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Mystery of Hiyoshi Toshogu Shrine

Posted by Scott on June 25, 2017

If you want to get out of the hustle and bustle of Kyoto, or have been to Kyoto before and wish to see a little bit more of the country, maybe heading towards the Largest Lake in Japan, Lake Biwako will offer a great opportunity to do this> I means you will be seeing Shigawa Prefecture, and also means you can discover some amazing history without seeing hundreds and hundreds of other people.

Hiyoshi Toshogu is also known as a “Rei-Byou” or a Shrine that holds the Spirits of an ancestor or very highly ranked person, in this case that highly ranked person is no other than the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun (1543-1616). I had heard and read about Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine which is located approximately 400 meters to the right of Hiyoshi Toshogu and Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine was my main goal for today. But I literally just happened to stumble on the Hiyoshi Toshogu, which without a doubt became my “treasure” for the day. I originally thought the spirit/remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu were located at the Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, but I was mistaken. It is here at the Hiyoshi Toshogu that Tokugawa Ieyasu has his spirit deeply lodged.

I wouldn’t say I have any divine power myself, but I must have had a little luck on my side. Today was Thursday and I found out later that Hiyoshi Toshogu, is only opened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However, when I arrived at the Karamon (front Gates) of Hiyosho Toshogu (which were shut) there was a sole gentleman raking the stones. * The Karamon Gates themselves are an Important Cultural Asset of Japan. The “gate keeper” as I will call him, kindly started to talk to me in a little English, and when he realized I had been in Japan for over 2 decades, he told me to hold on for a minute, and he actually went into the closed off Toshogu, and opened the front gates for me. So even though it was Thursday, and from the kind generosity of this Gate Keeper, I was let into the grounds of Hiyoshi Toshogu and had them all to myself. I also now had a personal Guide (The “Gate Keeper”) and he let me in to many secrets and interesting facts about the Hiyoshi Toshogu, which don’t seem to be anywhere on the internet.

There are only 2 humans that have actually become Gods in Japan, and one of those is Tokugawa Ieyasu. There are over 500 Toshogu in Japan, but only 3 of these have actually had the remains and spirits of Tokugawa Ieyasu reside inside of them. The most famous is Nikko Toshogu in Tochigi Prefecture. Then there is the Kunozan Toshogu in Shizuoka Prefecture. The last was now looking at me in the eye, in the form of Hiyoshi Toshogu. A little known fact is that the Nikko Toshogu which holds some of the mortal remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu, was actually created after Hiyoshi Toshogu. Hiyoshi Toshogu is the model for the design and architecture for the Nikko Toshogu Shrine.

Built in 1623 Hiyoshi Toshogu has been repaired only 4 times with the last time being approximately 50 years ago. It lies at the base of the Heizan Mountain poking it’s existence out from a forest that once was totally burnt down by Oda Nobunaga along with the Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, in order to gain power over his enemies. (Shrines are places where Gods reside so after burning down a place of Gods, he was betrayed and killed shortly after as a sort of divine punishment). Tokugawa Ieyasu found peace at the Shrines, and through rebuilding several smaller shrines at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, he found many followers and allies, and for doing all these good deeds, became a God like figure himself which lasted for 265 years.

Hiyoshi Toshogu became an Important Cultural Asset in April, 1917. However a little known fact I was told by my personal guide, was that Hiyoshi Toshogu was also once a Japanese National Treasure, but for some reason was delegated to the rank of Important Cultural Asset.

Walking into the grounds, my friendly Gate Keeper pointed to the wooden tigers above the Shrine doors. Two facts; firstly the Tigers represent the birth year of Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was born in the year of the Tiger. Next fact (not so known), one of the tigers has it’s mouth opened and the other doesn’t. This is relatively rare as you would usually only see this at the entrance of the Temples in the likes of the Niomon with their guardians. The Gardens of the Temples and these Tigers depict the first breath of life taken when coming into the world shouting and screaming with your mouth open. And the closed mouth is how you depart (quietly) from this world bound for the beyond.

Another little known fact is the dragons on the pillar below the tigers, represent the birth year of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandchild’s year, the year of the dragon. 

