Pilgrimage to the 33 Kannon Buddha Temples


Aizu Culture through the eyes of a pilgrim


portada33
Aizuwakamatsu, or Aizu for short, is a historic castle town known as the “land of the last samurai” in the Aizu district of Fukushima Prefecture in Tohoku. The people of Aizu were people of good faith and had a custom of paying respect to all 33 Kannon Buddha temples in the form of a pilgrimage. More than a tough, ascetic ritual, though, this pilgrimage was for entertainment.
In the Edo period, people would journey to the temples for sightseeing; even now, many people make the pilgrimage with friends. The image of Kannon makes its appearance everywhere, from wonderful temples in the city to the stone Buddhas in the mountains. Follow us on our journey as we visit some of them.

Visit the 33 Kannon Buddha Temples around Aizuwakamatu

Kannon, known as Kuan Yin or Goddess of Mercy to the Chinese, was known to have 33 manifestations. Most of the temples are modest, wooden structures, each dedicated to the various manifestation of Kannon. For example the Eryu-ji temple is dedicated to Juichimen Senju Kannon, the eleven-faced, one-thousand armed Kannon. The massive statue, standing at 8.5 meters high, was carved out of one single tree by Kobo Daishi (Kukai), the founder of Shingon Buddhism, in 808. It is designated as a National Treasure of Japan.

The temple itself was built in 1190. The statue is guarded by 28 Busyu divine generals and the gods of Wind and Thunder. The temple is believed to help visitors to overcome their negative attitude in life.
Another unique temple on the trail is Sazaedo Temple on Iimoriyama Hill, built in 1796 with an extraordinary, 16.5 meters high, three-storey hexagonal structure with a sloping double-helix ramp. Visitors ascend the ramp in a clockwise direction and descend anti-clockwise, thus not retracing any steps in their spiral track. It is an ingenious design.
Sazaedo
Sazaedo

In a forest on a remote mountain in Aizumisato, built in 830 at an altitude of 380 meters high, stands a simple but important rustic wooden temple called Sakudari Kannon Temple that is wedged against a rock face. It is said that Kukai founded this temple and carved its 80 centimeters high principle image, Kubinashi Kannon, which is placed upon an altar in a grotto concealed from public view. Not only is the structure of the temple truly amazing, the view is simply breathtaking.

Sakudari Kannon Temple
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Aizumisato
Aizumisato
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Sakudari Kannon Temple

Road to the Edo Period

The main street of Ouchi-Juku
The main street of Ouchi-Juku
There is a place where you can still enjoy the same experiences as a traveler from long ago: Ouchi-Juku, which lies south of Aizuwakamatsu on an old road called “Aizu Nishikaido.” The village is reminiscent of the old post towns on the ancient trade route in the Edo period; merchants and feudal lords would pass this way to rest and refresh. It is a living museum of old traditional houses with thatched roofs and bustling shops selling food, drinks and souvenirs. Here, you can experience and enjoy how the people of Aizu spent their everyday lives and lived their faith.

Another Japan Heritage

Aizu is a region steeped in samurai culture and natural beauty. One of the many scenic spots here is Lake Inawashiro, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountain ranges. It is a popular place for recreation for the local people, and also serves as the lifeline of the area by providing water for agriculture and hydro-electricity. The building of the canal during the Meiji era lead to the agricultural development of a previously barren land, and is considered a Japanese heritage site.
Lake Inawashiro
Lake Inawashiro
Tsuruga Castle
Tsuruga Castle
Eryuji Temple
Eryuji Temple
Sazaedo
Hours: 8:15am – sundown (April through December), 9am – 4pm (January
through March) Admission: 200 yen (middle and primary school students), 300
yen (university and high school students), 400 yen (adults)
Access: 4-min by
Akabe bus from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, get off at Imoriyama shita.
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Access: 12-min by car from Amaya Station (Aizu Railway Line)
Ouchi-Juku
Access: 15-min by car from Yunokami Onsen Station (Aizu Railway Line)
Lake Inawashiro
Access: Area around Inawashiro Station (Ban-etsu-West Line)
The interior of a local restaurant in Ouchi-juku
The interior of a local restaurant in Ouchi-juku

Japan Heritage
http://www.bunka.go.jp/seisaku/bunkazai/nihon_isan/pdf/nihon_isan_pamphlet_english.pdf

There are two other Japanese Heritage sites in Tohoku.

