Many of Japan’s 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites fly under the radar

RocketNews 24:

Did you know that Japan has 16 locations on the list of UNESCO World Heritages? Could you name them all with any sum of money on the line?

Survey Research Center, Co. Ltd. conducted a survey that showed that most people could not. When asked whether they were interested in Japan’s world heritages, 67.8% of those surveyed responded affirmatively. However, only 4% of respondents knew all 16 Japanese sites.

See how many you can name before looking at the list below:

1. Yakushima [Kagoshima Prefecture]

2. Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) [Hiroshima Prefecture]

3. Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Ryukyu Islands [Okinawa Prefecture]

4. Itsukushima Shinto Shrine [Hiroshima Prefecture]

5. Shiretoko [Hokkaido Prefecture]

6. Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land [Iwate Prefecture]

7. Ogasawara Islands [Tokyo Metropolis]

8. Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama [Gifu Prefecture]

9. Himeji-jo [Hyogo Prefecture]

10. Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape [Shimane Prefecture]

11. Shirakami-Sanchi [Akita and Aomori Prefectures]

12. Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area [Nara Prefecture]

13. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) [Kyoto Prefecture]

14. Shrines and Temples of Nikko [Tochigi Prefecture]

15. Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara [Nara Prefecture]

16. Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range [Nara, Wakayama and Mie Prefectures]

How did you do? You might have noticed that both natural locations and manmade structures can qualify as world heritages.

The survey also showed that over half of Japanese tourists add the option of visiting a world heritage site when they take a tour on vacation.

Find out more about world heritage sites by watching “The World Heritage” on TBS at 6 a.m. on Sunday, November 27. The first program will focus on natural heritages, and the program that airs on Sunday, December 4 will deal with cultural assets.

Watching these shows and learning more about world heritages will surely enrich your mind and deepen your appreciation of Japanese history, and they may even give you some ideas for your next trip within Japan.

Source: TBS “The World Heritage”

Strapped for cash, 1,400-year-old Kyoto shrine leasing part of its grounds for condo development

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RocketNews 24:

One of the things that makes Japan such a compelling place is the country’s long cultural history. The upkeep of centuries-old buildings can be extremely expensive, however, especially since traditional Japanese architecture is mainly wood, reed, and paper, which aren’t exactly the sturdiest building materials.

As we’ve seen before, sometimes even sites of historical significance can struggle to make ends meet, and Kyoto’s famous Shimogamo Shrine is no exception. That’s why in order to raise the funds it needs, the institution, which was founded some 1,400 years ago, is planning to lease a section of its grounds for the construction of a complex.

Although it’s been around in some form since the 6th century, the Shimogamo Shrine has gotten a number of publicity boosts in the modern era. The shrine was designated a UNESCO world Heritage Site in 1994, and much of the surrounding forest is part of the Tadasu no Mori, an old growth nature preserve that’s listed as a national historical site.

In even more recent years, the shrine was depicted in in the 2013 Kyoto-set anime The Eccentric Family, and the shrine remains one of the most important Shinto sites in Kyoto, beloved for its fall colors and host of the Aoi Matsuri festival, held every year on May 15.

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This year, however, the shrine’s finances are looking bleak. Like many shrines, Shimogamo periodically takes part in a ritual called Shikinen Sengu, wherein new shrine buildings are constructed to replace the old ones as the homes of the gods. Shimogamo Shrine does this once every 21 years, and with Shikinen Sengu scheduled to happen in 2015, expects to incur related expenses of some three billion yen(US$25.2 million).

Government funding should provide about 800 million yen, and, like many shrines in Japan, Shimogamo is also likely to receive donations from major business entities. However, two months into the year, donations are not projected to be nearly enough to cover the necessary costs. In response, Shimogamo Shrine announced earlier this week that it is planning to lease out a section of its shrine grounds for the construction of a condominium complex.

Head Priest Naoto Araki said that the ordinary monetary offerings the shrine receives over the course of a year are applied to ordinary administration and maintenance costs, but points out that the latter are rising every year. Faced with the additional burden of finding a way to pay for 2015’s Shikinen Sengu, he has come to the conclusion that there is no other choice that will enable him to preserve the shrine for future generations but to build the condos. The 50-year lease is expected to bring in about 80 million yen annually for the shrine.

▼ A map of Shimogamo Shrine

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Conservationists will be partially relieved to know that the proposed construction site, while still on the shrine grounds, lies outside the World Heritage Site and national historic site boundaries. The 9,650-square meter (2.4-acre) plot, which borders the Mikage-dori road, was formerly the site of housing for the shrine’s priests. Following World War II, the area was repurposed as a golf driving range because of financial difficulties, and in the early 1980s became a parking lot, which saw less and less use as other lots were built in the area.

In keeping with Kyoto’s reverence for its past, any development will have to comply with a number of regulations meant to preserve the city’s traditional beauty, and the developers are currently in the middle of preliminary talks with Kyoto’s Municipal Beautification Council. The proposed 107-unit complex would be spread among eight buildings, each a modest three-stories tall and no more than 10 meters high so as not to mar the surrounding views, with traditional Japanese tile roofs. Within the complex, the same type of elms as those which grow in the Tadasu no Mori woodlands are scheduled to be planted.

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Despite these concessions, many online commenters still weren’t happy about the news.

“I was really surprised to hear about this. I don’t mind if they charge admission to the shrine, but I want them to call off the condo construction. It’ll ruin the scenery.”

“At first I thought, ‘That’s just wrong,’ but it looks like there’s no other way for them to get the funds they need, so it can’t be helped.”

“Even if they’re a World Heritage Site, is this the only way for them to survive?”

“Ah man…are they still going to be able to film samurai TV shows there?”