Walking around the side of Hiyoshi Toshogu, you can see that there is a front section and rear section and a slightly lower section that joins the Front and the Back together. Hiyosi Toshogu was the first to create this style of design which literally links the front main Worshipping Area to the Back sub worshipping area. (Nikko followed this design when later built). The front of Hiyoshi Toshogu and the right side offer a great feel to the 400 year old history that surrounds the Shrine. Even being last repaired some 50 years ago, the faded colors of the front and right-side show the toll it has taken by the factors. The rear and left side of the Shrine offer more color to the wall paintings and all the detailed wooden carvings that line the upper parts of the walls. You can distinctly see the family crest of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the very detailed “Kaeru-mata” with Crane, Rabbits and other animals.

Like the colors that were used in it’s creation, Hiyoshi Toshogu still shows you that the six primary colors (yellow, blue, green, red, white and black), just obviously lighter than the Edo period.

 

After taking a couple of walks around Hiyoshi Toshogu, I was mesmerized with the place, and then the Gate Keeper hit me again with a very mysterious and intriguing tale.

 

All Toshogu Shrines face East (TO from TOshougu means east), and there is a great mystery around this. You can draw a straight line from Nikko Toshogu to Kunozan Toshogu and then another second straight line from Kunozan Toshogu to Hiyoshi Toshogu. Finally you draw a 3rd final line from Hiyoshi Toshogu to Nikko Toshogu Shrine and you have a perfect Triangle. Not only a perfect triangle, but with all Toshogu Shrines facing East, people can worship in the same position no matter which Toshogu you are at. Also, all Toshogu will be facing the Nothern Stars in the Skies, which is known to be the Ruler of the Gods, and a place where Gods are created. Definitely not a coincidence. Another fascinating point, is that of Mt Fuji’s location compared with the Toshogu Shrines.  Fuji or “Fushi” which means #no death / immortal” can be found directly on the line coming from Nikko Toshougu to Kunozan Toshougu. Found directly infront of Hiyoshi Toshougu can be found “Oumi-Fuji” or the Mt Fuji of Oumi area. This smaller but same shaped Mt.Oumi Fuji is located directly on the striaght line from Hiyoshi Toshogu to Nikko Toshogu.  OK, this is beyond mysterious, but absolutely fascinating. Once you walk out of Hiyoshi Toshogu, there is a little cobble stone path taking you down the main entrance of Hiyoshi Toshogu. My mentor the Gate Keeper, mentioned that if you walked in a straight line out into the Biwako Lake, you would just be to the left of Mt Oumi Fuji. However, if you walked straight out of the door of Hiyoshi Toshogu and walked to the Lake, you would find you self on the Oumi Fuji mountain itself. The Hiyoshi Toshogu was purposely designed slightly angled differently from the main path to the Shrine so the Shrine and only the Shrine was symmetrical to  Mt.Oumi Fuji.  

I felt something click inside of me, and something told me I was here for a reason. I still haven’t worked out that reason, but I know I need to get back to Hiyoshi Tosogu soon. This mysterious location is trying to tell me something. 

The Big Three (buddha) of Japan

Posted by Website Admin on May 29, 2017

With history so deep in Japan, it is hard to explain every detail concerning each period or Era, along with each Feudal Lord that lead those Eras. It is even more difficult to explain the path of religion that was brought into Japan from India, China and other locations and all the different sects that have evolved over the years in those religions. Of course the most visited Temples and Shrines in Japan, offer a lot of written material about these topics, but even then, Japanese people themselves have a hard time to follow the history.

Sometimes, it is better to have an open mind when visiting the Shrines and Temples, and actually enjoy them for what they represent today instead of trying to understand the history.

I sometimes, just get onto my road bike and head somewhere I haven’t been before, just because I have heard that Temple’s name but aren’t too sure on what it represents. This often leads to a new discovery or two, and you find yourself at a place that isn’t one of the “must see” locations, so you are away from all the crowds.