In this edition, we briefly mentioned “The waterway that cleared the way to the future” (Fukushima Prefecture), and the “Culture honed by Date Masamune” (Miyagi prefecture) inspired by Sengoku warlords, these will be featured in our next publication of WAttention Tohoku 2017 Autumn & Winter Edition.
s_日本遺産の予告

Nature and worship “A journey of rebirth”


In The Realm of the Gods at Dewa Sanzan

denwamain1
denzamain2

In many cultures, mountains often have religious significance and are regarded as abodes of the gods. Tohoku has three holy mountains, known collectively as Dewa Sanzan, that is regarded as one of the most sacred sites in the country. Its landscape is defined by the stunning natural beauty of mystical mountains, volcanic lakes, hot springs and farmlands. This is where the soul of Japan lies in its traditional and religious culture, and where ancient mountain worship is still very much practiced. Against this background, we embarked on an epic journey to trace the footsteps of pilgrims who are followers of Shugendo.

s_DSCF3049

The Three Mountain Blessings

Shugendo is an ethnic religion influenced by Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism and spiritual faith. Its main purpose is to strengthen the connection between people and nature, reaching enlightenment in this way. Practitioners preach the teaching that “nature is a manifestation of the gods and we should live alongside it with respect.” Mountains and forests have paramount importance in Shugendo. The Dewa Sanzan mountains of Mt Haguro (419m), Mt Gassan (1984m) and Mt Yudono (1504m) are the centres of pilgrimage in the region. The followers, known as Shugenjas or Yamabushi (mountain monks), have been following the rites of worship for the last 1,400 years. Followers embark on long pilgrimages and practice austere feats of physical endurance of natural elements as an ascetic rite of passage to gain spiritual power. We had the privilege of experiencing the immersive ceremony of Shugendo first hand by visiting the three sacred mountains that represents the present, death and rebirth at Mt Haguro, Mt Gassan and Mt Yudono respectively.

Praying in the Official Shinto Style at Mt. Haguro
We arrived at Mt. Haguro as dusk was setting in and, after a short visit to Ideha Museum nearby to get an insight of Shugendo and Dewa Sanzan, we entered the sacred site through the torii, a wooden gateway that is found in all sacred sites in Japan. A long flight of stone steps, known as the Ishi-Dan, led down to an enchanting forest with towering cedar trees along the ancient pilgrim route. The 1.7km trail built in 1648 has 2,446 steps leading to the Sanjin Gosaiden shrine at the summit. There are 33 carvings etched on the steps and it is believed that if you can find all 33, your wishes will come true. As we were pressed for time, we could only follow the sacred path as far as the 600-year-old Goju-no-to, the five-storied pagoda, a recorded national treasure. In the gloom of the forest, the ornate pagoda exuded an air of mysticism that lent to the belief that a deity of the forest lives in it.
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro

When we arrived at Sanjin Gosaiden, the main shrine at the summit, we were met by a Yamabushi dressed in his traditional religious garb. He sounded a horagai, a religious conch trumpet, as a welcome and to ward off bad spirits. We were led to the inner sanctum of the shrine. There, a monk dressed in a splendid ceremonial robe with motifs of cranes performed a special ceremony accompanied by a beating taiko drum, followed by space clearing of malevolent energy around us by wafting a pole with white paper strips attached to the end and ringing bells to cleanse the air. He then chanted some mantras in a trance-like voice, which reverberated around the room, sending powerful vibrations into the ambience. We felt blessed and awed as we bowed twice, clapped our hands twice and bowed once again, completing the ritual where we were “spiritually born.”

Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
We stayed the night at a shukubo, a traditional temple lodge owned by a Yamabushi and his wife, who welcomed us graciously by kneeling Japanese style where they sat on the floor with their legs folded behind them. The delightful lodge was immaculately clean and the minimalist décor was the personified tranquility that we badly needed after a long journey. I would highly recommend staying in a shukubo to attain a Zen state of mind. Early next morning, our landlord performed a Shinto ritual prayer to bless us and wished us a safe journey to Mt Gassan and Mt. Yudono.

Stepping to Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono

We headed to Mt. Gassan in howling wind and rain to visit a shrine. The pilgrimage trail was officially closed for the season, but we braved the elements by treading precariously on the path of a slippery, wooden walkway laid across a marshland of dwarf bamboo and grassland.
After twenty minutes’ walk, we reached a small shrine presided by a giant stone rabbit, the guardian of the mountain.

Mt. Yudono
Mt. Yudono
This mountain symbolized the path to death and it was apt that the short journey we took in the inclement weather seemed to convey that message. In the summer, pilgrims could hike to the summit, where the main shrine lies; from there, they could also hike to Mt. Yudono, the last mountain on the holy trail.
Our visit to Mt. Yudono was an epic experience where we were sworn to secrecy by the priest about the ceremony of “rebirth” that we underwent to symbolize being spiritually reborn to start a new journey in life. It is a taboo to divulge the secret of the ritual, but suffice to say that the experience is something I will always remember.

Dewa Sanzan is a pilgrimage, but mere mortals with spiritual interest will find the journey enlightening and soul stirring. Reflecting on my own awesome experience of the religious encounter, I now appreciate why mountains belong to the realms of the gods.

Hagurosan

Access: 40-min by bus from JR Tsuruoka Station, get off at Zuishinmon.
55-min by bus to the summit.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/47/

Gassan

Hours: Closed late September until June
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-
Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to Gassan Hachigome.
URL:ttp://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/48/

Yudonosan

Hours: Closed late September until June Admission: 500 yen
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to
Yudonosan.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/49/

Ultimate Map of Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan : Okinawa

Okinawa 1~ 9

 

1Yaese Park (八重瀬公園) in Yaese Town

Kanakoさん(@mcki0627)が投稿した写真

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details: Beautiful view of southern Okinawa including cherry blossoms. Light-up of 500 cherry blossom trees during the evening.
Access: About 60min by car from Naha airport
Address: Tomori 1607, Yaese-cho, Shimajiri-gun, 901-0402 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★★☆
goryokaku-tower.co.jp

 

2Yaedake Sakura-no-mori Park (八重岳桜の森公園) in Motobu Town

舒跑さん(@shupau1987)が投稿した写真

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details: 7000 Ryukyu Kanhi cherry blossoms will color the mountain view. Cherry blossom light-up during the evening.
Access: About 120min by car from Naha airport
Address: 921 Namizato, Motobu-cho, Kunigami-gun, 905-0222 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
okinawatravelinfo.com

Ultimate Map of Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan : Okinawa


3Nakijin Castle Ruins (今帰仁城跡) in Nakijin Village

Viewing preiod: End of January to early February
Details: Ocean view including Kanhi cherry blossoms. Light-up during the evening.
Access: About 90min by car from Naha airport
Address: 5101 Imadomari, Nakijin, Kunigami-gun, 905-0428 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
okinawatravelinfo.com


4Nago Central Park (名護中央公園) in Nago City

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details:The entire area has 200,000 cherry blossom trees. Enjoy look at them while walking a 2km long path to the castle.
Access: About 90min by car from Naha airport
Address: 5511 Nago, Nago-shi, 905-0012 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
okinawa-information.com

Ultimate Map of Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan : Okinawa


5Yogi Park (与儀公園) in Naha City

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details: 400 Hikan cherry blossom trees could be seen along the riverside.
Access: About 20min by car from Naha airport
Address: 1-1-1 Yorimiya, Naha-shi, 902-0076 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★★☆
nihon-kankou.or.jp.e.wp.hp.transer.com


6Darumayama Park (だるま山園地) in Kumejima Town

s-zimaさん(@sachi_zima)が投稿した写真

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details: You can enjoy Hikan cherry blossoms and beautiful flowers surrounded by the sea.
Access: About 4 hours by ferry from Naha city
Address: Uezu, Kumejima-cho, Shimajiri-gun, 901-3138 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
ritou.com

