• 世界遺産の参詣道を歩く――熊野古道

    [From May Issue 2012]


    The Kumano-kodo are pilgrimage routes leading to sacred spots in the Kii Mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. As part of “the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range,” the paths were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, attracting a lot of attention. Depicted in the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), Japan’s oldest history book, this area is a holy place which first became famous after the retired Emperor Shirakawa paid visits to Kumano around the 11th century. Consequently, it became a popular site of worship for commoners as well.

    There are two main reasons why the routes became a World Heritage Site. One reason is that the Kii Mountain Range has three sacred sites which have all contributed to the development of Japan’s long religious history: Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan, Yoshino and Omine (all connected to the outside world by paths). Another is that these holy places and the old paths that took people there have remained unchanged to this day.

    Kumano Sanzan, located in the south western part of the Kii Mountain Range, collectively refers to a set of three temples: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha. These are the main shrines of some 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. It is said that one can atone for all past sins by visiting the Kumano Sanzan shrines, thus achieving future happiness and passage to heaven when one dies.

    Koyasan was established by the monk Kukai in the early Heian period as the headquarters of the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism, with Kongobuji as its main temple. Having about 1200 years of history, it still houses some 120 temples. Yoshino and Omine, situated in the Omine Mountain Range, also known as “The Roof of Kinki,” is an important place for those pursuing enlightenment.

    The Kumano-kodo mainly consists of five pilgrimage routes: Kiiji, Nakahechi, Ohechi, Kohechi, and Iseji. These paths lie in the natural surroundings of the Kii Mountain Range that straddles the three prefectures of Wakayama, Mie and Nara. Walking along these routes allows you to discover the scenery of the ancient Heian period. Although some of the paths are quite steep, while walking on them you can encounter beautiful scenery and historical cultural assets.

    Kiiji is a route from Osaka to Tanabe, which has a tough steep section called Shishigase Mountain Path. It is said that FUJIWARA no Sadaie, a poet in the Kamakura period, was greatly grieved by its steepness. Yuasa-cho along the way, is believed to be the birthplace of soy sauce, and its old streets have been designated as an important conservation spot by the nation. The local specialty in the nearby town of Minabe-cho is nankou-ume plums, and some visitors take this route in order to buy them.

    Nakahechi is a mountainous path leading from Tanabe to Kumano Sanzan. It’s popular because it’s easy to walk on, with gentle up and down slopes. You can see the same mountain scenery as monks of Kumano moude (visiting shrines) would have seen as they walked along the route as part of their training. Climbing up Daimonzaka, an old, cobblestone path leads through a centuries’ old cedar forest, arriving at Kumano Nachi Taisha. Close to the shrine is Nachi Otaki, a waterfall that drops 133 meters, the highest in Japan. Kumano Hongu Taishai is a popular spot for hot springs such as Kawayu Onsen Sennin-buro (entry is free of charge. Open between November and end of February) and Yunomine Onsen Tsuboyu (entry for a fee), where footsore travelers can recharge their batteries.

    Walking along Kiiji and Nakahechi, you will come across a number of small shrines and stone monuments. Called “Kujuku Oji,” pilgrims are believed to have prayed for safe passage and rested their legs there. Kujuku (99) does not represent the actual number of the shrines, but indicates the fact that they are high in number.

    Ohechi is a route that runs along the coast from Tanabe to Kumano Sanzan. There are steep paths called Shijuhassaka at Tonda-zaka (in Shirahama-cho) and Nagai-zaka (in Susami-cho). Around Kushimoto-cho some paths command sweeping views of the sea and rice fields. Known for its bathing beaches, hot springs, and Adventure World – an amusement park with eight pandas – Shirahama is a popular tourist area all year around. The Katsuura Fishing Port near Nachi Taisha is well known as a tuna port and has many restaurants serving fresh tuna.

    Kohechi is a path connecting Koyasan and Kumano Hongu. Depending on the direction you’re headed, the same path is called by different names: walking from Koyasan it’s “Kumano-michi” and starting from Kumano Hongu it’s “Koya-michi.” It is a tough route going over a series of 1,000-meter-high mountains in the Kii Mountain Range. Scattered about along the way, you can see the moss-covered Sanjusan Kannon Sekibutsu (33 stone statues of Kannon).

    Iseji is a path that links Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine) in Mie Prefecture and Kumano Sanzan. It has become known to the public as a pilgrimage route for the common people, rather than as a route used by emperors and retired emperors. It is said that people made this pilgrimage when they visited Ise Jingu in Mie.

    To walk comfortably along the Kumano-kodo remember to choose an outfit that is easy to move in and easy to remove. That’s because with its steep slopes and narrow, rough paths, it’s more physically demanding than you may expect. Signposts and signboards placed at intervals of 500 meters allow you to check the route as you go along. They also indicate which areas have no cell phone reception. It’s advisable to check the route in advance on websites introducing the Kumano-kodo.

    As well as being a World Heritage site that symbolizes Japanese culture, the Kumano-kodo are roads on which people offer up prayers to the local gods. Hardly anyone drops litter and when they find it some people pick up trash off the paths for those who will walk along them next. There are rules for those taking the pilgrimage routes which every visitor follows as they walk. These rules consist of eight articles including: “We will protect mankind’s heritage” and “We keep the spirit of prayer passed on from the ancient times alive in our hearts.”

    To get to the Kumano-kodo you can take a one hour and 10 minute flight from Haneda Airport to Nanki-Shirahama Airport. From JR Tokyo Station to JR Kii-Tanabe Station, taking a shinkansen then special express train, it takes approximately four hours and 40 minutes. Access is also possible from JR Nagoya Station to JR Kii-Katsuura Station using a special express train, which takes roughly three hours and 30 minutes. From the airport or station, you can take a bus or a taxi to the starting point of each route.

    Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range

    Text: SEKI Hideo, First Penguin








    中辺路は、田辺から山中を通る熊野三山までの道。適度なアップダウンが続いて歩きやすいので人気があり、かつての熊野詣の風景が見られます。樹齢数百年の杉木立の中にある石畳の古道「大門坂」を上ると熊野那智大社に到着。近くには日本で一番の落差133メートルの「那智大滝」があります。また、本宮には無料で入浴できる「川湯温泉 仙人風呂」(11月から2月末まで)、日本最古の温泉「湯の峰温泉 つぼ湯」(有料)があり、旅の疲れを癒してくれる人気のスポットです。









    文:ファーストペンギン 関 秀夫

    Read More
  • 田園風景が広がる自然豊かな地――山形県庄内地方

    [From April Issue 2012]


    Yamagata Prefecture is in the southwestern part of the Tohoku region. Consisting of five municipalities including Sakata City and Tsuruoka City, the Shonai district, located on the side of the prefecture closest to the Japan Sea is rich in nature, being surrounded by mountains, rivers and the sea. Its rice paddies extend far into the distance making it famous as one of Japan’s largest rice production areas. Shonai is now popular as a location for films; movies like “Okuribito” (Departures) – which won an Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film – and a number of period dramas, have been shot there, thereby putting the area in the spotlight.

    Sakata City has long thrived as a port town. The first place to visit in Sakata City is Sankyo Warehouse. Built in 1893 for storing rice, it’s over 100 years old and still serves as an agricultural warehouse. Sankyo Warehouse also houses a souvenir shop and the Shonai Rice Historical Museum, which enables visitors to learn about the history and culture of the area. Bordering the rear of the warehouse is a line of zelkova trees, which display beautiful young leaves in spring and red leaves in autumn.