One discovery I found, won’t make breaking news, but I was glad I went. I happened to stumble upon a Temple called Nofuku-ji Temple which is based in the Harbor City of Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. As I am intrigued with Temples, Shrines, Castles and the odd Buddha Statue, Nofuku-ji dragged me into its gravitational pull as soon as I heard the word DAIBUTSU or Buddha statue.

Nofuku-ji Temple itself was established in the year 806 which is a feat itself, but more so was the existence of the large Buddha statue situated outside. By the way Nofukuji Temple is included as one of the 33 Temples to visited in the Saigoku Pilgrim route and it also holds the Grave of Kiyomori Taira who was one of the most decorated Military Shogun’s towards the end of the Heian Period (Year 794 to 1185 ) .
The largest Buddha Statue in Japan is at Todaiji Temple which is in Nara. That stands at approx. 18 meters. The next largest Buddha Statue is at Kamakura which is at a height of 13 meters. To my surprise, officially the third largest Buddha Statue is here at Nofukuji Temple.

Nofukuji Temple’s Buddha Statue is at 11 meters, and is generally known as one of the top 3 Buddha Statues in Japan. However, there is a slightly sad story about this Buddha Statue.

The Buddha Statue which is known as “The Hyogo Buddha” (with Hyogo being the prefecture that holds, Kobe, Himeji, Nishinomiya, Akashi and many other Cities) was created after a donation of a wealthy merchant in 1891 and until 1944 which is over half a century, was known as one of the biggest three Buddha statues in Japan.

Unfortunately in 1944, the metals of the Buddha were needed to be melted down and given back to the Country during World War 2. But close to 50 years later, in 1991 the 2nd Hyogo Buddha was created. It represents the same concept as the largest Buddha Statue in Nara, which offers Spiritual Enlightenment to the entire human race. The Hyogo Buddha is 11 meters tall, or 18 meters tall with the Lotus Platform included and still one of the 3 biggest and meaningful Buddha Statues in Japan. The 60ton statue sits outside which is relatively rare in Japan, and even when they had the opening Ceremony (Or the Open Eye ceremony, as they say in Japan) the Priests in charge of the Nara Buddha Statue where also present.

Just to be in the same complex as this Statue was enough for me to want to come back some other day. Also the eyes of the Buddha certainly looked like they would look after me, and no matter where you walk around in the complex, those eyes seem to follow you movements.

The 1st Hyogo Buddha didn’t survive the pressure of World War 2, but miraculously this 2nd Buddha statue survived the magnitude 7.3 Awaji-Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Coming here is a great thing to do if you want to get away from the crowded Temples and Shrines, and get a little bit of inspiration which you can do by looking at this detailed creation.

The Ghibli Museum Mitaka

Posted by Travel on April 16, 2017

Anime and Manga are Japanese words, but they are used now throughout the world when someone talks about Animation or Japanese Comics (Manga). Unlike most of the other countries that produce Anime or Manga, Japan produces them not only for children, but also for adults.

You can see adults reading Manga on the Trains, and people of all ages watching Anime on their iPhone or other devises.

One of the most famous of all Anime producers in Japan is that of Studio Ghibli. One Anime movie of Ghibli called “Spirited Away” or “Sen to Chihiro no Kami-Kakushi” is known World Wide and is one the top three movies ever, when it comes to the highest Grossing Animation movie. Made in 2001, Spirited away received awards in Berlin and even at the Academy Awards in America.

In the same year, October 2001, The Ghibli Museum was opened in a local suburb of Tokyo called Mitaka, about 45 minutes from Central Tokyo. It has been going to date for over 15 full years and has brought so many smiles to both Children and Adult fans of Studio Ghibli works. (By the way, Ghibli means the Hot winds blowing in the Sahara Desert).

The Ghibli Museum will go under a revamp from Mid May this year and will be out of action for a little while, so I took up the opportunity and headed out to Mitaka in Early April. In order to get an entrance ticket to the Ghibli Museum, you have to either ring direct or book via the internet. Tickets for the following month all go on sale on the 10th of the previous month. So for me, even though I wanted to go in April, I had to book my tickets on the 10th of March. (By the way the person who buys the tickets has to go on the day to the museum and must have some ID to show who you are). Anyway, with tickets in my hand I was now in line to wait for the Ghibli museum doors to open. There were many overseas visitors and Japanese families alike. It just showed me again, on how popular Ghibli is all over the world.

