciples lined up in rows. The poses and expressions of the stone statues vary, and it is said that among them, it’s possible to find a statue that is your spitting image.

    A local specialty of Kawagoe is the satsumaimo sweet potato. In the Edo era, when roast sweet potato become popular, Kawagoe was known for producing good quality sweet potatoes. That is why Kawagoe produces many snacks, including noodles, which contain sweet potatoes. Futomen yakisoba (thick fried noodles) has also become a popular local dish. Those who grew up in Kawagoe during the Showa era (1926–1989) fondly remember this snack.

    Chichibu is another tourist spot worth visiting. Once the site of a flourishing silk trade, the town of Chichibu sits in a valley surrounded by mountains, such as Mt. Bukouzan. The buildings of Chichibu, especially Chichibu Furusato-kan, have a charming old-world feel. Those feeling hungry might like to try local koduuhan (small lunches) such as “okkirikomi” or the “miso-potato.” Hitsujiyama Park commands a view of the town below. In spring shiba-zakura blossom covers the park.


    Chichibu Night Festival / Chichibu Kawase Matsuri


    Held in Chichibu shrine, Chichibu is particularly well known for its festivals. During the summer, men carry a mikoshi (portable shrine) into the waters of the Arakawa river for the Chichibu Kawase Matsuri (Chichibu rapids festival), and during the winter at the Yomatsuri (Night Festival), flamboyant and striking floats and firework displays impress visitors. In addition, Chichibu is a historically famous site for pilgrimages. At the 34 Kannon reijou (holy Kannon sites), amulets are given out as proof of worship and, as they worship the Kannons (goddesses of Mercy), visitors can also enjoy the various gardens and flora of each temple.

    In western Chichibu away from urban areas, a unique tradition has been passed down from generation to generation. Handmade rockets are launched for the Ryuusei Matsuri; a festival that started out in the Edo era and takes place at the Muku shrine in Yoshida. In Ogano-machi, a Ogano kabuki performance is held six times a year, using a mobile festival float and others as a stage.

    To enjoy nature go to Nagatoro. Here there is a 500-meter long rocky ravine running along the Arakawa river; a protected habitat, this wild and rocky gorge, is a beautiful sight to behold. Enjoy the exhilarating rush as boatmen daringly guide the boat downstream. The area is crowded with tourists during cherry blossom season in spring and when the leaves change color in autumn.

    Deeper into the mountains is the sacred mountain, Oku-Chichibu. It takes approximately one hour by bus to get there from Mitsumineguchi station. Thought to be the birthplace of the legendary prince Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, Mitsumine shrine is located 1,100 meters above sea level. Deep within tall trees, the atmosphere is very mysterious. To the west, beyond Lake Chichibu, lies the 50-meter high Fudoutaki (the motionless waterfall). Another fantastic sight is the Misotsuchi-no Tsurara; icicles that grow along the Arakawa river to a length of approximately eight meters.


    Float downstream at Nagatoro / Hitsujiyama Park


    With its fertile natural environment, Chichibu is the center of production for Chichibu soba (buckwheat noodles). Other excellent souvenirs from Chichibu are Chichibu wine and Bukou Masamune sake made with Chichibu’s delicious waters. In Oku-Chichibu, you can try wild boar and sushi made with char caught in the mountain streams.

    There are also hot-spring ryokan (inn) in Chichibu. Hatago Ichiban, which has been in business since the Edo era, and Araki Kousen Ryokan, with a history stretching back for more than 180 years, are both examples of ryokan with long histories. If you’re just on a day trip, affordable outdoor hot springs with views over the ravine include the excellent Chichibu Onsen Mangan no Yu in Oku-nagatoro and the popular Ootaki Onsen in Oku Chichibu.

    To get to Kawagoe station from Ikebukuro station, it takes 30 minutes by express on the Tobu Tojo Line. On the Seibu Shinjuku Line it takes approximately 45 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku station to Hon-Kawagoe station on the Koedo-Express. To get to Seibu Chichibu station, it takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes from Ikebukuro station on the Chichibu Express along the Seibu Ikebukuro Line. In addition, recently the Tokyu-Toyoko line and the Fukutoshin line were connected, and from Yokohama you can go directly to Kawagoe and Chichibu without transferring.

    Kawagoe City
    Koedo Kawagoe Tourism Association
    Chichibu City
    Chichibu Tourism Association
    Nagatoro Tourism Association

    Text: YAMAZAKI Yuriko



















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  • 静岡県――富士山が見守る歴史と芸術の地

    [From April Issue 2013]


    Located roughly in the center of Honshu, Shizuoka Prefecture is home not only to Mount Fuji – Japan’s national symbol – but also to other beautiful natural features: mountains, the sea and lakes. This prefecture can be divided into three regions: the eastern region which includes the foothills of Mount Fuji and the Izu peninsula; the central region which includes the Gulf of Suruga and the mountains leading to the Southern Japanese Alps; and the western region around Hamanako (Lake Hamana). The climate is generally mild throughout the year, but there is a distinct difference between the seasons and as a result it’s possible to enjoy different scenery depending on the season.

    The Tokaido road was one of the highways developed during the Edo period (17–19 century). Inns within Shizuoka Prefecture that ran along this route prospered. Many famous places and historic sites still remain in the prefecture. Easily accessible from the capital, to take in its numerous sightseeing spots, it’s suitable for day trips or longer vacations.

