Naritasan Shinshoji Temple

My family visited Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. This temple is so popular that it attracts 3 million visitors from all over Japan at New Year and 10 million visitors through the year. The temple is dog-friendly, so Tiffany enjoyed the visit too. We asked a volunteer guide to show us around the premises. His detailed and clear explanation helped us understand the history and architecture of the temple.

This three-story pagoda was especially impressive.

This pagoda was built in 1712 and repainted recently. It is enshrined with the Five Wisdom Buddhas and ornamented with sculptures of the sixteen arhat saints. It is characterized by its solid board rafters. They are carved with patterns of flowing clouds and water, and are surrounded by sculptures of auspicious animals―dragons, kirin, and baku.

Another building that impressed me was Shakado. It was built in 1858 and used as the Main Hall of Shinshoji Temple.

The exterior walls are covered with reliefs of the 500 arhats, legendary disciples of Buddha. They are very intricate. It is said that it took the sculptor 10 years to complete the work. Every arhat has a different face, and it is believed that you can always find a deceased loved one on one of their faces. On the doors, there is another set of reliefs depicting the story of the Twenty-Four Paragons of Filial Piety.

The Gakudo Hall was built in 1861. It displays votive tablets which were dedicated by devotees during the Edo period. A statue of a famous kabuki actor, Ichikawa Danjuro VII, is situated there.  

The Komyodo Hall was built in 1701. It was originally used as the Main Hall. It enshrines Dainichi Nyorai, Fudo Myo-o, and Aizen Myo-o.

The Nio-mon Gate was rebuilt in 1831. The huge lantern was dedicated by people from the Tsukiji Fish Market in 1968. It weighs 800 kg! What is written on the lantern is Uogashi, which means “fish market.”

After leaving the temple, my family walked along Omotesando Street with traditional eel restaurants in a row. Narita is famous for its eel. The street was filled with the delicious smell of grilled eel. We bought lunch boxes at a restaurant called Kawatoyo. They were out-of-this-world! I imagined how people in the Edo period had enjoyed eating eel after visiting the temple like we did.

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Two churches in Hoshino

I visited two churches in the Hoshino area: Karuizawa Kogen Church and Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Stone Church.

The former is a wooden church built in 1927. It used to be a lecture hall for liberal arts courses. A Christian evangelist and philosopher, Kanzo Uchimura (1861-1930), and other intellectuals gathered there, and talked passionately, pursuing spiritual growth and enrichment.

The building looked reserved and modest, completely surrounded by tall trees. It looked as if it were part of nature. It was very quiet. All I could hear were birds singing from among the trees.

Stone church, built in 1988, is very close to Karuizawa Kogen Church. It is made of local stone bricks from Karuizawa. It was designed by an American architect, Kendrick Kellog. He embodied organic architecture through this church by incorporating the five natural elements of light, water, wood, stone, and greenery.

The church is curved from east to west, according to the sun’s orbit, and the glass ceilings are arranged so that they can always take in sunlight. You can feel nature whether you are inside or outside of the building.

I found some pretty flowers heralding the arrival of spring near the churches.

Japanese Butterbur
Daffodils
Grape hyacinths
Crocuses
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Oni-oshidashi Park

Oni-oshidashi means “ogres pushing something out.” It is located at the foot of Mt. Asama.

In the park, there are countless huge rocks which were spouted as lava in the large eruption in 1783. Mt. Asama, whose top is covered with snow, looks calm now, but the gigantic rocks scattering around tell how violent the eruption was. No wonder people have associated the area with ogres.

The scenery of the park can be compared to a hell, but it is alive. It has developed a unique ecosystem. There are many tiny pine trees growing from the rocks. Some rocks have Schistostega pennata (luminous moss) on them. The rocks and the plants successfully coexist.

luminous moss

There are many stone lanterns along the path. In 1977, John Lennon took one of his famous family photos at one of them.

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Shiraito Falls

My family visited Shiraito Falls. It was early April, and there was some snow still remaining there. The weather was nice and pleasant. We enjoyed walking along the river which led to Shiraito Falls.

We found small birds around the river, including brown dippers, wrens, and black-faced buntings. I enjoyed watching them hopping on slippery rocks, and hearing them warble.