Photos can’t be taken inside the museum, but up on the roof and outside in the garden area, you can take as many photos as you want. There is no particular route to follow once in the museum, but for me it was off to the mini theatre first, to see a 15 minute Ghibli Movie. The movie changes each month, but as there generally are no words spoken in the movie, it doesn’t matter what nationality you are. After the movie it was free to move around the 3 floors of the museum.

As I am not under 12 years old, I passed on sitting and playing on the fluffy Cat Bus (Neko Bus), and went straight out on to the roof, where there stands a giant robot, the same robot you can see in the movie “Castle in the Sky” or “Laputa”. I took several photos of the Robot, and also being forever a child at heart, I asked a couple of Japanese girls to take my picture with the giant robot.

Back inside the museum, I did a bit of shopping first to avoid the crowds, and then went down to the 2nd floor. (Over half the gifts, souvenirs in the shop can only be found at this museum, so I suggest you have a good look).  On the 2nd floor, there is an amazing few rooms that show you just how each and every movie is thought up and then drawn by the artists. Here you can actually see many of the hand drawn scenes of several movies, which just blows your mind away as the detail and time put into even one page, it just unbelievable. Here I was able to come face to face with drawings of my most favorite movie, “Prinicess Mononoke”, a story about humans living together with fairies and other types of living beasts. These are the areas that the true fans just love to look at.

On the other side of level 2, was another area with objects of other movies on display and another Cat bus to actually sit on and have a rest. The 1st floor is where the movie theatre is, but outside there is a café that sells hot dogs and other things and also an ice cream shop.

There are several other rooms to discover at the Ghibli Museum, and even a reading room, so you can pick up your favorite story and read to your hearts content.

For me, it was another great dive into the world of Ghibli, and with the admission still being only 1000 yen per person, it is well worth every yen spent. Ghibli keeps to its main concept, and tries not to allow too many bus loads of people in, which makes the whole Ghibli experience that little bit more personal. The Ghibli museum is only 3 stories tall, and if you spend 2-3 hours here, that should be enough to discover this world of Anime. For me, 120 percent satisfied.

The hills of Kyoto are alive with the Sound of Silence

Posted by Website Admin on February 19, 2017

Sometimes everyone one needs to get away from the hustle and bustle of City life. Get away to a place where you can think, and be inspired.

There are an uncountable number of mountains that surround Kyoto and each one surely has something to offer. Today I went in search of a place that offered me a chance to “get inspired” and I was totally satisfied with the result.

Approximately, 15km from JR Kyoto Station heading north, is the Takao Mountain region. There are many Hiking and Trekking courses here, but today I was heading to one of the 17 World Heritage Sites of Kyoto, Kosan-ji Temple. Holding several Japanese Treasures and Culturally important artifacts, this temple is a gem in itself, but being surrounded by Kitahama large cedar trees and the whole temple grounds being practically covered in dense moss, you can take in so much fresh air. I purposely aimed to get there as early as possible, and by arriving at 0830 am, I had the privilege of having the Sekisui-in hall all to myself. Literally this Japanese National Treasure site was mine, and only mine to sit on the red felt floor, and take in the natural picture of the mountains and trees that was provided to me in front.

Built in 1216, this Halls also holds several National treasures in the likes of scrolls, drawn by the Monks of old. These scrolls are said to the first Japanese animation ever drawn in Japan. The scrolls called Choju-jinbutsu-giga are of monkeys, frogs and rabbits all in character form. If you have an interest in art or Japanese animation, this is the place. Within the grounds, there also is Japanese Oldest Tea field and walking the grounds in total silence, is bot something you can do everyday.
After Kosan-ji Temple, I just couldn’t stop. I headed back toward Kyoto, only to take another road into another mountain area in a different direction. I will not tell you how to get here, nor will I tell you the name of the temple, but after approximately another 15km of narrow and winding roads I was face to face with over 40 cm of snow, and the entrance to the temple that is known to many Kabuki actors as well as deep and true Ghibli animation fans. Set on the slopes of a mountain, once you go passed the Main Gate, you can feel you are in a totally different world. Inspiration just hits you, and as you look at the hills and rocks around you, it feels like something or someone is watching you. It just may have been the Fairies that are said to be here, or the Dragon that was once caught by the a King and bound inside a Rock cave.