    Housing about 70,000 works of DOMON Ken, a world-famous photographer from Sakata City, the Ken Domon Museum of Photography was Japan’s first museum devoted to photography. The building, the garden, and the sculptures were each made by first-rate artists and the whole museum is a work of art in itself. In June and July visitors can enjoy the 94 kinds of colorful hydrangea blooms – 15,300 bushes –planted around the museum.

    Tsuruoka City, about 35 minutes by train from Sakata City, is the hometown of FUJISAWA Shuhei, one of Japan’s most famous novelists. Tsuruoka flourished in the Edo period as a castle town in the Shonai domain, and numerous historic spots still remain. Many of Fujisawa’s novels are about samurai and are set in the author’s hometown. In recent years, his novels have been adapted into movies and TV dramas, drawing Fujisawa fans from outside the prefecture to Tsuruoka.

    About a 20-minute walk from Tsuruoka Station is the Tsuruoka City Fujisawa Shuhei Memorial Museum. Built in 2010, the museum is situated in Tsuruoka Park, which also houses the Taihokan Museum – a Western-style building erected in 1915. Close to the park stands Chidokan, formerly a school of the Shonai clan designed to cultivate men of talent. These are popular spots where it’s possible to experience firsthand the universe portrayed in Fujisawa’s works, while at the same time learning about the history of Shonai.

    Shonai is rich in seasonal foods. A famous dish for spring is mousou-jiru (bamboo shoot soup), a local specialty of Shonai. Mousou is the local word in Shonai for bamboo shoots. In summer, fruits such as cherries, melons – grown in the sand dunes of Shonai – and grapes, as well seafood, such as rock oysters, are harvested. Fruit farms where tourists can pick and eat Shonai fruit to their heart’s content are also popular.

    Another well-known specialty of Shonai is dadacha-mame soybeans. Dadacha means father in the local dialect. These beans are said to be the most delicious edamame (green soybeans) in Japan; they are especially popular as a snack to go with beer. There are a number of souvenirs available that contain dadacha-mame, such as rice crackers and Japanese sweets.

    In autumn imoni (taro stew), a local dish of Yamagata, is eaten. Within the same prefecture, there are two types of imoni: a miso-flavored one containing pork and a soy sauce-flavored one containing beef. In Shonai, the miso-flavored type is common. During the harsh winter of Shonai, dongara-jiru is essential: this is a soup containing cod. Every January, the Dongara Festival is held.

    As one of the most popular tourist spots in Shonai, Mount Haguro is a must. Two statues of deities flank the Zuishinmon gate leading to a long flight of 2,446 stone steps which extends about 1.7 kilometers. Lining both sides of the stone steps are 350 to 500-year-old Japanese cedars; this avenue of trees has been awarded three stars by the Michelin Green Guide Japon. Furthermore a five story pagoda stands among the cedar trees. This pagoda has been designated as a National Treasure and gives the place a spiritual atmosphere.

    A little trip from Mount Haguro will take you to Shonai Eigamura (movie village), which contains film sets that are open to the public. A vast area of 88 hectares (20 times as large as Tokyo Dome) houses outdoor sets. Attractions include puppet plays, kimono rental, or the opportunity to try your hand at sword fighting. The village is open from mid April through to late November and is closed in the winter months.

    A 30-minute bus ride from Tsuruoka Station is Kamo Aquarium. It houses 35 kinds of jellyfish, the most in the world. Attracting over 200,000 visitors each year, the aquarium also holds such events as sea lion shows. Another special feature of the aquarium is its restaurant that serves dishes containing jellyfish, such as jellyfish ramen and jellyfish ice-cream, which are considered unusual not only in the rest of the world, but also in Japan.

    If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Shonai, a hot spring resort is recommended. Yamagata Prefecture is literally a hot spring paradise in which every town, city, and village has a hot spring. Shonai has Yunohama, Atsumi, Yutagawa and Yura Hot Springs. Yunohama Hot Spring near Kamo Aquarium is also a very popular beach resort, which in summer gets crowded with people enjoying a swim in the sea. Enabling you to enjoy beautiful scenery, every hotel and inn commands a view of the evening sun over the Japan Sea.

    Shonai Airport, located between the centers of Sakata and Tsuruoka Cities, is about 60 minutes from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. To get to the downtown area from the airport, it’s convenient to take the limousine bus. If you’re using JR trains, it takes roughly two hours to get to JR Niigata Station by Joetsu Shinkansen, there you change to the Uetsu Main Line, arriving at Tsuruoka Station or Sakata Station in about two more hours. By highway bus from Tokyo Station it takes approximately eight hours.

    Shonai Visitors Association

    Text: YAMASHINA Saori


















    Read More
  • アーティストたちに愛される街――吉祥寺

    [From March Issue 2012]

    Taking the Chuo Line from JR Tokyo Station for about 30 minutes, you will begin to see a lot of greenery out of the train window as you arrive at JR Kichijoji Station. Kichijoji is located almost in the center of Tokyo.

    Most people associate Kichijoji with Inokashira Park and this just goes to show how well-known Inokashira Onshi Park is. There are about 20,000 trees planted in the park, and here you can enjoy the beauty of nature all year around. You can observe seasonal flowers and small animals, such as wild birds, at the botanical garden inside the park. Many people bring their lunch and spend all day in the park.

    Numerous swan boats and rowboats float upon a large pond within the park. The pier is crowded with couples and families, especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, or the trees begin to change color. The park also boasts of spacious tennis courts and has swings and other playground equipment, so visitors can enjoy light exercise as well as serious sports.

    On weekends and holidays, crowds of people gather to watch performances held at locations throughout the park. The art market, where artisans sell handmade accessories and knick knacks, is also held on weekends. A few artists also set up shop, and, because of their outstanding talent, there are always scores of people queuing up for a portrait.

    Within the park’s grounds is Inokashira Park Zoo, which contains an area for petting guinea pigs, and a small amusement park. Although the zoo mostly houses small animals, its biggest animal, an Asian elephant named Hanako, has become a symbol of Inokashira Park. The food stand in the zoo has been renovated and now offers fashionable café-style set lunches.

    Walking along Nanaibashi Street from JR Kichijoji Station toward the park, you will come upon some Asian or ethnic-style shops and second hand clothing stores, this area can get really crowded with people on weekends and holidays. In the evenings there’s always a long line of people waiting to buy yakitori (char-grilled chicken on a skewer) outside Iseya, a reasonably-priced bar that is one of the oldest establishments on the street. Next to a flight of stairs leading down to the park is Donatello’s, a shop famous not only for its gelato, but also for its resident cats.

    As you head toward Mitaka no Mori through the park, the Ghibli Museum gradually comes into sight. In the museum, there is a café and an area where originals goods are available for sale. With short movies to enjoy, you can spend a whole day there and never get bored. To visit the museum, reservations are necessary.

    Walking along the railway tracks of the Chuo Line from the north exit of the station toward Nishi-Ogikubo, you will come upon Cafe Zenon, a café that has patio seating. The shop fuses manga and art, and is overseen by manga artist HARA Tetsuo, known for his comic “Fist of the North Star,” and HOJO Tsukasa, the author of “City Hunter.” Because the café offers an excellent menu of food and drinks, it has a wide appeal.