Ultimate Map of Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan : Okinawa


7Manko Park (漫湖公園) in Naha City

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details: Nice view of a large row of bright pink-colored cherry blossom trees together with a river.
Access: About 10min by car from Naha airport
Address: 3-23-1 Kohagura, Naha-shi, 900-0024 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★★☆
tripadvisor.com


8Sueyoshi Park (末吉公園) in Naha City

mineさん(@mine_nakamura)が投稿した写真

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details: Watch Hikan cherry blossoms by hiking through the jungle-like path.
Access: About 20min by car from Naha airport
Address: Shurisueyoshi-cho 1-3-1, Naha-shi, 903-0801 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
okinawatravelinfo.com

Ultimate Map of Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan : Okinawa


9Kunigami Forest Park (国頭村森林公園) in Kunigami Village

Viewing period: End of January to early February
Details: Fantastic view from the top of the hill surrounded by cherry blossoms.
Access: About 120min by car from Naha airport
Address: 1094 Hentona, Kunigami-son, 905-1411 Okinawa
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
tripadvisor.com

Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

TB_IMG_3003_resize

Enclosed by the Japanese Alps, (an embarrassing moniker according to the local tour guide, as he directs our focus to back to the manicured vineyards of Koshu grapes and the glimpses of Mt. Fuji in the distance) Yamanashi can be accessed easily from Tokyo, and yet traveling there seems worlds away. The air is crisp, chilled by the high altitude, and the only haze comes from the thin trails of fog still crawling in the mid-morning atmosphere. Yamanashi is a prefecture that at gives the impression of a safe-haven that has remained pure and natural. It bears fruit in a variety of seasons, attracting visitors who desire to pick their own harvest. It has a variety of waterfalls, such as the Ootaki Waterfall near Kofu City, gorges, and onsen, and wildlife as varied as bears and boar.

TB_IMG_3197_resize

Seeing Fuji is indescribable. Like some fictitious beast breaching through the clouds, Fuji-san is unavoidable and commands all attention. Our group stayed at the viewing point, on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi, for over an hour, watching in a trance-like awe as the sun set behind the mountains. Around the area, there are many sites and experiences based upon Fuji. Iconic locations, such as Chureito Pagoda, while originally intended to honor the souls lost in WWII, have reached notoriety for having picturesque views of Fuji on a clear day. While the clouds covered Fuji on the morning we went, the sight was nonetheless impressive.

TB_IMG_3594_resize

Even the air itself in the Minami-Izu Peninsula is saturated by the ocean; warm sea-breezes, soured with the taste of salt, course through the fields of pampas grass lining the shore, tossing back hair and loose hats alike. This power is strong enough to be harnessed as energy, and so even the views from Mt. Omoro are littered with wind turbines that, oddly enough, seem to fit in with the landscape. From the summit, seven surrounding islands, such as Ooshima, can be seen on a clear day. Known for their tangerines, the entirety of the area possesses a still excitement, like the charged energy that foretells a storm.

T. Bondさん(@james.blonde8)が投稿した写真

Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

While in Japan, there are a seemingly unlimited amount of temples and shrines to visit; the Inozaki Cape, though small, offers stunning views and a peaceful solitude that comes from the alienating intensity of the wind. A trip to the Ishimuro-jinja there oddly begins to mimic “Jurassic Park.” The path down is covered by an expansive, leafy overpass that winds past weathered buildings long since abandoned; it is all too easy to imagine that one of the large spiders stretched across the high branches preying upon a visitor who strays too far from the route. To fully experience the site, visitors much trek down a steep staircase and walk out across the ocean to a lone-standing rock; from there, surrounded on every side by infinite views of the sea, and separated from others by a noise-stealing sea breeze, it feels as if you are on the edge of the earth.