Again, as I hoped, I was the only one there for at least 30 minutes (and the only other people I saw were a group of 5 University students. Of course the must sees, like The Golden Pavilion of Kyoto or Kiyomizedera Temple in Kyoto are great, but away from the hustle and bustle, and to be able to see a temple with so much spiritual feeling and such a sacred place, all by myself, just took me back. The story of the dragon being caught by a King to get back at a God that would not help him, is a main story told at Kabuki performances for many hundreds of years.

Even today the actors of Kabuki that act out this performance are said to come to this Temple to get permission before they perform. The dragon used to bring water and rain to Kyoto so everyone could live in harmony. Then one day the dragon was caught by a not so good King and bound to a rock cave. Kyoto then became very dry and no crops could be produced, and no rain fell. This could not be taken anymore so a princess came along and used her charm to get the King drunk. The princess then let free the dragon and once again rain was seen in Kyoto.

This temple is also the location, where the famous Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke was thought up. A famous writer came here and while staying overnight, he had a very spiritual encounter. That encounter was told to Miyazaki Hayao Director and the movie was based on this experience. The main location of the movie is often said to be Yakushima Island, but you can see some areas of this temple were also used in the animation movie. Even though it is prohibited to take photos beyond the main gate of the temple, this location gave me great inspiration, and I was amazed at how clearly I could think. It is also said, the more spiritually orientated you are, the better chance of seeing or feeling the dragon and fairies that are said to live in this area.

The last stop was Sanzen-in Temple, found yet in another mountain region of Kyoto. Heading to towards Lake Biwako (the largest lake in Japan), there is a little village area called Ohara. Here, you can find Sanzen-in Temple. Located some 20 km from Central Kyoto, here is another place you don’t have to worry about all the crowds. You can walk through the gardens on Sanzen-in leisurely, and you can take as many photos as you want without people being in those photos (Great if you don’t have Photoshop). 

In the main temple you can see Culturally important artifacts and if you wanted, you can even have a Japanese Tea experience while sitting on the tatami mats while looking out in to the Japanese garden. Once out of the main building you can walk the extensive grounds which are covered completely in green, lush moss. Perhaps one of the main reasons (including me) to come to Sanzen-in, is to see the 4 or 5 tiny child-like statues or Jizo statues set amongst the moss gardens. There are several eating places, gift shops in Ohara, and if you go over the river, you can even have an Onsen (hot springs) experience.  

If you have been to Japan or Kyoto before, or you just want to see somewhere without the crowds and get a little peace and quiet, you can find as much inspiration as you want in the likes of these places I went to today. A day I don’t want to forget anytime soon.

 

National Treasures of Hyogo Prefecture

Posted by Website Admin on February 12, 2017

There are some 40000 Buddhist Temples in Japan, and many people may think that if you have seen one, you have seen them all. Well, that’s not the case for me.

It may be a very far right kind of an example, but Buddhist Temples are like extremely expensive Lodges. Each lodge has it’s own personality and each is located in a different and unique environment. The same is with Buddhist Temples. Some maybe on the top of a hill, some maybe small, some maybe extremely large and some maybe very old. But depending on where that Temple is, the things that if offers visitors is totally different.

This time I was fortunate to go to a temple I had never heard of before and I was blown back. After the day had finished, I was all high tensioned up, and this lasted for the next few days.

I’ll tell you the conclusion now, so it is up to you if you read this right to the end or not. All I want to say is that no matter how long you have been in Japan, or how many times you have been to Japan, there is always something new to see, and on many occasions these can be found very close to where you are based. Plus, they all play a part in Japanese history and have unique stories to tell visitors.

