Kisarazu (1)

My family drove to Kisarazu City. On the way, we saw cherry trees blossoming here and there. We passed through a narrow road full of refreshing smells of Japanese cypress. We arrived at the top of the hill where Heiyasan Kozoji Temple is located. An elegant cat was sitting on the stone wall at the gate. It stood up and guided us to the premises. 

First, we cleaned our hands at a fountain. A gentle wind was blowing. We could hear the wind chimes making a lovely, soothing sound. While we listened to the chimes, the chief priest saw us and kindly guided us to the main hall. 

The temple is a pilgrimage site and is noted for its standing Kannon statue. The statue was carved out of a camphor tree. The main hall, which enshrines the statue, is on stilts. This allows visitors to see the statue through an opening from the ground. Below the raised floor are many artworks of heaven and hell. There are a lot of Buddhist statues and other objects concerning teachings of Buddha. I was inspired by the words on the walls. There were so many messages that I could not digest all of them. I would like to come back to take time to read more of them. 

After leaving the art exhibit, I was overwhelmed by several gigantic camphor trees. When I looked up, they looked like huge buildings. My husband took a picture of me standing in front of them. I looked too tiny to find in the picture.

After that we visited another temple, Chorakuji. We strolled in the Japanese garden. Different types of cherry trees were blossoming in different colors. Orange trees were bearing their fruits. On the ground, we found Japanese butterbur scapes, horsetail shoots, and wild violets. I was excited to find countless eggs of toads in long strings in the pond. I fully enjoyed the peaceful springtime there.

Japanese butterbur scapes
Eggs of toads

Lastly, we visited Otayama Park. During the cherry blossom festival, the cherry trees were decorated with vivid pink lanterns. 

According to a legend, Prince Yamato Takeru missed his wife Princess Oto Tachibana, who lost her life in Hashirimizu, now Tokyo Bay, and he did not want to leave the spot where he lost his love. This is why the park is called “Woods of Love.” From the tower in the center of the park, you can see downtown Kisarazu, Tokyo Bay, and Kanagawa Prefecture across the sea. When it is sunny you can even see Mt. Fuji. 

Umihotaru PA
Tower of Wind

Also in the park is an old thatch-roofed house built in the mid-Edo period. The house fits in with the surrounding nature including cherry trees.

Inside of the house

I noticed two crows perching side by side on top of the house. This is why I felt “Woods of Love” is an appropriate name for this park.  

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My family went to Nokogiryama, which means “Mountains of Saw.” The mountain used to be used as a stone quarry. We took the cable car to the top.

The mountain is 329 meters high. It doesn’t sound very high. Indeed, it is lower than Tokyo Tower. However, the view from there is just spectacular. It commands Tokyo Bay and Miura Peninsula on the west side, Oshima Island southwards, and the rugged coastlines of Boso Peninsula on the east side.

After taking these pictures, we entered Nihonji Temple. Along the path, we were overwhelmed by the vertical quarry walls. The path led us to a huge stone carving called Hyakushaku Kannon. As the name indicates, the relief is about 30 meters high (Hyaku means 100, and shaku is a length of about 30 cm). The Kannon was carved on the remains of a quarry wall. It was astonishing in size, but it perfectly blended into the natural surroundings.

Afterwards, we headed for Jigoku Nozoki (Peep at Hell). It is a natural observation deck sticking out from a quarry cliff. We waited in line more than 30 minutes to reach the edge, but it was worth the wait. I took a glimpse into the “hell,” which was unexpectedly refreshing rather than scary. It was probably because of the calm and peaceful ocean view, the greenery spreading as far as the eye can see, and the fresh, gentle breezes. It was not until I looked right under the cliff that I realized it was really scary.

We caught our breath and started to walk down the long stairs. Along the path, there are reportedly about 1500 stone statues of Buddhist disciples (rakan) enshrined in naturally formed alcoves and caves. They were created between 1779 and 1798. Unfortunately, some of them were heavily damaged due to the anti-Buddhist movement during the Meiji Restoration, and both natural and man-made disasters. The temple has been making efforts to restore these statues.

Once we reached the bottom of the stairs, there was a gentle slope, which was a relief. Actually, my knees were about to give out. Walking further along the winding path, passing by a bamboo grove, a huge Buddhist statue jumped into my view. It is the largest seated Buddhist Statue in Japan, with a height of about 31 m. The plum trees near the statue were starting to bloom. It was so peaceful that I almost forgot that I had to walk back to the top of the mountain to ride the cable car to go home.

Nokogiriyama is an interesting place as a quarry, a scenic mountain, and a Buddhist pilgrimage site. I experienced all three aspects at one time. It was a truly amazing place I want to go back again, but I won’t for the time being, because of the stairs.

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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 where traditional eel restaurants were 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
Grape hyacinths
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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.

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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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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