    Heading from Cafe Zenon toward the north exit of JR Kichijoji Station and turning into Nakamichi-dori Street, you will find Animate, an animation goods store, located at the intersection in front of the station. Carrying a wide variety of anime DVDs and computer game products, ranging from well-known, to cult titles, the shop offers special goods and services not available anywhere else. Also, events featuring voice actors and manga artists are held there regularly.

    Kichijoji is famous for having a number of cafés that offer authentic coffee, but the most unique is Ocharaka, located on Nakamichi-dori Street. This café specializes in Japanese tea, and there you can enjoy a delicious cup of green tea, or other kinds of tea. Owner Stephane DANTON is from France. He opened this shop after studying green tea for many years.

    In Kichijoji, all kinds of commercial buildings, such as department stores and discount shops, stand side by side. Another building “Coppice” has recently joined their ranks, representing the new face of Kichijoji. The building also houses the Kichijoji Art Museum and Kyara Park, a store which carries character merchandise and is popular with young people.

    Along Heiwa-dori Street in front of the station, there is a shopping arcade with small stores called Harmonica Yokocho. The arcade was given this name because the stores lined up together resemble the mouthpiece of a harmonica. With tachinomiya (drinking establishments where customers drink while standing), ramen shops and ethnic food restaurants, the arcade is popular with customers who like to casually pop by for a rest in the middle of a shopping trip and with people who come for a quick drink.

    Walking down Harmonica Yokocho, you will see long queues around Daiya-gai (Diamond Street). These queues are a common sight in Kichijoji and are formed outside the meat store, Satou, or the Japanese sweet store, Ozasa. At Satou, they sell menchi-katsu (deep fried minced meat) using Matsuzaka beef, and at Ozasa, sweets containing ingredients such as azuki beans or youkan (sweet bean jelly), and monaka (a wafer cake filled with bean jam), are sold.

    Stretching from the north exit of the station is a shopping street called Sun Road. Covered with an arched roof, you can enjoy shopping there even in bad weather. At Gessoji Temple in Area B of Sun Road, a zazen-kai is held every Tuesday morning for participants to practice Zen meditation. There is also a dojo (a practice hall) for aikido, where you can come into contact with Buddhist teachings and Japanese martial arts.

    Kichijoji is so popular that it invariably comes first place as the town in Japan that most people want to live in. This is partly down to the town’s excellent public safety and its pleasant green spaces, such as Inokashira Park. Moreover those who love Kichijoji actively participate in events and community development projects in order to make the town even more comfortable for its visitors and residents.

    Musashino City Tourism Promotion Organization

    Text: BOTAMOCHI Anko




















    Read More
  • 日本最古の温泉と文学の街――松山

    [From February Issue 2012]

    Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture, is on a plain bounded to the west by Seto Inland Sea, and to the east by the Shikoku Mountains one of the highest mountain ranges in western Japan. Because of its unique geographic conditions, the city is rarely hit by typhoons or other natural disasters, and is blessed with a warm and mild climate. Matsuyama Castle is the symbol of the city and is located in its center. From the square at the top of the mountain 132 meters above sea level where the castle stands, you can enjoy views of the city, the mountains and the sea.

    You can take a cable car or a lift to the top of the mountain. Matsuyama Castle is the largest castle in Shikoku. Although it was built before the Edo period, the castle has a keep (a central tower) and is one of only 12 such castles that remain in Japan today. The keep offers a 360-degree panoramic view. Within the castle you can try on a suit of armor, an attraction which is popular among tourists.

    At the foot of Matsuyama Castle is “Saka no Ue no Kumo Museum.” The museum presents “Saka no Ue no Kumo,” a historical novel by SHIBA Ryotaro that depicts how Japan grew into modern nation during the Meiji period. As well as dealing with the Meiji period, the museum has exhibits that retrace the steps of the novel’s characters – AKIYAMA Yoshifuru, AKIYAMA Saneyuki and MASAOKA Shiki – in Matsuyama. In addition, it has interactive exhibits about the development of the town, giving visitors an opportunity to get a sense of the passage of time.

    There are a number of sites in Matsuyama associated with the (aforementioned) three characters. They include “Akiyama Kyoudai Seitan-chi” – the birthplace of the Akiyama brothers, where Yoshifuru and Saneyuki used to live, and “Shiki-dou” (Shiki Hall), a reproduction of a house where Masaoka lived, which enable you to see how the three spent their childhood. What’s more, the streets around Matsuyama Castle are designed to match with the period that the novel “Saka no Ue no Kumo” is set in.

    MASAOKA Shiki, was a great haiku poet, and brought baseball to Matsuyama. As he was an enthusiastic baseball player when the game was first introduced to Japan, Shiki used the pen name “No Ball,” which was derived from his childhood name “Noboru.”

    A famous haiku by Shiki is, “Kaki kueba/ Kanega narunari/ Horyuji” (Eat a persimmon/ And the bell will toll/ At Horyuji). By producing a number of haiku related to baseball, such as, “Mari nagete/ Mitaki hiroba ya Haru no Kusa” (Throw a ball in an open space/ To see spring grass in the field), he contributed to popularizing baseball through literature. At a literary museum called Matsuyama City Shiki Memorial Museum, you can learn about Matsuyama’s traditional culture and literature through such anecdotes about Shiki.

    Another famous figure in Matsuyama City – which is also known as the town of literature – besides Shiki is NATSUME Soseki. Shiki and Soseki were friends who discussed haiku together. The author of the novel “Wagahai wa Neko de Aru” (I Am a Cat), Soseki is considered to be such an influential figure, that his image was printed on 1,000 yen bills. His masterpiece “Botchan,” a story about a teacher who moves to Matsuyama from an urban area, introduces the city and is a work of deep profundity.

    Operating in Matsuyama City is the “Botchan Train,” modeled on a small locomotive which appears in Botchan, and the “Madonna Bus,” a vintage bus with a front engine. The unusual sight of these classic vehicles driving about the modern city is refreshing and evocative of times gone by. Traveling around the city on these cute trains and buses allows you to enjoy their retro feel to your heart’s content.

    Two kilometers northeast of Matsuyama Castle is Dogo Onsen, the largest tourist site in Matsuyama City, a spot which can be accessed by riding the Botchan Ressha. After arriving at the station, the train sits on display until its next departure, and is a popular spot for taking commemorative photos. The station building is designed to look like it did during the Meiji period, enabling you to take photographs in which it appears as if you had just traveled back in time.

    Once you get off at Dogo Onsen Station, you enter the world of Botchan. At the square in front of the station, you are greeted by a huge red automaton clock called “Botchan Karakuri Dokei” (Botchan Automaton Clock). The automaton works once every hour (once every half hour during the tourist seasons), and the characters from Botchan make their appearance dancing merrily. Tour guides dressed as Botchan and Madonna are popular among tourists, as are rickshaws.

    With a history spanning over 3,000 years, Dogo Onsen is said to be the oldest hot spring in Japan. Dogo Onsen Honkan (main building) is one of the buildings on which “Spirited Away” – an animation film directed by MIYAZAKI Hayao – was modeled. Twelve locations in the area, including inns, offer free footbaths, where visitors can easily take time out from sightseeing by enjoying Dogo’s hot spring waters. Taking a footbath is the best way to rest your legs after walking around Dogo.

