Saturday, May 29, 2021

Kitsuki Samurai Residence Interiors.


The small, castle town of Kitsuki in Oita is home to a preservation district of former samura homes from the Edo Period, several of which are open to the public.

Previously I have posted on the Samurai District, the Exteriors of some of the residences, and the gardens of the residences. This time I show some of the interiors.

Unusually, in one of the houses they had a fire going in the traditional kitchen stove, and you could experience just how smoky such places were without the technology of chimneys.

Traditional Japanese houses are known for having little furniture, but in some of the rooms there were some as well as some artworks and such.

Being close to the castle, these residences were occupied by the higher ranking samurai of the domain. Kitsuki is one of my favorite small, castle towns and has yet to be spoilt by mass tourism.

Many more posts on Kitsuki can be found by clicking the tags below ths post.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Morikawa Mansion in Takehara


Takehara is a small port on the coast of Hiroshima that grew wealthy in the Edo Period with the production of salt. It has a well preserved section of the old town that is a registered Preservation District and also goes by the nickname "Little Kyoto"

In a previous post I showed a few photos of the historic "streetscape". Several of the traditional buildings are open to the public, the largest being the former Morikawa Family residence.

It is a huge property, deserving of the title "mansion", and though its style is most certainly Edo period, it was not built until 1916. However, some of the elements were dismanted and brought here from older buuldings.

After 1868 the numerous sumptuary laws that controlled many aspects of how your home could appear had disappeared and so it was easier for merchants to openly display their wealth. The stone floor in the doma, the entrance and kitchen area normally with a packed-earth floor, being just one example.

Morikawa was the mayor of  Takehara when he built this residence. It is believed to have been built on the site of the first "salt" fields of the town.

In a later post I will cover the small gardens that surround the house and are in courtyards, most designed to be viewed from inside the house.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Karashima Island and the origin of Susano


Karashima Island.

Just offshore from the harbour entrance at Takuno near Niima in Shimane is a small group of islets, the largest being called Karashima. Karashima has a shrine named, not surprisingly, Karashima Shrine, and the main kami enshrined here are Susano and his son Isotakeru.

Karashima Island.

According to the local legend, the island is the stone boat that Susano and his son sailed in from the Korean Peninsula to settle in Izumo. According to the most common version of Japanese mytho-history, the one in the Kojiki, Susano was kicked out of heaven and immediately descended to Izumo. However, in the Nihon Shoki, which was the official version of history before the Kojiki was revived in modern times,  Susano descended to the Korean Peninsula before heading to Izumo. I did read in one medieval text that Susano was believed to have been a prince from the kingdom of Silla. The same text also said Jimmu came to Japan from what is now Okinawa.

Statue of Susano.

I was surprised to find a new statue of Susano in the town. Happily, it was not in the sickly-cute anime style of so many renditions of ancient myths nowadays, but rather as Susano appears in the local Iwami Kagura form of defeating Orochi.


I have not yet made it out to the island to visit the shrine, but discovering it and the associated story set me off on years of exploration and research into the various origin stories of Susano. I had always believed this was a purely local version, for instance up in Okuizumo their story has Susano descending from heaven to a rock near the Hi River.  However, a few years ago while on a boat trip out of Nagato on the north coast of Yamaguchi, the tour guide mentioned that Nagato was where Susano used to depart on his trips back to Korea.


Just around the headland from Karashima is the village and port of Isotake, named after Susano's son. The shrine records there say that Susano used to regularly travel back and forth between Japan and Korea.

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Saturday, May 22, 2021

Konomine Shrine


When you finally reach the entrance to Konomineji Temple, the 27th on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, the steps fork, left to the main gate of the temple, and right further on up the mountain to Konomine Shrine.

Founded, according to legend, by Gyoki in the 8th century, the shrine and temple were in fact one single sacred site, and where the shrine now stands was in all probability the original site. Nowadays the shrine is considered the okunoin, the inner sanctuary, of the temple, which also suggests it was the original site.

In 1869 things changed with the governments "separation of the Buddhas and Kami, a process akin to separating the white and the yolk from a scrambled egg. Several of the "temples" on the Shikoku pilgrimage were primarily shrines before this time, just as many of the now-famous shrines in Japan were actually temples.

Most of the pilgrims and visitors to the temple don't make the extra climb up to the shrine, and unlike the temple the shrine is uninhabited, so  its a little more rundown, although it is obvious it was a much grander place in former times. There are several other small shrines around the grounds too.

The main kami now enshrined here is Oyamazumi, a kami of mountains, in  a sense the "older brother" of Amaterasu, and a kami with strong ties to Izumo. The most well known shrine to Oyamazumi would be the one on Omisjima Island between Shikoku and Honshu. Amaterasu and some other kami are listed, but I would seriously think they are much later additions.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Umi Shrine


I reached Umi Shrine not too long after leaving Yama Shrine. There was no information board at the shrine and I have been unable to find out anything about it from any source. It did appear to be even less used than Yama Shrine and there were absolutely no statues of any kind.