TB_IMG_3958_resize

TB_IMG_3924_resize

This area also boasts the opportunity to onsen on the beach. The beach, already the epitome of relaxation, is close enough to natural hot springs that visitors can enjoy submerging themselves in the hot water while enjoying ocean views. The beaches in Minami-Izu are worth spending hours experiencing, and while locals may know of their existence, many visitors are completely unaware of what they might be missing out on. Green cliffs, such as the ones seen in Cape Aiai in Yusuge Park, that jut off the coasts are incredible to see, but especially incredible to view at sunrise or sunset.

Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

TB_IMG_4653_resize

TB_IMG_4662_resize

Yokohama is the haven in Kanagawa prefecture that Tokyo citizens often escape to for a day-trip when their everyday life becomes overwhelming. The port city, located only a mere 45 minutes from Tokyo’s city center by train, boasts a variety of activities, sightseeing opportunities, and nightlife for any visitor to enjoy. In Minato-mirai, right along the water’s edge, visitors can easily walk from the Cup Noodle Museum to the Cosmo World amusement park to the Red Brick Warehouse shopping center, all within a few minutes of each other.

Yokohama’s Chinatown is impeccably clean, yet still retains the vibrancy that comes with vendors calling out their fares and the sight of various types of meats hanging bare in the windows. While undoubtably impressive during the day time as well, the neon landscape of Chinatown after the sun goes down is something that should not be missed.

T. Bondさん(@james.blonde8)が投稿した写真

Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

Of course, no trip to Japan would be complete without spending time in Tokyo. In actuality, there is never enough time a person could spend in Japan’s capital city to let them do and see everything; the city, brimming with its own unique wards and sections, could take weeks, or even years, to successfully navigate in its entirety. For instance, the stark contrast between a modern, eccentric area such as Harajuku, a mecca for pop fashion and desserts as sugary as the clothes people wear, and a traditional relic such as Asakusa, which is supported by the ancient frames of the old market that gives visitors a taste of what life in Tokyo might have been like in the past, gives visitors a full spectrum of Japanese flavor. While the connotation that goes alongside with the Tokyo name might not include a rich historical background, the market area of Asakusa, which has an expansive layout of outdoor stalls that direct traffic towards an ancient temple, is among Japan’s finest. Here, guests can enjoy a rickshaw ride or sample local flavors, all while experiencing a view of the SkyTree as well.

On your next trip to the Tokyo-area, don’t confine yourself to only the hypnotic energy of Shinjuku or Shibuya; while exciting, Japan has more to offer than only these experiences. Without ever straying too far from Japan’s capital, visitors can travel to warm beaches, onsen mountain retreats, vineyards, and almost anything else imaginable. Make the move to explore the Japan less traveled, and I guarantee you, you will never regret it.

T. Bondさん(@james.blonde8)が投稿した写真


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Taylor Bond
Taylor Bond is a freelance writer and photographer. By day, she writes, but by night, she visits as many tabehodai restaurants as she can find. Despite what her visa says, her true ambition in Japan is to become a professional eater.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ichijodani Asakura Ruins, remnants of a powerful clan

The Asakura clan (朝倉氏) was one of the most powerful clans in Fukui during the Sengoku period (1467 – 1603). Ichijodani is the name of the city they built. At its height, Ichijodani had over 10,000 residents and an advanced culture.

Map

Background History

The Sengoku period was a time of civil war in all of Japan. The last ruler of Ichijodani, Asakura Yoshikage, was an adept ruler who kept peace in the city. Because of this, Ichijodani became a refuge for people fleeing unstable areas in conflict. Warlord Oda Nobunaga seeked to unify Japan and captured Kyoto (then the capital) in an attempt to rule the country (1568). The Asakura clan was called upon to drive Nobunaga from Kyoto, thus creating a conflict. Oda Nobunaga’s answer was a siege on the Asakura domain and in 1573 he burned down the whole city.

Luckily, in 1967, Ichijodani’s secrets were revealed during a large scale excavation. The city turned out to be much grander than anyone ever expected and is one of the only ruins in Japan with this much detail. You can visit the site and see a reconstruction of the village houses.

maquette

guideThe Asakura Ruins offer a very handy virtual guide that shows you how the original buildings would have looked by using a real time camera. Just point the guide to a location and a virtual reconstruction will begin. This guide costs 500yen and is available in both English and Japanese. This is very useful as most of the area is barren and you need a lot of imagination to picture the buildings.