    When you have become tired and hungry from walking around, we recommend a pot of nabeyaki udon, a specialty of Matsuyama. Served in the pot in which it has been cooked, nabeyaki udon features a rather sweet soup peculiar to Matsuyama. Cooked in a pot for one person, the noodles absorb the flavor well. A little soft and without koshi (firmness or elasticity), these udon are also called “koshinuke udon” (koshi-less udon).

    Matsuyama is a city in which the old, in the form of hot springs, a castle and classic literature, co-exists with the modern. Traditional crafts that have been passed down through the generations are still practiced today. These crafts include “Iyo-kasuri,” a method of dying cloth a natural indigo hue, and “Tobe-yaki” a kind of pottery which has its roots in Tobe-cho in the southern part of Matsuyama City. At Mingei Iyo-kasuri Kaikan and Tobe-yaki Kanko Center, you can experience these crafts and make an item that is the only one of its kind in the world.

    The flight to Matsuyama from Haneda Airport in Tokyo takes about one and a half hours. If you take the Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station and then a special express train, it takes about six hours and ten minutes. Matsuyama Castle and Dogo Onsen are ten to 20 minutes’ drive from the airport and the station. The Botchan Train is available for traveling between major tourist spots.

    Matsuyama Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Text: HINATA Kunpei






    正岡子規は松山市が生んだ偉大な俳人で、松山に初めて野球(ベースボール)を伝えました。日本に野球が導入された最初の頃の熱心な選手でもあり、子どもの頃の名前「のぼる」をもじった「No ball」というペンネームも使っていました。

    子規の俳句は「柿食えば 鐘が鳴るなり 法隆寺」が有名です。また「まり投げて 見たき広場や 春の草」など野球に関する俳句も数多く残していて、文学を通じて野球の普及に貢献しました。文学系博物館「松山市立子規記念博物館」では、そんな子規のことを通して松山の伝統文化や文学を学ぶことができます。











    Read More
  • 世界遺産と渓谷美を眺める――平泉と一関

    [From January Issue 2012]

    Located in the southwestern part of Iwate Prefecture, Hiraizumi-cho thrived as the second largest city after Heian-kyou (Kyoto) in the late Heian period (12th century). A group of five historical assets located in Hiraizumi, including Chuson-ji Temple, were designated as World Heritage sites in June 2011, making Iwate the first to have such assets in the northern part of Japan (Touhoku and Hokkaido). Each of these sites represents the image of the Joudo (Pure Land) school of Buddhist thought on earth and many people visit in order to experience the splendor of Joudo and the beauty of nature in Hiraizumi-cho.

    Joudo is a branch of Buddhism also known in Japan as Bukkoku-do (the land of Buddhism). Followers believe that one can reach the pure Buddhist land after death and rest in peace, and that one can attain enlightenment in this world as well.

    The Hiraizumi Cultural Heritage Center is a facility designed to briefly explain the cultural heritage of Hiraizumi in a way that even beginners can easily understand. In addition to exhibiting numerous archaeological finds unearthed during excavations, the facility also serves as the town’s tourist information center. With audio guides available in English, Korean and Chinese, this is a good starting point for your trip around Hiraizumi.

    Without further ado, let’s head right to Chuson-ji Temple, a World Heritage Site. Chuson-ji Temple retains a number of important national cultural assets, many of which are national treasures. Sankou-zou, the temple’s museum, could be described as a treasure house of art works from the Heian period. It contains many noteworthy things, including the “Santai no Jourokubutsu” – the three statues of the Buddha which the temple is dedicated to – and the Chuson-ji Sutra, which is written in gold on dark blue paper.

    Konjiki-dou (the Golden Hall) stands close to Sankou-zou. Built about 900 years ago, this gorgeous hall dedicated to Amida Buddha is entirely covered with thin layers of gold both inside and out. A mother-of-pearl inlay (a pattern created by cutting gleaming shells called yakou-gai) decorates the four pillars and the altar inside the hall. Ornamental metal fretwork, and makie – a traditional Japanese technique for making a pattern by sprinkling gold or mother-of-pearl inlay on a surface using lacquer as glue – all contribute to the artistic beauty of the entire hall.

    After admiring these cultural art works from the Heian period, you can drop by Motsu-ji Temple, a World Heritage Site which depicts the Pure Land in the form of a garden. It goes without saying that the highlight of a visit to this temple is its Pure Land Garden. Reflecting the changes in season and the colors of the setting sun in its mirror-like surface, Oizumi-ga Pond is incredibly beautiful. The garden has been nationally recognized as a spot of historic interest and incredible beauty.

    Motsu-ji Temple also holds festivals, including the “Haru no Fujiwara Matsuri” (Spring Fujiwara Festival), where nearly 100 participants parade from Motsu-ji Temple to Chuson-ji Temple to recreate scenes from a Heian period emaki (picture scroll). There’s also the Gokusui no Utage ceremony, where poets clad in Heian period imperial costumes write waka poetry and the Ayame Matsuri (Iris Festival), a festival that allows visitors to fully enjoy the beauty of the temple, featuring 30,000 bunches of irises blooming around Oizumi-ga Pond.

    If you go west from Motsu-ji Temple for about ten minutes by car, a dynamic Buddhist statue, which has been carved into a huge rock wall, comes into view. Takkoku no Iwaya is a nationally designated historic site and is the northernmost spot in Japan where you can find a Buddhist statue carved into a rock face. The statue is said to have been built by SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro, a Seii-Taishogun (a shogun responsible for conquering barbarian areas), to celebrate a military victory. Standing in front of the statue is Bishamon-do Hall, which is believed to have been built to enshrine more than 100 Bishamonten gods and to serve as a refuge in which people could pray for the end of the upheavals.

    Another five minutes’ drive westward from Takkoku no Iwaya will take you to Genbikei Gorge, a nationally designated site of scenic beauty and a national monument. It is a beautiful gorge of unusual and strangely-shaped rocks, that stretches for two kilometers. Delivered as if they were flying over the gorge are “kakkou dango” (dumplings), a specialty of Genbikei Gorge. For obvious reasons, these are also known as “flying dumplings.” Available in three flavors, the dumplings are delivered on wire ropes from a dumpling shop on the opposite bank.

    Crossing a bridge over Genbikei Gorge and walking for two minutes, you come to Sahara Glass Park, a glass art shop that displays and sells over 100,000 glass products from around the world. There you can buy souvenirs or take a break at the restaurant and café inside the shop. Also, at a craft workshop in the building, you can experience glass blowing or making tombo-dama (a glass ball with a hole).

    A 40-minute drive to east from Genbikei Gorge is Geibikei Gorge, where is one of Japan’s 100 scenic places. A nationally designated site of scenic beauty and a national monument, the gorge comprises of two kilometers of cliffs about 100 meters high. A popular activity there is taking a boat ride down the river while listening to the boatman’s traditional songs and tales. Here, you can gaze at the abundance of nature: the greenery covering the mountains, wisteria blossoms, golden-rayed lilies, and ayu (sweetfish) that can be glimpsed from the surface of the water.

    If you ride down the river through Geibikei Gorge when the snows come in winter, you’ll find kotatsu (a table with a heater underneath) aboard your yakatabune pleasure boat. Those who make a reservation can choose to enjoy a pot of kinagashi-nabe (a dish in which vegetables, chicken and pork are cooked in a miso-based soup), while keeping warm under the kotatsu. This dish has been long been popular in this region for its warming properties. The kotatsu boat operates from December 1 through to the end of February.

    Road Station Genbikei is the place to enjoy the gourmet food of Hiraizumi. There is a restaurant here that specializes in rice cakes, a specialty of the southern part of Iwate Prefecture, and you can enjoy such dishes as mochi-zen, a tray of rice cakes with eight different toppings including sweet bean paste, sesame, ginger and shrimp, or zaru-soba set, a set meal of cold soba noodles and rice cakes. There is also a corner at which you’ll find an arrangement of fresh fruit and vegetables direct from farms, giving you an opportunity to enjoy the area’s food culture.

    There are tour guides who speak English, Chinese, Korean and German in Hiraizumi-cho, allowing non-Japanese to freely enjoy the town’s World Heritage sites. It takes two hours and ten minutes from Tokyo Station to Ichinoseki Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen. From there, transfer to the JR Tohoku Line; it takes another eight minutes to get to Hiraizumi Station. There is a sightseeing bus called “Lun Lun” from Hiraizumi Station; a one-day pass costs 400 yen for adults.

    Hiraizumi Tourist Association
    Iwate Hiraizumi Interpreters & Guides Association
    Sahara Glass Park
    Ichinoseki Sightseeing Guide
    Geibi Sightseeing Group

    Text: KONNO Kazumi


















    Read More
  • 加賀百万石の城下町――金沢

    [From December Issue 2011]


    Many Japanese people associate Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture with the phrase, “Kaga hyakuman goku.” Used up until the Edo period, Kaga is the old name for Kanazawa and the surrounding area. One koku is the amount of rice consumed by the average adult in a year, and hyakuman goku is a million times that amount. The phrase shows just how rich an agricultural area Kanazawa was.

    This expression, used in the samurai era, is still the city’s catch phrase. It indicates that Kanazawa is a famous castle town (a town that thrived around a castle). To get around the city, it’s convenient to use sightseeing buses called “Jokamachi Kanazawa Shuyu Bus” available from JR Kanazawa Station. There are three different buses named after three of Kanazawa’s famous literary masters: Kyoka, Saisei, and Shusei.

    In Higashi Chaya-gai (East Teahouse District), rows of houses from the Edo period still remain to this day, making it a popular spot among non-Japanese tourists as well. The district was established when the Kaga Domain, which governed Kanazawa in the Edo period, assembled and maintained ochaya teahouses (eating establishments where geisha entertained customers by playing traditional musical instruments such as the koto and shamisen and by performing dances) in the area. In addition to the teahouses that have been in business since the old days, unique restaurants, cafes, general stores and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) stand side by side.

    In Higashi Chaya-gai, there are some general stores which deal in gold leaf. Gold leaf is gold that has been beaten repeatedly into a sheet thinner than a piece of paper. It’s one of the traditional crafts in Kanazawa made with the same method that has been passed down through the ages. If gold leaf were made using only gold, it would be too soft, so it’s mixed with small amounts of silver or copper. Initially encouraged by the Kaga Domain, nearly all gold leaf production in Japan is now based in Kanazawa.

    Because there’s an East Teahouse District, it follows that there’s also an West Teahouse District. Nishi Chaya-gai is adjacent to an area with many temples. The most famous of those temples is Myoryuji Temple. With a number of architectural tricks in place to deceive intruders – such as trap doors, hidden staircases and rooms – it’s been nicknamed the “Ninja Temple.” What’s more, the temple looks like a two-story building from the outside, but once inside, you discover it has four floors.

    To the south west of Higashi Chaya-gai is Kenroku-en, the most famous tourist spot in Kanazawa. Not only is it well-known in Kanazawa, but it’s one of the most famous gardens in Japan. Originally a “daimyo teien” – a garden built by feudal lords in the Edo period for their personal pleasure – now that the daimyo are a thing of the past, Kenroku-en is open to the public. A common sight in Kenroku-en during winter is yuki-tsuri: branches tied together with rope in order to prevent them from breaking under the weight of fallen snow.

    Right next to Kenroku-en is Kanazawa Castle Park. These are the ruins of the castle previously owned by the Maeda family, who used to be the rulers of the Kaga Domain. Its gates and turret (a part of the castle built to watch for enemies and defend against attack) have been restored to look as they did in the Edo period. Based on old plans, pictures and documents, as well as on research findings, they were reproduced, down to the last detail according to the original construction techniques.

    Preserved since the Edo-period, Ishikawa-mon is a gate leading from Kenroku-en to Kanazawa Castle Park. Since the gate is the oldest structure in the park and looks so magnificent, many people mistakenly believe that it’s the ote-mon (the front gate), but it’s actually the karamete-mon (the rear gate). The karamete-mon is the gate used by the lord to escape from the castle in case it becomes impossible to defend against an enemy attack, and it’s designed in such a way that it can be guarded by a small group of people.

    For those who would like to experience modern Kanazawa in addition to the traditional Japanese scenery that remains in the city, we recommend the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, located at walking distance from Kenroku-en and Kanazawa Castle Park. The building is circular with glass walls surrounding it on all sides, and many of its exhibition spaces are accessible free of charge. The most famous work of art there is “Swimming Pool” located on the patio. Looking at the water from above gives the illusion that other visitors below are standing on the bottom of the pool.

    Near Minami-cho, a business district in Kanazawa, is the Oyama Shrine. This shrine has a rare feature not seen in any other shrine in Japan: stained glass is used for the windows at the top part of its shin-mon (main gate). The lightening rod standing on its rooftop is also unique to this shrine. The shin-mon is lit up at night.

    Oyama Shrine is dedicated to MAEDA Toshiie – the first lord and founder of the Kaga Domain – and his wife Matsu. In the grounds of the shrine you can find a bronze statue of young Toshiie. Riding on his horse, a cloak hanging from his back swells in the wind. This cloak is called a horo and is intended to protect its wearer against arrows shot from behind. As it stands out on the battlefield, the cloak is only worn by samurai that are considered skilled by their master and as such, wearing one is a mark of honor.

    Omi-cho Ichiba, north of Oyama Shrine, is the most famous market in Kanazawa. There you can find eating and drinking establishments, many of which serve sushi made from fresh seafood. A fish unique to Kanazawa is nodoguro (literally translated as “black throat”). It is an expensive fish, and the inside of its mouth is black, as its name suggests. Snow crabs are well-known as a winter delicacy in Kanazawa.

    To get to Kanazawa, it is convenient to use Komatsu Airport. Buses go directly from the airport to JR Kanazawa Station, and if you take an express bus, you will arrive at the station in about 40 minutes. Incidentally, Komatsu City, where this airport is located, is the birthplace of Komatsu Ltd., a world-famous company which manufactures heavy machinery.

    Photos courtesy by Kanazawa City

    Text: MATSUMOTO Seiya






















    Read More
  • 阿蘇の山景色から天草の海景色まで――熊本

    [From November Issue 2011]


    Clear blue skies, vivid green meadows, majestic mountains, and a sea so transparent that you can see down to the rocks below – Kumamoto Prefecture, located in the center of Kyushu, south-west Japan, is blessed with an abundance of beautiful natural scenery. It also boasts a number of historical spots including Kumamoto Castle, built in the Edo period, as well as numerous unique hot springs like Kurokawa Onsen.