The approach to the shrine was somewhat dramatic, but in fact not very natural. Japan suffered major deforestation in the Edo Period when forests were cut down to build castles and castle towns, and the Shogunate did instigate a tree-planting campaign, around the same time as Germany created their tree-farming methods.

However, the massive expansion of these sugi (Japanese cedar) tree farms where whole mountains are covered in trees of the same age and in lines is a product of postwar bureaucracy/ These unnatural forests are very prone to landslides and lacking any natural undergrowth drive deer, bears, wild boars, and monkeys into raiding villages for food. Meant to be a profitable source of building materials, Japan now imports most of its timber from the USA where it is cheaper.

I was coming to the end of my first day walking the Kyushu Fudo Myo Pilgrimage and had chosen to spend a couple of days walking the Kunisakihanto Minemichi Long Trail which closely followed a more ancient pilgrimage route around the Kunisaki Peninsula. This last section was mountain trail whereas most of the day had been spent on small roads.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum.

The Itohara were a family of high-ranking samurai in the service of the Matsue Domain during the Edo Period. Their base was in the mountains of Okuizumo where they were one of several samurai families that controlled the production, and export, of iron.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

The museum at their property near Yokota display many of their artworks, everyday objects, and especially tea ceremony paraphernalia, armor, swords etc as befitting a high-ranking samurai family, but is mostly concerned with the historical production of iron.

Exhibit at the museum.

Japan had very little iron-ore, but some areas, like here in Okuizumo, were rich in iron-sand, and a special type of forge technology was used to process the sand into iron and steel called a tatara forge.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

Part of the output of a tatara forge is a kind of iron called tamahagane in Japanese. This is a vital ingredient in a true Japanese sword and cannot be produced by modern methods, so one single tatra forge is still in operation here in Okuizumo that produces all the tamahagane for swordsmiths.


There is a lot of material on display about historical tatara and such, and quite a lot of samurai possessions and artworks, kimonos etc, however very little info is in English.


The Itohara estate is a few miles from Izumo-Yokota Station on the JR Kisuki Line. Other related posts about Okuizumo can be found by clicking this link.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Butsumokuji Temple 42 on the Shikoku Pilgrimage


Not far from the previous temple, number 41 Ryukoji, Butsumokuji is also not so large.

It has an impressive Niomon and a nice pair of Nio inside. Accoring to legend the temple was founded by Kobo Daishi himself in 807.

According to the story he was offered a ride on the back of a cow by a friendly farmer, and while riding along spotted a jewel in a camphor tree. This turned out to be the same jewel that he had thrown while in China. He carved a statue of Dainichi Nyorai, the hinzon of the temple, and placed thye jewel inbetween its eyes, and then founded the temple.

There is a small structure devoted to animals that was historically used by local farmers to pray for theor livestock but which in modern times has become known for praying for lost pets.

As well as the Nio, there is a largish Kannon statue, a set of 7 Luck Gods statues, and the bell tower is thatched, quite rare in Shikoku.

There was a very small garden which appealed to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Short Guide to Yamaga


Sakura-yu is a public hot spring in the town of Yamaga, a little north of Kumamoto City. It was originally built as a teahouse for the local Hosokawa lord about 380 years ago, but in 1868 was turned into a public hot spring.

Yamaga lies on the banks of the Kikuchi River. The fertile river basin has been a major rice-growing region since ancient times and Yamaga grew as a merchant town with the trade of rice which was shipped downriver to market. There are several hot spring hotels and guesthouses along the bank of the river.

The most famous festival in Yamaga is the lantern Festival where women dance with paper lanterns on their heads. These are not the usual simple lanterns you see at festivals and outside businesses but look like the ornate, metal lanterns you see at temples and such. The surprising thing is they are made of paper. 

As I mostly explore Japan on foot I am always pleased to find the free foot-baths at many hot spring towns. The one in Yamaga was perhaps the nicest I have seen,

The paper lanterns, as well as umbrellas, are a major art of the town. At the main shrine in the town there is a museum about the lanterns and the festival, and in town there is also a "Folk" museum devoted to them.

The town is one of the many small towns scattered around Japan that use the nickname "Little Kyoto", but in my opinion, it is not apt as the inhabitants were friendly and unpretentious. As well as the trade on the river the town also lies on the main road that connected Kumamoto with Kokura, and plenty of traditional architecture remains.

The town's charm is I think aided by the fact that Yamaga is not on a rail line so is a little harder to visit than the most popular places. More details can be found in my related posts on Kongoji Temple, the most interesting temple in the town and one sire said to be the origin of the lantern festival, the Yachiyo0za Kabuki Theatre, a huge traditional theatre open to the public, Omiya Shrine, another site claiming the origin of the lantern festival, and the Buzen Kaido, the old thoroughfare lined with traditional architecture.