Most of the time at the mention of Japan, what comes to mind are hot springs, sakura blossoms, Mount Fuji, Kyoto and Tokyo. Indeed, few step off the tourist path. But those who do, will be greatly rewarded. There are entire prefectures waiting to be explored bringing along with it, its own history, culture, religion and foods. This is the last of my instalment for SouperchefannatravelsxJapan journals where I would want to just highlight some of the places we have been which are culturally important and helped me in my soup inspiration journey.
Shinto and Buddhism-a medley
Most Japanese people observe rites of the native Shinto religion and those of Buddhism. Many Japanese people regard the religious practices of Japan as part of the nation’s culture, rather than a matter of individual belief or faith. We had the privilege of visiting a shrine and a temple during our visit and I have journalled the highlights below.
Chusonji Temple ( Koromonoseki-202 Hiraizumi, Nishiiwai District, Iwate Prefecture 029-4102, Japan)
Hiraizumi’s most famous attraction, Chusonji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, representing the Buddhist Pure Land since 2011. This place sees 80,000 visitors a year with 20,000 being foreigners and surprisingly 90% of these foreigners come from Taiwan. There is actually a direct flight from Taiwan to the nearby airport. We were hosted by the chief monk, Shinso san, a well mannered educated young who speaks English and have studied in Europe. He comes from a family of monks, his grandfather and his father both served at Chusonji Temple.
Chusonji was established in 850 by the priest Ennin as a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism in Tohoku. The temple came to prominence when the northern branch of the Fujiwara clan moved their base to Hiraizumi. The reason for its existence was to console the souls of all those, whether friend or foe, who died in two major conflicts at the end of the 11th century. This was a period when Hiraizumi served as a sort of northern capital of Japan. It had a population of between 100K to 200K and it was one of the 3 major cities besides Kyoto and Dazaifu (Fukuoka today) It was a glorious culture using gold and silver flourished during this period, and was known as the Golden Culture of Hiraizumi, symbolizing the power of the Fujiwara clan who dominated Japan at the time. At its peak, the temple consisted of a large network of dozens of buildings. There were at least 100 halls housing 400 monks. But many were destroyed by fire in the 14th century. Today there are only 14 monks staying in its premises taking care of its day to day activities and prayer services.
With the fall of the Fujiwara at the end of the 12th century, Chusonji suffered likewise so that now only two buildings from that era remain intact. Luckily, among these is the most spectacular, the Konjikido. Similar to Kyoto’s famous Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Konjikido is a hall completely covered in gold. It dates back to 1124 and stands inside another building for protection. As photography is strictly prohibited in the halls, to see the grandeur of the hall, please visit the official website here.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (4-7-1 Saifu, Dazaifu-city, Fukuoka, 818-0195)
Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine is a Shinto shrine located about 15 km southeast of Fukuoka city. It is dedicated to the memory of Michizane Sugawara, also known as “the god of wisdom”. Michizane Sugawara (845-903) was a talented politician well versed in poetry and literature. But in 901, he was involved in a political battle and was demoted and transferred from Kyoto to Dazaifu, a remote area in Japan at the times. He died two years later. The Shrine was built on the site of his grave. Since the Middle Ages, this shrine had been worshiped as the god of learning, because he was an excellent scholar.
National Cultural Treasures of Japan
A highlight of 2 national treasures we visited during our souperinspiration trip.
Matsumoto Castle (4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873)
Matsumoto Castle is the oldest castle in Japan still containing its original black painted, wooden keep (donjon) dating from 1595. The black color gave Matsumoto Castle its nickname “Karasujo” (Crow Castle) and the brooding, somber color was designed to sow fear in the hearts of any approaching attacker. Matsumoto Castle is built on flat ground and is thus classified as a hirajiro in Japanese (flat-land castle) and has a large moat and thick walls as a means of defense. Construction of the fortress that was to become Matsumoto Castle began under the Ogasawara clan in 1504 and was remodeled by Lord Kazumasa Ishikawa, a retainer of warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi, in the mid-1590’s. It is one of four castles designated as a National Treasure in Japan.
Koiwai Farm (36-1 Maruyachi, Iwate-gun, Shizukuishi-cho 020-0507, Iwate Prefecture)
Koiwai farm is the biggest private farm in Japan, and is located 12 km northwest of Morioka city, Iwate. It is on the foot of Mount Iwate (2,038 meters high), and is about 3,000 hectares wide. It was established in 1891, and today its businesses are dairy, eggs production and the others, additionally it has a factory of dairy-products. In the farm, there is the sightseeing area named “Makiba-en”. where visitors can meet cows and sheep, and get on a horse tramway.
IT’S A WRAP!