Wren
Brown dipper
Black-faced bunting
Wren climbing the rock

Shiraito Falls, meaning “falls of white threads,” was named for the way the clean groundwater flows from the rock walls. It looks like white threads. The water we see now was once the snow and rain which had fallen on Mt. Asama six years ago.

Mt. Asama is an active volcano. It has erupted repeatedly throughout its 50,000-year history. A massive eruption that occurred in 1783 created these falls. Shiraito Falls is one of the spots where you can feel the grandeur of nature.

Mt. Asama and Shiraito Highway
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Kumanokotai Shrine and Kumano Shrine

The main shrine building is located on the prefectural border, between Nagano and Gunma. It is divided into two shrines: Kumanokotai Shrine (Nagano) and Kumano Shrine (Gunma).

Main gate

On the Nagano side, there is a Japanese Linden tree, which is more than 850 years old. It is worshiped as a sacred tree. It is said, if you go around the tree clockwise, your wish will come true. The tree looked gentle but powerful. My family enjoyed walking and staying around the tree.

The tree has a naturally-made hole, the shape of a heart, in its trunk.

Inside the Kumanokotai Shrine, there were dog-shaped cutouts in place of katashiro. I wrote Tiffany’s name on one and stroked her with it and made her blow on it. (Actually, she sniffed and sighed.)

Katashiro is a slip of paper cut into the shape of a person. It represents a person who prays. In a Shinto ritual, priests make katashiro float in water, or burn it. The purpose is to purify the person from impurities, sins, and bad things that may happen. These may include illnesses and bad luck. This ritual has existed more than 1,400 years.

The stone figures of guardian dogs, built in mid-1400s, are the oldest in Nagano Prefecture.
The stone windmill was dedicated to the shrine in 1688.

On the Gunma side, there are several important cultural artifacts. One is a hanging bell, which is Gunma’s oldest. It was dedicated to the shrine by samurai warriors in 1292.

The stone pagoda was built in 1354.

Also, the sculptures on the shrine were magnificent. They were carved in the early Edo period.

According to Nihon-shoki (the oldest chronicles of Japan), the foundation of the shrine dates back to 110 A.D. A Japanese legendary prince of the Yamato dynasty, Yamato Takerunomikoto, got lost in the mountains due to dense fog. Then he was guided by a three-legged crow and successfully reached the peak. He was grateful for the blessing and established a shrine there.

It is said that he longed for his deceased wife and cried, “Azuma haya (Alas, my wife),” while he was on the mountain pass facing the east. This is how eastern areas from the location (currently, the Kanto region) started to be called Azuma.


After leaving the historic shrine, we visited a restaurant across from it, which was also on the prefectural border. It has a history of more than 300 years. Our seats were on the Nagano side. Since the restaurant was on the mountain ridge, it commanded a magnificent view.

I ate soba (buckwheat noodles), topped with wild edible plants, and mochi (rice cake) for dessert. They were delicious!

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Harunire Terrace

Harunire Terrace is a restaurant and shopping area named after Japanese elm trees. It is located in a forest. There is a brook running alongside Harunire Terrace. Along the brook, there are more than 100 indigenous Japanese elm trees.

Harunire Terrace consists of 16 businesses. The shop buildings are stylish. The simple and chic design and the dark color blend well with the forest scenery.

We stopped at an Italian restaurant there. They used fresh, locally produced ingredients. The salad was fresh and crispy. I loved the pizza and pasta, too.

Every shop looked unique and attractive. I would like to visit more shops next time.

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ゴールデンウィーク

お久しぶりです。今日から5月ですね。

GW中は本を読んだり、映画を観たり、散歩したりしています。今はツツジがきれいです。

春になってから、千葉や長野のいろいろなところを探検していろいろな花や鳥に出会いました。写真を撮ったり、英語の文章を書いたりしていたのですが、なかなか勇気が出ず(?)、更新できませんでした。

このGWの時間を利用して、少しずつ記事を公開したいと思います。

まずは旅行記から。今日からしばらく、軽井沢の自然や建築のことを書いていきますね。


写真:まだ真っ白な浅間山です。(4月上旬撮影)

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Karuizawa and St. Paul’s Catholic Church

Karuizawa is a renowned resort place. Situated at an altitude of 1,000 meters, it is much cooler and perfect for summer retreats. In 1886, Canadian missionary Alexander Croft Shaw was fascinated by the nature of Karuizawa and built his summer residence there in 1888. People from overseas followed him, and began to spend their summer holidays there. Later, many celebrities, including writers, came to visit Karuizawa to enjoy the tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Old Karuizawa station building

Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza (Shopping Street) is full of charming shops. Near the street are summer villas, old churches, and other historical buildings.

