Miyazaki #4: Legends of Old Japan (手力雄命)

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been putting off making this post forever because it is going to be a LONG one! Most postcards on this blog are pretty easy to explain. They often represent a place like a shrine or temple, a food like fruit or vegetables, or a person famous from the area. However this particular postcard isn’t that easy because it takes a bit of background knowledge on Japanese history and legends to understand just who the guy on the postcard is, and why he was featured. But today, I’m rising to the challenge!

Let’s start at the beginning.

The oldest books in Japanese history are the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, in which the myths and legends of Japan are written. It is said that Izanagi and Izanami, after creating Japan (and I guess the rest of the world), created three children as well: Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun; Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon; and Susanoo, the ocean and storm god.

Amaterasu didn’t exactly get along with her siblings, but in her defense, Susanoo especially seems like he was a bratty little brother, even throwing a flayed horse at her while she sat quietly weaving. In a rage (and probably in defense as well), she hid herself in a cave, denying the world of her light. The other gods and goddesses were concerned as the earth began to die, but no amount of pleading could bring Amaterasu out from her cave. Finally, the goddess of laughter, Ama-no-Uzeme started dancing wildly, and the other gods and goddesses laughter finally brought the curious Amaterasu peaking out of her cave. The god of strength, Tajikara Onomikoto, took the giant rock used to block the cave, and threw it all the way to what is now Nagano Prefecture, where you can see it today somewhere near Zenkouji. (Look, that’s the legend okay, I just report it how it is).

So in Takachiho we’ve allegedly got the cave where Amaterasu hid herself, the cave where the other gods and goddesses met to discuss what to do, and the origin-place of a rock that is now in Nagano.

Tajikara Onomikoto’s statue in front of the Amano Iwato Shrine

A bit clearer of a picture

The ema of Amano Iwato Shrine showing Amaterasu emerging from the cave.

The Amano Iwato Shrine’s inner shrine is actually the cave where Amaterasu hid. You can ask the priests at the temple for a view of it, and they will explain the legend and take you to the look out area to spot the cave, but no pictures are allowed of the viewing platform or the cave itself, which you can’t actually go in. However you can see the cave where all the gods met, which is down a river path about 5-10 minutes from the shrine.

The cave in which the meeting was held by the other gods to discuss what to do about Amaterasu

At the Takachiho Shrine, nightly Yokagura dances are held to explain the story. There are actually 33 dances, but the whole story is only performed on weekends in winter. During the rest of the year, a shortened version of the story is performed.

The goddess’s dance which made the other gods and goddesses laugh, and Amaterasu curious

Tachigara Onomikoto about to move the giant rock from the cave

The shrine during the day is a really beautiful place as well

So there’s the story. Around Takachiho there are many statues and sacred places, and I wish I had had more time to explore, but it was informative in even the short time we stayed. It is a bit difficult of a place to get to, but you can check here for some options.


Chiba #3: Choshi Electric Railway (銚子電気鉄道)

Chiba’s third postcard is of the retro Choshi Electric Railway, a private rail which connects the small Choshi peninsula together. I had the chance to ride this cute train while on the We Love Japan Tour 2015 for Japan Guide, and you can read about my experience here and more about the railway’s history and current stock here.

The postcard combines the DeHa 801 train (now retired) among yellow na no hana (rape blossoms) with the Inubosaki Lighthouse in the background. Although when I visited the na no hana weren’t blooming, I got the chance to see some of the different train cars as well as the lighthouse.

The retired 801 in… not so great a shape, actually. I was a bit surprised by its condition!

The car is parked at Tokawa Terminal Station, an old wooden traditional style station

Inside is a small museum, and you can ask the station staff to unlock the door to go inside.

The closest station to the lighthouse is Inuboh Station which is a unique looking white stucco and blue tiled building.

Inubosaki Lighthouse up on the cliff

Tickets are thick cardboard and reusable, though I got to keep mine!

The pouch the conductor carries actually drives the train, and is switched out half way down the line. Without it, the train wont go.

Some of the different cars on the line

More retired rolling stock kept at Nakanocho Station

Although Choshi isn’t exactly easy to get to, I really loved my visit there. It has a lot to offer, so I’d definitely recommend a trip! I think during April would be nice, as the na no hana are blooming then too!

Yamagata #5: Jomon Venus (縄文の女神)

For Yamagata Prefecture’s 5th postcard, let’s talk a little about Japanese history. The Jomon Period in Japanese history was from around 12,000 BC to 300 BC, when Japan was populated by a hunter-gatherer society with a high level of cultural complexity. They are perhaps the most famous in the Archaeology community for “cord-marked” pottery, vessels decorated with markings of ropes which created a very unique look. This pottery is one of the oldest discovered in the world, and is in fact where the name “jomon” came from.