    To kick off a trip to Shizuoka, it’s best to go and check out Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji can be viewed from many places in the eastern to central areas of Shizuoka Prefecture. At an altitude of 3,776 meters, it is the highest mountain in Japan. Its strong and beautiful form has greatly influenced many artists. Mount Fuji has even been depicted by Edo period ukiyoe (woodblock print) artists: by KATSUSHIKA Hokusai in his “Fugaku Sanjurokkei” (Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji) and UTAGAWA Hiroshige in his series “Tokaido Gojusan Tsugi” (Fifty-three stages on the Tokaido highway). This landscape has long been treasured and is close to the hearts of the Japanese people.


    Mount Fuji / Mount Fuji Hongu Sengen Taisha


    Ever since ancient times Mount Fuji has been considered to be a sacred place by religious groups; the Asama sect was founded on the belief that Mount Fuji is a deity. This sect was said to have been founded in order to calm the frequent eruptions of Mount Fuji. The main temple of this Buddhist sect is the Mount Fuji Hongu Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya City. Designated as an important cultural property, the main building stands in front of Mount Fuji. It is 13 meters in height, built in two sections and has multiple stories.

    A little distance away from Mount Fuji is the Izu peninsula which is one of the main sightseeing areas in Shizuoka. The peninsula with its mountains running down it like a spine jutting up through the sea has been loved by both people in positions of power and by artists alike. Izu is also known as the setting of many literary works including “Izu no Odoriko” (The Dancing Girl of Izu) by KAWABATA Yasunari, which portrays the love between a woman of a travelling dance troupe and a lonely young man.

    Named after Shuzenji temple built by Kuukai in 807 AD, the Shuzenji area also appears in this novel. Shuzenji is also the place where the Genji clan defeated the Heike clan and rose to power establishing the Kamakura era (12–14th century), before subsequently falling from power. Originally a Shingon Buddhist temple, after a fire, it was reduced to ashes during the war. It was resurrected by HOUJOU Souun as a Soutou sect temple during the Muromachi Era (14–16th centuries). These days many people visit the temple throughout the year and the area has come to be renowned as a spot for viewing the autumn leaves.


    Scenic view at Izu / Koibito Misaki


    Izu has a special tourist attraction that sweethearts should visit. This is “Koibito Misaki” (Lovers’ Cape) in Izu City. Located at the end of the 700 meter Fujimi path, it’s possible to see the Suruga Gulf and Mount Fuji on the opposite bank of the cape. There you will find an adorable bell called the “Love Call Bell;” by ringing this bell and calling out the name of your lover it is said that you can make your love a reality. This place is also known for having beautiful views around sunset.

    Shizuoka Prefecture is a health resort and many artists have moved here to concentrate on their work, making it a center for artistic activity. There are over 30 art galleries and museums within Shizuoka, each with its own unique characteristics.

    One example is the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, located in Shizuoka City in the central part of the prefecture. This art museum is the only museum in the country that has 32 works of the sculptor, RODIN, on display, in addition to well-known works of exquisite art by both western and eastern artists including MONET, GAUGUIN, and YOKOYAMA Taikan. Since the museum concentrates its efforts on displaying modern art and putting on special exhibitions, it has a diverse collection of art works that attracts fans of modern art from all over Japan.

    With its fertile environment, Shizuoka has a variety of delicious produce, but, producing more tea than any other prefecture in the country, it’s most famous for Shizuoka tea. Blessed with conditions that include a warm climate, pure water and fertile soil, high quality tea leaves are cultivated.

    Delicious inexpensive “gotouchi gourmet” – local cuisine that can only be enjoyed within a particular region – is increasingly popular in Japan. “Fujinomiya yakisoba” (fried noodles), from Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka, was the catalyst for this trend. This dish is made with al dente noodles, oilcake of pressed lard, and powdered sardines.

    There are so many hot springs in Shizuoka that it has been dubbed the “hot spring kingdom.” Encircled by sea and mountains, Atami onsen is one of Japan’s foremost onsen towns, garnering popularity with its female customers because its waters moisturise and promote beautiful skin. Effective in treating skin problems, the waters are recommended for people with sensitive skin.

    The western part of the prefecture is the area around Hamamatsu City and Hamanako, a lake with a circumference of 141 kilometers is located there. Rich in minerals, because seawater flows into its brackish waters, it is home to a wide variety of fish and is excellent for eel farming. Around the lake, flowers bloom throughout the year and it’s possible to enjoy leisure facilities like Hamamatsu Flower Park there.


    Hamanako / Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments


    Because Yamaha, the global musical instrument manufacturer has its head office in Hamamatsu City, music has flourished in this town. Many music fans visit the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments because it is one of the largest museums in Orient. These instruments include rare musical instruments native to particular regions and even instruments that have been used by well-known composers. From its collection of over 3,000 musical instruments, approximately 1,300 pieces are on display. In the “experience room,” visitors can try playing various musical instruments.

    To get to eastern Shizuoka, from JR Tokyo station it takes approximately 45 minutes by Shinkansen to JR Atami station and to JR Mishima station 53 minutes. To get to central Shizuoka, it takes approximately one hour and ten minutes to JR Shin-fuji station or one hour and 30 minutes to JR Shizuoka station. To get to western Shizuoka, it takes one hour and 45 minutes to JR Kakegawa station, or two hours to JR Hamamatsu station. It takes about three to six hours by bus departing from nearby Tokyo station.

    Photos courtesy by Shizuoka Prefectural Tourism Association

    Text: OMORI Saori




















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