I visited Kakurin-ji Temple which is in Kakogawa City, in the Hyogo Prefecture. Hyogo prefecture is famous for Himeji Castle and hence many other Temples, Shrines and other attractions maybe overlooked. My second home is Himeji, so I have no qualms at all, in fact Himeji Castle is probably my most favorite place in Japan, however I was fortunate to find a new and inspiring location in the likes of Kakurin-ji temple.

There are only 7 Japanese National Treasures in Hyogo prefecture (if you count Himeji Castle and all its treasures as one). And at Kakurin-ji Temple you can see 2 of these in the same complex. Other than the National Treasures there are several National Important Cultural properties and Prefectural Designated Cultural properties.

You all don’t have to know who Shotokutaishi was, even the Japanese have a hard time to follow this. But, just think of this Prince (who was 12 at the time) and was leading the way in the new religion of Buddhism which was mainly brought in from Korea and China. This little guy came to Kakurin-ji Temple to meet another high ranking Monk from Korea. Before they met, Shokutokutaishi created a statue out of respect. That statue is still in the 900 year old Tashi-do (Prince Hall). It is not usually open to the public, but people know it is inside the relatively large Japanese Cypress wood Hall, and they still come from all over the country to pay their respects. Well! I was one of the fortunate. I honestly don’t know how many people have seen the actual statue or how many times the Tashi-Do has been opened, but as I had been asked to come to Kakurin-ji Temple, the head Monk here opened the Hall up, and I was even allowed to take photos(see main photo).

We were told about the history of the hall and even though the walls and roof of the Prince Hall are black due to the incense and candle flames, there are actually paintings still under the black soot painted some 900 years ago, and they were rediscovered by using an ultra infra-red camera, and even the colors used were found (you can see a replica of the paintings in the museum). The monks today can’t see the paintings in the hall, but they know they are there and can feel their presence in their hearts. In the Prince Hall, there is even a tiny statue of the Shotoku Prince himself. The Prince Hall itself is quite remarkable as it is still the original building of 900 years ago, and hasn’t once been burnt down or refurbished in any way.

After seeing the replicas of these paintings in the museum, we were also shown a very special Statues called Aitaita, The statue was originally in covered in Gold and one person stole it and tried to melt it down to have the gold for his own. It was then that the Kanon Statue spoke to the robber and told him that is was hurting her when he tried to melt her down. The robber, was thrown back by the event and hastily returned the statue to the Temple and became a better man. You can still see a little of the Gold on the back of the statue, even though she is some 1350 years old. The statue is of importance to all Japan and has been to America, Germany, Belgium to represent Japan’s History and Art.

Next was a bit of fun with a Zazen (Meditation) session in the main hall (The main hall is a National Treasure of Japan, so just to be able to sit in it was something to remember). Not being very flexible, I did struggle a little and was the only one to have my posture fixed by the Monk (Twice!). However, I learnt the way to do proper Zazen, and it may well help me out in everyday life. After Zazen, was a Japanese Caligraphy lesson. Even for the ones who can’t read or write the Japanese Characters, it is very simple as you just trace a pre selected Japanese word or four.

After 3 hours in the Temple, my first look at Kakurin-ji Temple was over, but being a person that loves Temples and Shrines, it wasn’t enough for me.  It was a great chance to take photos also, and I did get the privilege to see the Kanon Statue which makes up one of the Japanese National Treasures here. I can highly recommend this Temple to anyone coming to Japan, but it may be more interesting to those who have been to Japan before.

Miyama, a historic Village preserving it's traditions.

Posted by Website Admin on February 05, 2017

I have always been a fan of the “Yesteryear” Japan, and always like to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big Cities when I get the chance. So, physically and mentally it was such a relaxing day when I recently went to Miyama, which is located in the Nantan region of Kyoto (Approx. 1.5 hours from Kyoto City). Miyama, is little village but with a difference. There are only 50 houses in the village, but 38 of these are the Traditional Thatched Roof houses of the years gone by in Japan. It might not easy to imagine, but these are houses with pointy roofs made out of hay or grass and the occasional moss.