In the mid- to late- Jomon periods, clay figurines were produced in various styles and in large numbers. Today’s postcard is of a type that depicts women, often pregnant, in a stylized manner and are often called “goddess” or “venus”. This one resides at the Yamagata Prefectural Museum (which has an English page, but it isn’t terrible informative… still, you can find it here). It is in great condition for being 4,500 years old, and is revered for its great sculptural beauty.

Recently, the statue was 3D Printed in several aspects, allowing scientists at the museum to handle the statue without fear, and find details that were not as visible on the original. It also allows visitors to interact with the statue freely. As an archaeology nerd, I think 3D printing of relics is a fantastic idea, but I’m not going to get started talking about it because I’d never stop!

I didn’t visit this museum when I visited Yamagata, unfortunately. However I did visit the Jomon replica village of Sannai-Maruyama in Aomori Prefecture, which I highly recommend.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Jomon Period and these figures, This page has some fantastic information on Jomon and beyond. This site goes more into detail about the pottery, but has some great links and references for further reading. And if you’re in Tokyo, the Tokyo National Museum has several figures on display, a number of which are from Yamagata.

Fukui #4: Daffodils (水仙)

明けましておめでとうございます, or Happy New Year as we say in Japan! I’m excited to start 2015 off with a card from a prefecture I’ve never visited, which hopefully means I will get to visit it this year. That’s right, home of Dinosaurs and Crabs, Fukui Prefecture is on the Sea of Japan side bordered by Ishikawa, Gifu, and Shiga. I have visited all three of those places, but Fukui somehow escaped. Soon.

Anyway, called suisen in Japanese and either daffodil or narcissus in English, these sweet-smelling pretty flowers are one of the first signs of spring, blooming in the cold January and February months when most flowers wouldn’t dare show their petals. A great place to see them in Fukui is at the Echizen Daffodil Village Park in Fukui City. At this park you can see both beds of daffodils from many different countries in the winter, and in the greenhouses year-round. You can even get the chance to pick some!

Another area is the Echizen coastline, which has both wild and cultivated daffodils. Don’t miss these sweet-smelling flowers at Daffodil Land. There’s even a Daffodil Festival from January 17th through 31st!

And if you can’t go to Fukui to enjoy these flowers, never fear… they grow all over Japan, so be on the lookout! In my area, they grow around February and March. Here are some pictures from previous years:

(By the way, the links above are Japanese only… I had a hard time finding any official information in English. If you’d like some help translating, please let me know in a comment below!)

Hydrangea Flowers (Kanagawa 6 – Hakone Mountain Railway (箱根登山電車))

This post is going to be a little different from the others I’ve posted so far. Instead of talking about this postcard as a whole, I want to focus on a smaller element of it. But since I’ve never introduced the card before, I’ll give some background about it:

Kanagawa’s 6th postcard features the Hakone Mountain Railway (Hakone Tozan Densha), which travels from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto, where it switches to a small mountain train, then continues on to Gora, which gives access to the Lake Ashi Cablecar.

Although the train is popular in general and runs year-round, the most famous time to ride it is during June and July, when thousands of Hydrangea (ajisai in Japanese) bloom along the tracks. These rainy season flowers are lit up during the night, and special night trains are added to the schedule during this time. You can read more about the train here.

A poster detailing the train times and ticket information in Shinjuku Station

Right now is the perfect season to ride this train and see these beautiful flowers. Although I’ve never ridden that train, I have ridden Enoshima’s Enoden (the subject of Kanagawa’s 2nd postcard in fact!) and the hydrangea along that line are beautiful as well.

So let’s talk about these flowers. Hydrangea range in color from the lightest pinks, blues, and purples, to the darkest of these colors, depending on acidity of the soil. Because of their bold colors, they are very striking! They are also one of my favorite seasonal flowers, and are currently in full and spectacular bloom here in Japan.

I could have sworn that postacollect featured these flowers on a number of postcards, but as I looked through, I only saw the one. Kanagawa is certainly famous enough for them; the temple of Meigetsu-in in Kamakura is one of the most famous places to see hydrangea in Japan, along with the Hakone Mountain Railroad. I hope next year’s set of cards has a few that feature hydrangea too!

Along with the Hakone Mountain Railroad and Kamakura’s Meigetsu-in, there are numerous other places in Japan to see these flowers, especially around Tokyo. Here are just a few of them:

Ohirasan, Tochigi City, Tochigi
Hasedera, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Mimurotoji, Uji, Kyoto

Let’s enjoy these beautiful flowers now!