You can also choose to have a real guide tell you all the stories of Ichijodani. I would suggest to take both the virtual guide for the experience and the real guide for the secret stories and enthusiasm.

Ichijodani Asakura Ruins, remnants of a powerful clan

The City

There are many interesting things to see in the reconstruction of the Ichijodani. Actors walk around in historical costumes and mannequins are set up inside the homes to reenact historical scenarios.
For safety reasons, the Asakura family built the city in a very interesting and unique way. The streets have a slight curve, making it possible to see every enemy no matter where you are standing in the street. The same principle is applied in Narai Juku, Matsumoto.

City Streets

You can see that the city has a built-in waterway that serves as a sewage system and to keep the area cool during summer. The walls are fortified with big rocks, protecting against floods and invaders. When you walk around the ruins it’s difficult to imagine the grand buildings that once housed powerful samurai and lords.

samurai

The Karamon gate is the entrance to the ruins of Yoshikage’s house and used to be the entrance gate to a temple. Thanks to the good condition of the ruins an accurate image of the villa could be created.

ruins2

The Karamon gate is still in good condition because it was built after the destruction of the Asakura clan and again reconstructed during the Edo period. If you look closely, the gate bears both the mark of the Asakura clan and of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1570 during the Battle of Anegawa Hideyoshi fought in defense for the Asakura clan against Oda Nobunaga. This gate is thus dedicated to Asakura Yoshikage.

GateKamon

There are several gardens in Ichijodani and some are still waiting to be discovered. You can easily spend a full day in the area as it’s surrounded by beautiful nature and there’s so much history to absord.

Something the guide was really proud about is that telecom operator Softbank chose to do a commercial series in Ichijodani. Their trademark white shiba inu named “Otousan” (“father” in Japanese) has been around since 2007 and is the head of the Shirato family. According to the commercial series his hometown is Ichijodani.

Information

Hours: 9am – 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm) / Closed Dec. 28 – Jan. 4
Admission: 210yen (500yen for the virtual guide)
Location: Ichijodani Asakura Family Ruins
Address: 910-2153 Fukui-ken, Fukui-shi, Kidonouchichō
Access: From Fukui JR Station go to Ichijodani Station on the JR Kuzuryu Line (15min) and walk for 25min / Take a bus from JR Fukui Station to Jokyouji and get off at Bukeyashiki-mae (35min) / 30min by car from central Fukui.
URL: http://www3.fctv.ne.jp/~asakura/ (Japanese only)

Japan’s 8 Best-Preserved Castle Towns

5724d5d54dde5_5724d2aadbb46_1779698584

Original surviving Japanese castles are a rarity. Only a dozen retain their original keeps, though there are many more that lie in ruins or have been reconstructed. Beyond the castles, however, many historic castle towns are extremely well preserved, and we’ve gathered eight of the best!

8. Tsuwano (Shimane Prefecture)
5724daeb25101_5724d8c79d3a8_1542866120
Surrounded by verdant mountains, Tsuwano, often called “Little Kyoto,” is one of Japan’s most beautiful historic castle towns. Visitors can stroll down Tsuwano’s streets visiting traditional sweets shops, sake distilleries, and samurai residences. The streets in the Tono-machi neighborhood are even lined with canals filled with brightly colored koi fish!

www.jnto.go.jp

7. Izushi (Hyogo Prefecture)
5724e2f59962b_5724db7c08e4c_1752645309
Izushi Castle was partly reconstructed in 1979, combining with the extant ruins to give a fine impression of what this impressive hilltop structure would have looked like hundreds of years ago. Its surrounding town is now part of Toyooka City, but reminders of Izushi’s historic past remain. Visitors will notice the striking Shinkoro Tower that watches over the traditional city streets. You’ll also be able to try the town’s specialty cuisine—Izushi soba noodles.

