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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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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