Hida Shunkei lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in the cities of Takayama and Hida in Gifu Prefecture. The origin of this craft dates back to 1606. A head carpenter, who were engaged in building temples and shrines in the castle town of Takayama, happened to discover beautiful straight grains, when he chopped a piece of sawara cypress wood apart. He made it into a tray and lacquered the surface. Because the coloring of this tray resembled “Hishunkei,” a famous tea ceremony tea jar made by master potter, Kato Kagemasa, the name Shunkei was given to this lacquer ware.
What makes Hida Shunkei lacquer ware so special is the way that the beauty of the surface of the wood is brought out by the application of a transparent coating of lacquer. It is also characterized by its delicate technique of hegime (grooves that are carved out between the wood grains). When exposed to the light, the grains with hegime grooves glow gold through the transparent lacquer. The more it is used, the more gloss it takes on. Hida Shunkei is extremely appealing and robust form of lacquer ware.
Shokawa in Toyama Prefecture is a town dominated by water. Water runs from the Hida Mountains into the Sho River and through Mt Goka to appear again at the edge of Tonami Plain, where Shokawa is located. Abundant water also runs to Tonami Plain from mountains in Nanto. Waterfalls and clear water springs occur, too, at many places along the slopes and at the foot of the mountains.
Shokawa features one of Japan's 100 best water sites: Uriwari-no-shimizu, which means 'Split-Melon Clear Water'. To find this site in Shokawa, look for some Buddha stone statues in a shallow cave near the road under a hilly terrace in Iwaguro housing development. In the cave, clear water wells up under the gaze of the Buddhas.
About 600 years ago, legend has it that Shaku-shonin, a founder of Zuisenji Temple in Inami, was visiting this area when one of his horse's hooves suddenly broke through the ground and released clear water. The 'split melon' name refers to a story that a melon once split naturally when cooled in the water here. The water never stops even for extended periods of hot weather, and is thus worshiped as holy water.
Awano lacquer ware (Awano Shunkei-nuri) is a traditional handicraft that is counted as one of Japan’s 3 Fine Shunkei Lacquer Ware together with Hida Shunkei in Gifu Pref. and Noshiro Shunkei in Akita Pref. This is the oldest Shunkei lacquering technique in Japan. Its origin dated back to 1489, when Minamoto no Yoshiaki, the castellan of Inagawa castle, began lacquering in present-day Awa, Shirosato-machi, Ibaraki Pref. The hardest kind of Hinoki cypress is cut into pieces, planed, and assembled by using wooden nails made of Deutzia. Then the surface is polished with Equisetum (horsetails) and allpied lacquer bringing out the beauty of straight grains. This lacquering technique is characterized by the use of Japanese plum vinegar to enhance the transparency and create beautiful color shade. Nowadays trays, jubako boxes, lunch boxes and ink-stone boxes are produced.
Nagoya Paulowina Chest manufactured in Aichi Pref. is designated as Traditional Craft Product. The making of this woodwork started about 400 years ago, when carpenters were gathered from all over the country to build Nagoya Castle. After the construction the workmen settled down in the castle town of Nagoya and started to make chests and nagamochi (Japanese trunk). In the Edo period, the culture of Owari clan, which controlled this area, was flourishing and commoners could afford to obtain expensive kimono made of silk fabric, which had been produced actively in this area. Accordingly the demand for the furniture to store clothing rapidly increased and the techniques in making wooden products including chests developed. As the trees to be made into expensive timber called “Kiso wood” grew in abundance in adjacent Kiso district, wooden products were actively produced in Nagoya and became known to all over the nation. The handmade techniques have been handed down for a long time and presently Nobori-dansu (a large-sized chest with sliding doors), Nakabiraki-dansu (with hinged door), and Isho-dance (clothing chest) are mainly produced.
Mt Kurobegoro (2840m) is in the Hida Mountain Range and is one of Japan's 100 major mountains. It is for intermediate hikers and many hikers visit it throughout the year. The most popular hiking course is the north-south course which takes four days and covers Yakushi, Kurobegoro, Sugoroku mountains and Kamikochi.
Mt Kurobegoro features a large cirque on its north side, which begins beyond the smooth ridge line at Mt Yakushi in the Tateyama Mountain Range, extends along Tarobe plateau and ends at Mt Kitanomata. This cirque, or 'kar', appears as if the mountain side had been scooped away, but was actually eroded by a gracier.
If you are at the bottom of the cirque, the extraordinary atmosphere of the place will make you draw breath. You cannot help but be moved by the natural beauty of the site with its traces of snow, abundant water and alpine flora.
Hongakuji Temple is located at the foot of the Oka-no-Yume Farm in Toyama Prefecture and was the clan temple of Jimbo, the lord of Tomizaki Castle.
The temple was built in the Heian period by Myouun, a monk of the Tendai school of Mahayana Buddhism. It is said that it was founded when Myouun built a temple in Hidanokuni (today's Gifu Prefecture) in 1343 and named it Hongakuji. Myouun, who was also the 7th chief priest of Hongakuji, visited and emigrated to Etchu (today's Fuchu-machi-fukuro) after the temple was razed by soldiers.
In Etchu, Myouun gained the devotion and allegiance of Jimbo, the lord of Tomizaki Castle, and rebuilt the temple at its current site. Many ancient writings of the last legitimate child and heir of the Jimbo clan, Jimbo Nagamoto (defeated and killed by Oda Nobunaga), are preserved at the temple as well.
At one point in its history, it was said that the bell at the temple had a better sound than that of Toyama Castle, which infuriated Sassa Narimasa (a general during the Warring States Period), who then proceeded to burn the inside of the bell with sand to dampen its exquisite sound. Despite the mishap, the bell was designated as a tangible cultural property of Toyama.
The temple's bronze statues and statues of Youryu-Kannon are authorized as important art objects of Japan, and are also very spectacular.