www.izushi.co.jp

6. Iwamura (Gifu Prefecture)
5724e2f62c37c_5724dd4c5f2d9_1247320788
The ruins of Iwamura Castle, the highest castle in Japan, overlook the surviving town from atop a mountain. After an invigorating hike, visitors can stroll through the thoughtfully preserved streets. All electrical wires now run underground, truly transporting guests back to the Edo Period (1603-1868).

www.mustlovejapan.com

5. Omihachiman (Shiga Prefecture)
5786037c17c2d_578603744637d_1932113197
An easy day trip from Kyoto, Omihachiman has a lot to offer. with its serene location along Lake Biwa, its reed-laden canals and dazzling whitewashed 19th century houses. Visitors can take a lazy boat ride through the city’s meandering waterways, catching glimpses of Edo Period warehouses and shops. Omihachiman boasts intense natural beauty too, and is considered to be Japan’s first Important Cultural Landscape.

www.jnto.go.jp

4. Kawagoe (Saitama Prefecture)
57293759c1334_572934bb70b85_1756865299
A short distance from Tokyo, visiting Kawagoe is a great way to escape the rush of metropolitan life and travel back in time. During the Edo Period, Kawagoe was an important trade town, supplying Tokyo (which was then called Edo) with much-needed resources. The town’s characteristic clay-walled warehouses are a keen reminder of Kawagoe’s commercial past.

allabout-japan.com

3. Hagi (Yamaguchi Prefecture)
5729375a5ebc9_572931a164dcc_1144916937
Hagi Castle only stands in ruins today, but the surrounding city streets still carry strong reminders of the town’s long history. The town is home to luxurious feudal mansions and samurai residences, as well as thriving merchant districts. Visitors to Hagi can even explore some of these fine houses along with the town’s many temples and museums.

www.japan-guide.com

2. Kakunodate (Akita Prefecture)
5729375aa4732_572931ffe16f1_390442655
Not only a prime spot for cherry blossom viewing, Kakunodate is also steeped in history. It’s one of the best places to experience what a true Japanese castle town might have been like. Descendants of Kakunodate’s samurai still live in and own the town’s historic residences, and some are open for public tours.

www.jnto.go.jp

1. Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture)
5724d5d5b9ebf_5724d390c20b6_29254679
Kanazawa was a prominent Edo Period city and home of the influential Maeda Clan. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa was mostly spared the destruction wrought by World War II, meaning many of its historic buildings and shopping districts are well preserved to this day. Kanazawa is known almost as much for its Edo Period residences as it is for Kenrokuen, one Japan’s top three landscaped gardens.

allabout-japan.com


Read the original article on All About Japan: Japan’s 8 Best-Preserved Castle Towns

You might also like:
Time Travel in Kitakyushu
Visit Kyushu
20 Great Ramens from the Land of Tonkotsu

Birthplace of the Mibu Wolves

In central Kyoto is a small temple called Mibu Dera with a somewhat special link to Nishi-Honganji. During the late 19th century both places housed, for a short time, the now famous special police force of Kyoto, the Shinsengumi. Many people come to see the special Mibu Kyogen (comedy plays), designated as one of the National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties. They attract a big audience during Golden Week, Setsubun and a special weekend in October. But the real majority comes to visit the birth-and final resting place of this band of samurai.

P1050384

Mibu Dera

According to the stories, Mibu Dera Temple was established by the order of Emperor Shomu(r. 724-749) but the actual founder was Kaieken, a monk of another temple in the Mibu district in 991. This makes Mibu Dera one of the oldest temples in Kyoto. The entire temple was destroyed by fire in 1788 and while rebuilding they turned the stage for the Mibu Kyogen performances into separate structure.

P1050387

The Shinsengumi

People often call the Shinsengumi a group of samurais, but in actuality most of its members were not part of the samurai class. During Edo period Japan you were either born a samurai or earned this status through vigorous efforts. After coming from Edo(now Tokyo) the Shinsengumi settled in Mibu to protect Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan at the time. They did this on a voluntary basis to serve the Shogun, then ruler of Japan, who they revered. This seems noble, but most inhabitants of Kyoto can only remember the Shinsengumi as a violent troupe, causing trouble wherever they went. Due to this behaviour they earned the nickname “Wolves of Mibu”. In modern Japan the Shinsengumi is heavily romanticized in novels, manga and Tv-series because of their loyalty to the way of the samurai and an old system that was facing extinction due to a forced Western influence.