Miyama is only accessible by road which limits it to a car, rental car or the local bus. I could of gone by my car, but as I heard there was a Japanese Rice wine, or Sake distillery just before you hit Miyama, I decided to take the Local bus with another or our Staff members. Sure enough, the bus also stopped at the Sake factory and we could have free tasting of the several Rice Wines they make. A good introduction to the area. By talking to the staff there, I found out that they only use the rice that is grown in Miyama area or from nearby rice fields they are contracted to. (Rice Wine distillery: Oishi Co,.ltd.).

After the tasting, it was on the bus again, and in a matter of 5 minutes, the bus arrived into the carpark of central Miyama. As the main cluster of Thatched Roof Houses are only 2 minutes walk away, most of the other people on the bus got off at this bus stop, but there was one more place I wanted to see, before I too started taking photos of the Traditional Thatched roof houses. The 2 of us stayed on the bus and 2 stops down the road, we got off the bus and walked to a small Log House lodging called KAJIKASO. Here there are 13 rooms available to stay in, and there is even a communal bath complex. No matter how much I wanted to go and have a Bath here, we were a little limited in time, so had to give it a miss this time. By the way, the bath is one that looks over the Yura River and there is an outside bath which lets you blend in with the vast amount of nature around. The main reason to see this place, is because from here there are several outdoor activities like rental bikes, camping, and by far the most popular are the hiking tours you can join. There are restaurants, gift shop and even a pizza shop.
From Kajikaso, it was approx. a 20 minute walk back to the village center where the 38 Thatched Roof houses can be found. The walk itself was very refreshing and as you walk beside the riverside you can take in all the mountains around you. As it was snowing, the air was fresh and with very few people and very few cars you can easily hear yourself thinking. If the nature walk (same side of the river as Kajikaso lodge) back to the village center is under snow, you may have to walk back on the other side of the river, which takes you pass the only post office, the only gas stand and a couple of old style convenience stores where you can buy daily supplies.

Once back at the village center, it was now time to walk the streets of the village and see not only the Thatched Roof houses, but 2 hillside shrines and a few cafes, small museums, an archive museum, and restaurants that themselves are located in some refurbished Thatched roof houses. In general the Houses are all relatively old, and the village is known to be a Historical Village of Thatched Roof Houses and was registered as a District for groups of Historic Buildings in 1993. Basically, if you want to see a real rural part of Japan, Miyama is one place you can do this. This is how the Japanese lived in the rural parts of Japan centuries ago. Listening to some of the residents, we found out that there are actually only 3 people in the Kyoto area that can actually re-lay or fix the rooves of these houses.
While you can’t go into all the houses, there are 3 houses in Miyama that have accommodation lodgings, and even though they are very simple, I can highly recommend these. Dinner and Breakfast are included in the accommodation fee, and all you need to do after you check in , is to walk around the village or relax in your Japanese style room until a Traditional Japanese dinner(that changes in the different seasons).  

For us, it was more walking around the village in the snow, and then when until it become dark. Once it became dark and the whiteness of the snow was pretty much all you could see, on came the lights of the lanterns that had strategically been placed in front of the Thatched Roof Houses, and throughout the rice fields lower than the village. The Village then took on another form compared to previously in the day, and even felt spiritual. This lantern festival is done for only a week towards the end of January.

Miyama offer many events throughout the year, such as a photo contest in February, Fishing events in March, and not to mention the Cherry Blossom season. In May and December, the have a day or two to use fire hoses and check there are no leaks or damage to the rooves. There are also several festivals that involve the Shrines and Temples of Miyama. In August there is even an event where you can try your luck at grabbing small fish called Ayu (Sweetfish) along with the event of burning the harvested grass of fields to bring good luck to the next harvest season (You can see flames going up to some 20 meters into the sky).

No matter what season you come to Miyama, the views and then feeling of the village is different. If you have extra time in Japan, or have been to Japan before, I highly recommend a visit to Miyama. As I mentioned before, it is not too far from Kyoto, so not impossible to reach.  
If you like nature, like taking photos, or just want to get away from the Hustle and Bustle of the City, Miyama and other places like Miyama, is a great option.

For myself and the staff member, we took in all the night views of Miyama, and then boarded the bus back to Kyoto. A great day, and something new to experience which won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

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