St. Paul’s Catholic Church, founded in 1935, was designed by Antonin Raymond, a Czech-American architect.

The roof framing is made of timber logs, which creates a warm atmosphere.

The chairs, with log backrests, go well with the architecture of the building.

St. Paul’s Catholic Church made me feel very comfortable and peaceful.

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Chiba Museum of Science and Industry

I went to the Chiba Museum of Science and Industry. My purpose was to learn about the industries of Chiba, especially, electricity, oil, and steel. The explanations on the panels and in the videos were highly informative and easy to understand. Besides, there were miniature models of a power plant, an oil refinery, and ironworks, which further helped me understand the history of how electricity and materials have been produced.

The exhibits on the second floor are about the history of industry. I enjoyed learning about oil and steel. The exhibits on the first floor are divided into two areas. The first one is to introduce the latest technology. I was especially interested in electronics and new materials. The second area is called the experimental plaza. It provides hands-on exhibits to teach scientific principles visually. It was especially fun to see how a water vortex was created in a huge transparent cylinder.

My visit was an absolutely fulfilling experience satisfying my curiosity. I came home with excitement about my new knowledge.

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Kominato Line

The Kominato Line is a 39.1 km stretch of rail line between Goi and Kazusa-Nakano in Chiba. It started operating as early as 1925. It runs southwards through inland areas, including mountains and valleys, in the the Boso Peninsula. The northern part of the line functions as an important part of the commuter train for those who travel to Tokyo.

The Kominato Line is identified by its orange-colored diesel-powered cars and humble and rustic stations, seven of which have remained unchanged since they were built in 1925. They create a sense of nostalgia.

The views from the train are breathtaking. They show different landscapes depending on the season. You can see bright cherry blossoms and vibrant canola fields in spring, lush green paddy fields in summer, multicolor foliage in autumn, and welcoming Christmas lights and decorations in winter.

No wonder the Kominato Line attracts many railway enthusiasts and tourists.

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Kazusa-Kokubunniji

I visited the ruins of Kazusa-Kokubunniji, an ancient provincial Buddhist nunnery. It was built in accordance with a decree by Emperor Shomu in 741 A.D. It is said that the premises of this nunnery were the largest in Japan. The buildings burned to the ground. To this day, we don’t know what caused the fire. After they were excavated in the 20th Century, the gate and corridor leading to the main building were painstakingly reproduced. They used the same types of materials and tools that had been used when they were built.

I walked along the corridor and looked at details of the building. After that, I visited the exhibition hall. In the hall, I watched a video explaining the history of the nunnery. It was truly informative. The hall exhibits artifacts excavated from the site. They show how the buildings were built and what nuns’ daily lives were like. Notes and signatures on pottery are still legible because they were written in Indian ink, which was carbonized through fires. They provide important information about who owned the pottery and where it was used.

The curator’s explanations were very helpful, detailed, and inspirational in understanding the artifacts, those who lived there, and history of the nunnery.

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Ancient burial mounds

There are many ancient burial mounds in Chiba.

In Kazusa-Kokubunji Central Park, there are replicas of clay figures excavated from an ancient burial mound built in the 6th century.

The burial mound does not exist any more, but you can find another one near it.

The Godo No. 5 Tumulus was built in the early 3rd Century. It is one of the oldest burial mounds in eastern Japan. The artifacts were excavated in the 20th Century for the first time. They included earthenware from the Kinki, Hokuriku, Tokai, and Kita-kanto areas. This means the local ruling family interacted with people in these regions.

It is interesting to visit historic sites and imagine how people lived in ancient times. I would like to visit I’Museum Center, which will open in Autumn 2022, to see ancient artifacts and relics found in Ichihara.

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