P1050389

On the temple grounds there is a small garden area with a commemorative stone and plaque, honoring the members of the Shinsengumi. In this same area is a bust of their commander Kondo Isami, who was beheaded on suspicion of assassinating Sakamoto Ryouma, an important Japanese reformer who changed Japan’s government to a more Western model. In reality, they still don’t know who was actually responsible for the murder.

P1050393

P1050397
Fans leave beautifully decorated plaques near the graves of the Shinsengumi

Yagi-Kei

Right next door of Mibu Dera is the old house of the Yagi family. This is where the Shinsengumi’s core members met and made plans. The entrance to the house has a white and blue banner. This was the color of the Shinsengumi’s uniform and it was considered very flashy during their time period. The kanji on their signature red banner flag is the same as on the back of their haori (kimono jacket), 誠 (makoto), which is short for 誠忠 (seichuu) meaning “loyalty”.

Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos inside the house but it is a very interesting visit. Inside, the guide will show you katana marks on the ceiling and wooden beams from real sword fights by the Shinsengumi. You will also get a brief history of the group with details as to what rooms they used in the house.

P1050403

Whether you are already familiar with the Shinsengumi or not, the guide gives an amazing tour and it is the perfect opportunity to learn more about Kyoto during the time of the last samurais.

Information

Access: A 8-min walk from Hankyu Omiya Station and Shin Omiya Station (you will see signboards when leaving the station).
Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm
Mibu-dera Admission: Free
Yagi-Kei Admission: 1,000 yen including a cup of matcha and a traditional Japanese sweet.

UNESCO world heritage : Nishi-Honganji

Kyoto has many temples and shrines that are famous in Japan and all over the world. But there are many interesting temples that do not appear on the classic tourist routes because they are out of the way of the classic areas you would visit. One of these temples is Nishi-Honganji, the headquarters of one of the biggest Buddhist sects in Japan and a recognized UNESCO world heritage site.

P1050334

What makes this site so impressive is not only the size of the buildings but that it is the head temple of the Honganji faction of the Jodo-Shinshu sect. The name Honganji is a collective name for Shin Buddhism, the most widely practiced form of Buddhism in Japan with about 20% of the population identifying as active members. This temple has about 10,000 subtemples across Japan and 200 overseas temples.

The temple was built in 1591 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, after the sect’s former head temple in Osaka had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga due to the temple’s interference in politics. In 1602, in order to diminish the power of the Jodo-Shinshu, Tokugawa Ieyasu split the main Honganji in Kyoto into two temples, Nishi Hongan-ji and Higashi Hongan-ji. 

P1050329

Nishi Honganji’s has two large structures, the Goeido Hall dedicated to the sect’s founder Shinran and the Amidado Hall dedicated to the Amida Buddha. Amida is the most important Buddha in Jodo-Shin Buddhism. The halls of the temple are beautifully decorated and there are even regular services in the temple. If you’re lucky, you can even sit in on one and get a unique Japanese experience.

P1050339

In 1865 Nishi-Honganji was also home to the special police force of Kyoto, the Shinsengumi. It did not please the priests at all that this violent group of samurai intimidated them and took up lodgings in the temple. While walking on the temple grounds you can imagine this spacious area being used for sword fighting practice.

P1050337

The temple grounds are free to enter for everyone and it is a nice place to relax and think about what you are going to visit next in Kyoto. The wooden structure is so beautiful and the high ceiling makes you feel all the more smaller. There couldn’t be a better place to properly meditate than here.

P1050340

Access

Free to enter, open every day

The Honganji temples are located a 10-15 minute walk north of Kyoto Station.

Hours:  5:30 to 17:30 (March, April, September, October)/ 15:30 to 18:00 May to August) / 15:30 to 17:00 (November to February)

 

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA