Thursday, December 3, 2020

Unique Shimekazari of Hitoyoshi


Shimekazari are traditional New Year decorations usually found attached to the front door of homes and businesses. At the heart of a shimekazari is a small, stylized shimenawa, the "rope" used to demarcate sacred space, typically at shrines.

The shimekazari has the function to protect against bad spirits,but also to attract good fortune, and therefore usually include various symbols of good fortune like daidai, a kind of bitter orange, and or pine twigs.

While exploring Hitoyoshi in Kumaoto I came across these examples of shimekazari that are both very large, and also incredibky ornate, but also made out of  rice straw.

They go much further with the range of symbols of good fortune and include dragons, cranes, horses, etc. While normal shimekazari are destroyed after the new year period, these unique versions are obviously treasured as folk art.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Gangoji Temple & Kannonzenji Temple


The Sagara Graveyard I visited in Hityoshi was located behind a small temple, Gangoji, and there was a little bit of autumn color around the temple.

Near Gangoji I passed a larger temple, Kannonzenji, and there was a bit more color there.

Because of the pandemic I didn't get to do my usual walks hunting the Fall colors this year, so these will have to do.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sagara Family Tombs


My first stop on the 41st day of my walk around Kyushu was at the Sagara Family Cemetery behind Gangoji Temple.

37 generations of the Sagara family had ruled over the Hitoyoshi domain in Kumamoto for more than 700 years. The founder of the family had the most elaborate of tombs. It seems the Sagara were a branch of the Fujiwara.

Most of the tombs had numerous gorinto around them These 5-leveled stone pagoda are a kind of funerary stupa. I believe there are more than 250 here.

The site of the first lords tomb was once a building, and the temple was much larger than now but was destroyed during the Satsuma Rebellion. The grounds of the temple are now built up with a very large kindergarten but the graveyard is kind of dark and still.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Kitsuki Samurai District


West of the small castle in Kitsuki, Oita, is a well preserved samurai district. that is registered as a Preseervation District because enough of the original layout and buildings still exist.

It is located on top of a bluff overlooking the merchant district that grew up around the castle. There were only a couple of access point which enabled it to be well guarded.

As in most samurai districts the streets are lined with high wallsand hehind them homes of higher-ranked samurai  About half a dozen of these samurai homes are now open to the public and I will post on them later.

I have previously posted on the gardens of these samurai houses....

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Views of the Inland Sea. Kinoe to Takehara Ferry


The Seto Nakai, or Inland Sea, is dotted with islands and islets, and while many have now been connected by bridges to each other and the mainland, there are still dozens and dozens of small ferries plying the waters. These photos I took on the ferry from Kinoe on Osaki Kamijima Island to Takehara in Hiroshima. Shipbuilding and repair is still a major industry on many islands.

Most Japanese seem blissfully unaware of the incredible amounts of concrete that are poured in Japan compared to other countries.

The island with the two transmission towers on it is Okunoshima, now most famous as "Rabbit Island", less famous as the site of a WWII poison gas factory, and almost unkown as the home of the tallest electricity transmission tower in all of Japan.

Some of the smaller islands have become floating factories. Not sure what is being produced or processed here.

Of course small fishing boats continue to operate.....

Monday, November 23, 2020

A Daimyo Garden at Hirata Honjin


Honjin were a kind of lodgings used by daimyo, feudal lords, as they travelled around their domain. They were usyually the homes of wealthy merchants or farmers who could provide the luxury that the daimyo needed.

One such honjin is in Hirata, near the shore of Lake Shinji in Shimane, the former Matsue Domain. The honjin was the home of the wealthy Honkisa family who made their money from cotton and sake and for which Hirata was known. For the Matsue lords one of the facilities needed seems to have been a nice garden.

I am by no means an expert, but it seems to me that the stone pathways, or tobi-ishi, in Izumo-style gardens are somewhat more prominent. I have read that one distinguishing feature of Izumo-style gardens is the combination of rounded and rectilinear stones.

The honjin and its garden were actually relocated to its current spot. Hirata is also home to a unique type of art called Isshiki Kazari and I highly recommend checking out these recent posts on it.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

10,000 Dahlias at Yuushien Garden


I recently visited Yuushien Garden on Daikon Island for an evening illumination event as part of a 10,000 Dahlias festival.

I arrived at sunset and so was able to see the dahlias in the last of the natural light.

I believe a city in China has been having a 10,000 Dahlia festival and that this one was in some way connected.

The main pond of the garden was covered in the blooms as well as other areas near the entrance to the garden. I have posted on the garden before here.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Takuno Hachimangu


On day 3 of my walk along the Iwami Kannon Pilgrimage I eft Isotake and carried on down the coast into Takuno where there was the next pilgrimage temple.

Right next to the temple was the main shrine for the village, a Hachimangu. A pretty standard village Hachimangu, though there were quite a few different styles of komainu.

Hanging inside was an ema, a painting of a kitamaebune, one of the cargo  boats that plyed the major trade route along the Japan Sea coast. I had often thought that Takuno must have been propserous in earlier times as there are a few large merchant houses and warehouses.

If it was a kitamaebune port that would make sense. Just outside the mouth of the harbor are a couple of small islets that would have made the port a safe haven in a storm. According to myth these islets were the boats that Susano and his family came in from the Korean peninsula.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Sending the gods away at Mankusen Shrine


It's that time of the year again,... in Izumo known as Kamiarizuki, the month with the gods, and in the rest of the country Kannazuki, the month without the gods. Often repeated that ALL the gods of Japan visit Izumo Taishi at this time, in fact only most of the gods visit, and they visit a wide range of shrines scattered across the old province of Izumo.

Many years ago I visited Mankusen Shrine on the banks of the Hi River not too far from Izumo Taisha to see a unique ceremony that sends the kami away at the end of their AGM. A youn priest eplained it to me that the kami are particularly fond of the sake made in the area around the shrine, and were therefore reluctant to leave. It very much reminded me of closing time in an English Pub when the landlords have to try and get everyone out of the premises. He asked if I would like to observe the ceremony, nd of course I said yes as the public are not allowed to watch.

First, a camera crew from the local TV station and myself were given the white vest that signifies that we were temporary "staff" of the shrine, and then he performed a purification for us. The first part of the ceremony to send the kami home takes place in the usual part of the shrine and involved purification and reading of norito etc.

It then moves to an adjacent building purpose-built for the ceremony. Here, hidden from public view, is a kind of altar with two big, heavy doors, open while the kami are in residence.

At the end of the ceremony/ritual, the heavy doors are closed. Interestingly the building for the ritual is a Meiji-period creation. Prior to that, the ceremony took place in a grove of trees.

Friday, November 13, 2020



Near the very tip of Cape Muroto in Kochi, Shikoku, is a pair of small caves near the shore that, while not in any way impressive, still get lots of visitors and pilgrims because of their history.

In the first years of the 9th Century a young man named Mao had been trying to achieve Buddhist enlightenment for some years and brought himself to the cape and within these caves set about a grueling program of austerities and meditation.

At the age of 30 he achieved his aim and changed his name to Kukai, a combination of "sea" and "sky" which is what he could see from inside the confines of the cave. 

The mani is now known as Kobo Daishi, a name bestowed on him long after his death, and he is probably the most well-known religious figure in Japanese history, founding the Shuingon sect, and the focus of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.