    Kumamoto’s famous Mount Aso is actually a gigantic caldera (volcanic crater) that encloses five peaks called “Aso-Gogaku.” Within these peaks lie craters which were formed by subsequent volcanic activity. These include Naka-Dake (Mt. Naka), an active volcano. The caldera is one of the largest in the world and inside it are fields and houses inhabited by people.

    To fully enjoy the magnificent view of this Aso mountain range, a visit to Daikanbo Peak to the north of the caldera’s rim is recommended. Here, those in the middle of a long motorbike ride or a drive can take a little break to gaze out at the spectacular view of the Aso-Gogaku mountains, and the caldera. You can also enjoy the stunning vistas of Aso by going horse riding in Kusasenrigahama, a vast meadow at the foot of Eboshi-Dake (Mt. Eboshi) near Naka-Dake.

    There are quite a few hot spring resorts in the vicinity of Aso, most notably Kurokawa Onsen, which is famous nationwide. This hot spring resort is characterized by its open-air baths, each one unique to each inn. You can enjoy any of these outdoor baths without booking a room in the inns that operate them by simply paying a small fee at the door. Another popular thing to do is to take a walk alongside the rows of restaurants and souvenir shops that line the town’s streets.

    Kumamoto is also well known for the Amakusa Sea. The view of green islands of various sizes floating on the blue ocean is spectacular. The scenic roads on Amakusa-Gokyo – the five bridges connecting the islands – are a popular route with those wanting to take in the superb view. In addition to its beautiful blue sky and sea, the sight of the sinking sun in Amakusa is splendid too. Seen from the west coast, the way the evening sun sets slowly beyond the horizon is mystical and breathtaking.

    The picturesque sea of Amakusa has beautiful white sand beaches which become crowded in summer with people who come to swim. Watching wild schools of dolphins from a boat is another popular activity. The dolphins are so friendly that you can even see them swimming alongside the boat. You can also try scuba diving to get an enjoyable look at coral reefs and tropical fish.

    Kumamoto Prefecture has an abundance of historical sites. A typical example is Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto City. Built in the Edo period, this castle, overlooking downtown Kumamoto has characteristic stone walls which were designed to become steeper the higher up enemies tried to climb – by the top they are almost vertical. During the cherry blossom season in spring, the contrast of beautiful flowers against the austere castle attracts crowds of sightseers.

    In Kumamoto City trams run along the streets. Getting on a tram from the nearest stop to Kumamoto Castle – Kumamoto-Jo/Shiyakusho-mae (Kumamoto Castle/City Hall) – and getting off at Suizenji-Koen (Suizenji Park) about 15 minutes later, you will find Suizenji Jojuen (Suizenji Garden) within the park’s grounds. With a pond as its center, the garden, built in the Edo period, consists of hills, stones, lawns, and plants, whose arrangement imitates famous landscapes found elsewhere in Japan. Along with Kumamoto Castle, the garden attracts a number of tourists.

    Kumamoto also boasts a variety of delicious dishes. Kumamoto ramen is especially famous nationwide. There is another famous kind of ramen in Kyushu, this is called Hakanta ramen and is found in Fukuoka, but the tonkotsu soup (pork bone soup) of Kumamoto ramen is richer than that of Hakata ramen and the noodles are thicker and have more elasticity. It is characteristically eaten with garlic chips which are made by deep-frying or with oil made from deep-fried garlic.

    Its natural bounty has made Kumamoto one of the largest agricultural prefectures in Japan. Tomatoes are grown all year round and watermelons have long been cultivated here making it one of the biggest fruit producing regions in the country. Many citrus fruits, such as the mandarin orange, are also farmed in Kumamoto. There are a wide variety of them available, including dekopon, a type of sweet juicy orange characterized by a distinctive raised knob on its top.

    Banpeiyu, which can grow to the size of a human head, is another famous citrus fruit produced in Kumamoto. In addition to its extraordinary size, its charm lies in its crisp, elegant flagrance and refreshing sweetness. Because the fruit lasts a long time, you may choose to place it in a room to enjoy its aroma for a while before eating it. The thick white part between the skin and the pulp can be candied to make it edible.

    It takes about one hour and 30 minutes to fly to Kumamoto Airport from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Also, using the Kyushu Shinkansen, which opened in its entirety in March 2011, allows you to get to Kumamoto Station from Hakata Station in Fukuoka within 33 minutes.

    Photos courtesy by Kumamoto Prefecture
    Kumamoto City
    Amakusa Touism Association
    Yatsushiro City
    Kurokawa Spa Hotel Association Information Center
    Aso City

    Text: MIYAZAKI Nagisa















    社団法人 天草宝島観光協会

    文:宮崎 渚

    Read More
  • 緑豊かな城下町――会津若松

    [From October Issue 2011]


    Located in the west of Fukushima Prefecture, Aizuwakamatsu City has long thrived as a castle town. It’s famous for its history and rich nature. Situated in the Aizu Basin, the area has snowy winters and very hot summers. The east of the city faces Lake Inawashiro, the fourth largest lake in Japan, and rising high in the north is the majestic Bandai San (Mount Bandai).

    When they hear the name “Aizuwakamatsu,” many Japanese will think about the Byakkotai (White Tiger Force), a group of teenage samurai recruited by the Aizu domain. The Byakkotai fought in the Boshin War (1868~1869) to maintain the Tokugawa Shogunate. Nineteen of the group’s members committed suicide on Iimori Hill in order to remain loyal to their masters and families whom they believed to be dead. Halfway up Iimori Hill, the graves of the 19 Byakkotai are visited by many people. This sad story is famous and there have been many TV dramas based on it.

    To visit historic sites related to the Byakkotai and other sightseeing spots, it’s convenient to use sightseeing buses such as the “Haikara San” and “Akabei.” Running every 30 minutes, these buses stop at the major tourist spots in the city. A one-day pass for them is available for 500 yen. It’s fun to travel around the city on one of these colorful buses.

    The first spot to visit on the sightseeing bus is Tsuruga Castle in the center of town. The castle was renovated last year and its roof tiles were replaced with red ones similar to those used at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Now visitors can see what the castle used to look like in those days. Tsuruga Castle is also where many people come to see cherry blossoms when they’re in season.

    Every autumn, the Aizu Festival is held. The main event is the Aizu domain procession, where 500 people dressed up as past lords of the domain or as Tokugawa Shogunate period style samurai parade through the city. During this period, the whole city is energized by the festival which brings the history of Aizu to life.

    One of the charms of sightseeing around the city is to look at the old fashioned buildings. There remain a number of buildings from the Edo to Taisho periods in Aizuwakamatsu City. Constructed in a mixture of Japanese and Western styles, these buildings are used as restaurants, general stores and other establishments. Especially popular among them are unique cafés. These rows of buildings are found on Nanokamachi and Noguchi Hideyo Seishun Streets, to the south of JR Aizuwakamatsu Station.

    Sazaedo Hall, located halfway up Iimori Hill, is recommended for those with an interest in unique buildings. At 16.5 meters tall, it’s a small building, but its interior structure is quite unusual. From the entrance you climb up in a spiral along a narrow hallway that winds round at an angle of 270 degrees. Instead of making a U-turn at the top, you wind back down another hallway at an angle of 270 degrees. Before you know it, you arrive back at an exit next to the entrance.

    The Sazaedo Hall was built in 1796. Originally a Buddhist temple, it housed statues of Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) from 33 temples in Western Japan. Just by entering Sazaedo Hall, visitors here were able to simulate the experience of making a pilgrimage to the Kannon statues at those 33 temples. The Kannon statues were removed from the hall in the Meiji period. As one of the very few wooden buildings in Japan with a double-spiral structure, in 1995 Sazaedo Hall was designated an important national cultural property.

    The charms of Aizuwakamatsu City lie not just with its historic buildings and quaint landscape. The food produced by the fertile Aizu Basin is another attractive feature of the city. Aizuwakamatsu is blessed with an abundance of clear groundwater; sake and soba (noodles) are made using this high-quality water. The local climate’s extremes of temperature have also earned the area quite a reputation.

    Since Aizuwakamatu City is in an inland area removed from the ocean, a number of its traditional dishes contain dried seafood. Kozuyu is a traditional dish often served on festive occasions consisting of a soup made from dried scallops with vegetables and ofu (dried wheat gluten) added to it. In recent years, original local specialities, such as “sauce katsudon,” (a pork cutlet on a bed of rice topped off with a special sauce), and “curry yakisoba,” (stir-fried noodles with curry on top), have been gaining popularity.

    It’s also a good idea to go on a short trip from Aizuwakamatsu City to Lake Inawashiro, which takes 30 minutes on the JR Banetsusai Line. Lake Inawashiro is a place where you can play various outdoor sports in summer or watch white swans in winter, thereby enjoying Aizu’s natural beauty all year around. Another popular tourist spot in the town of Inawashiro is a memorial hall to honor NOGUCHI Hideyo, a famous bacteriologist whose likeness is printed on 1,000 yen bills.

    North of Mount Bandai stretches a plateau called ura (rear) Bandai, where Goshiki Numa (a cluster of lakes) is located. A 3.6 kilometer hiking trail through the area offers views of ten large and small lakes showing different colors, such as cobalt blue, red and emerald green, depending on the minerals contained within them.

    “The three tears of Aizu,” is an Aizu expression describing the way visitors there typically behave. This expression means: visitors to Aizu first cry over the difficulty of fitting in with the people there, then when they are accepted they are moved to tears by how compassionate the people are, and finally, they shed tears of sadness when they leave the city.

    To get to Aizuwakamatsu City from Tokyo, travel on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line for roughly one hour and 20 minutes to JR Koriyama Station. There, transfer to the JR Banetsusai Line and travel for about one hour and five minutes to Aizuwakamatsu Station. An expressway bus, which takes approximately four hours and 30 minutes, is also available from Shinjuku.

    Photos courtesy by: Aizuwakamatsu City
    Aizuwakamatsu Sightseeing and Product Association
    Inawashiro Town
    Kitashiobara Village

    Text: SHIBATA Rie



















    Read More
  • 徳川時代の歴史と文化が息づく街―名古屋

    [From September Issue 2011]

    Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, is the fourth most populous city in Japan after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka. It’s located in the Chubu region, a region situated right at the centre of Japan’s main land mass. Nagoya is also the political, economic and industrial center of this region.

    Driving northeast for about ten minutes from Nagoya Station, you arrive at Nagoya Castle, which is the most famous tourist spot in Nagoya. It was built in 1612 on the orders of TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa family, who ruled Japan during the Edo period. Its tenshukaku (the castle’s tallest and most-central building with rooftop views), which has an observation deck on its roof, was burned down during the Second World War, but was later rebuilt. The entire area, including Nagoya Castle, is known as Meijo Park and is familiar to the city’s citizens.

    The symbol of Nagoya Castle is a pair of Golden Shachihoko (tiger-headed dolphin) statues facing each other on the roof of the keep. They were said to have been about 2.7 meters high at the time they were constructed and around 200 kilograms of solid gold was used to make them. Currently, the inside of the keep serves as an exhibition space. On the top floor there is an observation room which has panoramic views of Nagoya City.

    Tokugawa Garden, a ten minute drive east from Nagoya Castle, used to be home to the Tokugawa family. Built on a huge plot of land, this Japanese garden features a number of small hills and ponds. From mid to late April, about 1,000 peonies blossom, and from late May to early June, some 1,700 irises are in full bloom.

    Adjacent to the garden is The Tokugawa Art Museum, which has a collection of about 20,000 items, among which include Ieyasu’s personal belongings and tools that belonged to Edo period daimyou (feudal lords). The museum boasts an abundance of valuable national treasures such as picture scrolls from the “Tale of Genji” and other important cultural properties. “Owari Tokugawake no Hinamatsuri” (the Owari Tokugawa family’s hina doll festival), is a traditional Japanese event held annually from early February through to early April, during which gorgeous dolls are put on display.

    Southwest of Tokugawa Garden is Sakae, one of the main commercial districts of Nagoya. Numerous shops and restaurants are found there, not only at street level, but underground as well. Rising above Hisaya Ohdori Kouen, which stretches north to south through the center of Sakae, is Nagoya TV Tower. The tower is 180 meters tall and has observation decks at 90 meters and 100 meters above ground level, which command spectacular views.

    A 15-minute walk to the south from Sakae takes you to Osu Kannon Temple, one of the three major Kannon temples in Japan. The temple was moved there from Gifu Prefecture in 1612, when Nagoya Castle was built. The main hall was burned down in World War II and was reconstructed in 1970. On the 18th and the 28th of every month, the temple grounds are crowded with traders who come from all over Japan to sell antiques, used goods and second hand clothes. Many people visit the temple to enjoy this event.

    Many bustling shopping arcades catering to temple visitors are located around Osu Kannon. With its numerous stores selling second hand clothing and electrical goods, the streets have an atmosphere that combines the feel of Tokyo’s Asakusa and Akihabara districts. In recent years, the numbers of tourists from overseas have increased. Because of the covered roofs, you can wander through the streets without worrying about the weather. In mid-October each year, the Osu Daido-chonin Matsuri (The Osu Street Performers’ Festival) is held, and a gorgeous “Oiran Dochu” (a procession of courtesans) parades through the shopping streets.

    About four kilometers’ south of the Osu area is Atsuta Jingu where the temple buildings cover a huge area (about 200,000 square meters) and the grounds include sacred woodland. The historic shrine houses a holy sword which is one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan (the mirror, the sword and the jewel) that have been passed down by Emperors through the ages. In the shrine’s treasure hall, a collection of about 6,000 objects are on display. During the first few days of each year, many people visit the shrine to make wishes for the New Year.

    In the hilly area to the east of the city is Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens. This zoo is famous for having become the first zoo in Japan to keep koalas. The botanical gardens have Japanese gardens and greenhouses where some 7,000 kinds of plants are grown. The Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium, located near to the Port of Nagoya, is the ideal place to get a closer look at marine life. There you can get your photo taken with a life-size replica of the killer whale.

    Located near Nagoya Station, the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is built on the site where the Toyota Motor Corporation was originally established. The museum consists of the Textile Machinery Pavilion, the Automobile Pavilion, Technoland, the Toyota Group Building and other attractions. Various exhibits and demonstrations provide easy-to-understand explanations of the manufacturing process. There is also a corner where you can make a cell phone strap or a key chain free of charge.

    In recent years, Nagoya-meshi has caught the public imagination. Nagoya-meshi refers to dishes that use ingredients and cooking methods unique to Nagoya which cannot be found anywhere else. These dishes include miso nikomi udon and miso katsu, which both use miso (a thick paste made from fermenting rice, barley and/or soy beans) with a richer taste. Other dishes include tebasaki, hitsumabushi, tenmusu, and kishimen.

    Miso nikomi udon is udon (thick noodles) served in an earthenware pot; people use the lid of the pot as a plate while eating it. Miso katsu is a pork cutlet served with a miso sauce. Tebasaki is deep fried chicken wings coated with a special sauce and sprinkled with various spices. Hitsumabushi is grilled eel on a bed of rice that can be eaten in three different ways. Tenmusu is a rice ball that contains shrimp tempura. Kishimen is a kind of flat noodle. One can feel the rich history and culture of Nagoya reflected in any of these dishes.

    To Nagoya it’s approximately one hour and 40 minutes from Tokyo, or about 50 minutes from Osaka on the Tokaido Shinkansen. You can also fly to the Chubu International Airport, from which it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to Nagoya Station by train.

    Photo courtesy by Nagoya Convention & Visitors Bureau

    Text: ITO Koichi


























    Read More
  • ワイルドな自然に遊ぶ――徳島

    [From August Issue 2011]

    Shikoku is one of Japan’s four main islands. Tokushima Prefecture is in the eastern part of this island. The population of the prefecture is approximately 800,000. Eighty percent of Tokushima is mountainous. Bordered by the ocean and rivers, it is rich in natural beauty. Because of its lush greenery and mild climate, a variety of different crops can be harvested there throughout the year. Among these crops, the sudachi (which is similar to lime) is a specialty of Tokushima. The prefecture’s charm lies in its delicious food and wild vegetation.

    Tokushima also boasts Mount Tsurugi, which is known as a sacred mountain. Standing at 1,955 meters high, the mountain provides spectacular views of the sun rising through a sea of clouds. In the precincts of Ohtsurugi Shrine, near the summit, water gushes out from a natural spring. The spring is considered to be one of the top 100 water sources in Japan. Fascinated by its abundant nature, a number of foreign artists have visited Tokushima. Kamiyama, one of the largest production areas of plums in western Japan, actively encourages artists to visit and engages them in a variety of artistic activities.

    A gorge cuts through the deep mountains. Driving along a highway past dizzying cliffs, you come to Iya Valley, one of Japan’s three most secluded regions. A number of poignant legends concerning the Genpei War (a battle between the Taira and Minamoto clans) are told about this beautiful village. The village is built on the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains. Terraced rice paddies appear differently in the morning and evening light. Suspension bridges called kazura-bashi made from wild vines have been designated as Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan.

    The Iya River, flows from its source at Mount Tsurugi, under unsteadily swaying vine bridges. Running into Oboke-kyo gorge, the Iya River connects with the Yoshino River. The Yoshino River, flows rapidly, throwing up spray and white water rafting along it is popular. After enjoying the sport to the limit, it may be a good idea to eat Iya soba noodles while gazing down at the gorge. In summer, you can eat outside while listening to the murmur of the river.

    The Yoshino River is sometimes called Shikoku Saburo, which is a male nickname. The reason being, it used to be a violent waterway and often caused floods. Old jizo statues in this area are mounted on high plinths so that they do not get submerged if there’s a flood. This violent river doesn’t just bring floods, it also deposits a huge amount of nutrients in the soil.

    Because of the fertile soil brought by the Yoshino River, Tokushima used to be a major producer of indigo plants. Since the dye from those plants acts as a pesticide and also as a disinfectant, samurai warriors are said to have worn indigo-dyed underwear beneath their suits of armor. In Wakimachi, aka “Udatsu Town,” the former residences of indigo-dye merchants remain to this day. Those merchants built their houses with expensive fire protection walls called udatsu and competed with their neighbors to erect the most splendid facades.

    The famous Awa Odori (The Awa Dance Festival) began 400 years ago, a period in which Tokushima flourished thanks to its monopoly of the indigo and salt trade. Awa Odori events are held in all parts of the prefecture, kicking off with Naruto-City’s Awa Odori tournament, which takes place in early August. Tokushima-City’s Awa Odori is the most popular, attracting crowds of tourists every year. The way groups of more than ten performers (ren) dance is so dynamic that you cannot help being excited when you see it.

    If you visit Tokushima during the festival, you’ll hear festival music in the distance. The scent of grilled squid and dishes from food stands wafts through the air. It’s not a bad idea to wander aimlessly around the town and check out the street stalls, but if you start from Tokushima Station for Aibahama Enbujo and then walk past the yatai (food stalls) toward Mizugiwa Park, you will be able to watch the Awa Odori performance. There is a tourist information center near the station, where you can receive advice on which route to take.

    While walking around the prefecture, you may come across people dressed in white wearing straw hats similar to those seen in period dramas. These are the “ohenro-san” pilgrims, who journey to visit 88 Buddhist temples located throughout Shikoku. In the past, those pilgrims must have been fiercely committed to undertaking the trip: It is said that if a pilgrim dies during the journey, their white garments serve as burial vestments and the cane, in which the spirit of Kobo-Daishi (a great teacher of Buddhism) dwells, can be used as their grave marker.

    Ohenro-san travel 1,200 to 1,400 kilometers, visiting the hallowed grounds of Shikoku Hachiju Hakkasho (88 temples in Shikoku), which were built around 1,200 years ago. The journey takes about 40 days on foot and roughly ten days by car. Temples (known as fuda-sho) number one to 23 and 66 are located in Tokushima. In modern times, not only Buddhists, but also those seeking solace often undertake the journey.

    If you have made it to the first fuda-sho, Ryozenji Temple, in Naruto City, you might as well go to see the uzushio (whirlpools) while you are at it. Up to 20 meters in diameter, uzushio whirl vigorously at speeds of up to 20 kilometers per hour. A cruise in which you leisurely watch these currents from a boat is very popular. You can experience yet another side of Tokushima, by sailing along the rough Naruto Strait for 30 minutes, while deeply inhaling in the fresh ocean air.

    Some restaurants in Naruto City serve fresh seafood that the owners themselves have caught by setting out early in the morning in fishing boats. Fish that have endured the rapid currents of the Naruto Strait are firm and tasty. Popular dishes include fresh fish eaten raw with sudachi juice, kamameshi (rice cooked in a small iron pot) with plenty of sea bream, and miso soup with locally grown wakame seaweed.

    When you come to Tokushima, don’t forget to eat Tokushima ramen. Tokushima ramen is divided into three types according to the color of its broth: white, yellow and black. It’s the black broth ramen which is famous nationwide. Thinly sliced pork is placed on the noodles instead of char siu (Chinese-style barbecued pork). Quite a few customers visit the prefecture just to eat this unusual ramen topped with a raw egg.

    The journey from Tokyo to Tokushima takes one hour by air and about ten hours by overnight bus. If you’re coming from the Tokai or Kinki region, it’s convenient to cross the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge by express bus. From Wakayama Prefecture or Kyushu, you can also use a ferry. To travel around the prefecture, it’s convenient to rent a car. August is peak season so you’ll need to book a hotel room well in advance.

    Photos courtesy of the Tokushima Prefectural International Exchange Association

    Text: NARUTO Kouji


















    Read More