If approval processes go smoothly, construction is expected to start in November, with completion of the complex estimated in spring of 2017.

Japan’s Top 3 Rock “Power Spots”

Meotoiwa rocks

RocketNews 24:

 

The Japanese have long had a fascination with rocks. In fact, rock worship is an integral part of Shinto, Japan’s original religion. Iwakura (sacred rocks) can be found all over Japan. Rocks can be found in any Japanese garden, whether as stepping stones or objects of admiration themselves in dry landscape gardens or Zen rock gardens. One thing is for sure: Rocks are an integral part of the Japanese psyche.

So it’s no wonder that sacred rocks are popular among the Japanese as power spots. By harnessing the energy of these rocks, the Japanese are rediscovering their roots and the power of nature. But before we tell you about the three top rock power spots in Japan, we investigate how these monoliths and boulders gained their rock star status. Our rockin’ reporter uncovers the history and folklore of iwakura in Japan and gives suggestions on how to access the power of these rocks!

Rocks have always had a place in the everyday lives of the Japanese. Look around anywhere in Japan and you’ll see:

Stone steps leading up to shrines,

stone stairs

stone lanterns,

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and stone deities,

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many of which are hundreds of years old.

 

The Seto Inland Sea area is known for its rock, both natural and mined. Where I live, on Shiraishi Island, the name shiraishi means “white rock,” and refers to its huge granite reserves, some of which manifests itself  in some pretty frightening ways:

 

▼Below this rock is, believe it or not, a road.

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As a result of the ubiquitous outcroppings, and perhaps as a way to tame it, rock mining has been a part of the fabric of this small Seto Inland Sea community for over 100 years.

You can find many relics of Japan’s past here:

 

▼A grinding stone for grinding buckwheat to make soba noodles.

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▼Every house on the island still has a mochi-pounding rice vessel, called an usu, for hammering out rice cakes

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People continue to use many rock implements even today.

 

▼These rocks were used as weights for fishing nets

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▼They’re still used to hold things down.

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▼That old grinding wheel is used these days to coax bonsai to grow in favored directions.

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And mined rock is still used for more modern applications. Polished rock surfaces, for example, make great maintenance-free signs–as long as you never want to move them.

 

▼This one says Seto Inland Sea National Park, Shiraishi Island Beach

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 ▼They also make great tablets for displaying tanka poems

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Monoliths fit the Japanese vertical writing system perfectly.

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Large rocks make impressive weather-proof information boards for national heritage sites. This one explains the Shiraishi Bon Dance, a national intangible cultural property.

 

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But why stop there?

 

▼Granite picnic tables have been installed along the hiking course on the island

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This is what happens when you live among stone masons!

 

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While wood has traditionally been used for Japanese housing, stone has been the material of choice for more permanent structures such as ports and some modern shrines.

 

▼Kompira Shrine for fishermen

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The original Shiraishi Port was constructed with rock in the Edo Period (1603 -1868) and is over 400 years old. But this newer pier was built in the Meiji Era (1868 – 1912).

 

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▼The stone still looks new

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▼The fishermen tied up their boats to the pier and climbed up these stone stairs.

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▼They even used rock bollards to tie their boats up to.

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Rock has always been important in the lives of the communities living in the Seto Inland Sea. Before they started mining the natural resource, they used it for worship. Such evidence can be found everywhere on the island.

 

▼In the lower left area of this rock is an 800-year-old magaibutsu stone carving of the deity Fudo-myo-o which is believed to protect the port.

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▼ The okuno-in of Kairyuji Temple is located under a huge overhanging rock.

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If you don’t know how to get to the temple, no problem. Ancient stone markers will show you the way from the port all the way up to the temple.

 

▼A hand with an index finger pointing in the proper direction to the temple.

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Shiraishi Island is full of large boulders. And everywhere there is a rock, there is sure to be a stone deity to worship nearby…

 

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either underneath the rock…

 

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…or sometimes on top of it.

 

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No rock is left unworshipped.

 

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Most major rocks have names. Rocks that are exposed to the rays of both the rising and setting sun are said to hold a special spiritual energy. Their power can last forever, as long as the area is well preserved and clean.

 

▼This boulder is named “Bikuni”

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▼The boulder sticking up out of the top of the small island to the right is “Mei-ishi.” But it only gets the rays of the setting sun.

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Having such a close relationship with nature, it’s not surprising that the Japanese people felt rocks were sacred.

Originally, people offered prayers to the rock which acted as a vehicle of communication between the people and the kami (gods). These days, however, Shrine buildings have been erected to designate Shinto shrines. In his book, “The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart,” Motohisa Yamakage says the purpose of a shrine is “to create a pervasive sense of reverence and awe and so enable us to access the spiritual dimension.”

 

▼This shrine wouldn’t have been built here had it not been for the presence of these sacred rocks.

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And surely this well would not have been considered sacred had it not been located under a large rock:

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▼The Meotoiwa rocks, connected by a shimenawa rope, celebrate the union in marriage of man and woman. The male rock is on the left.

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Shinto priests are especially adept at telling if a kami is present in a rock. You can make a judgement yourself by touching a rock to see if you can feel its energy. You will find there are some rocks where almost everyone can feel its energy, and others where only some people can feel it. Women are said to be especially sensitive to feeling the power of rocks. Rock on ladies!

I wondered what the top rock power spots in Japan were. To find out, I interviewed Shinto expert John Dougill, who lives in Kyoto, a veritable kingdom of power spots. He writes a blog called Green Shinto and has written several books on Japan. John also traveled the length of Japan visiting sacred sites from Okinawa to Hokkaido to write his book “Japan’s World Heritage Sites.”

I asked if John would share with RocketNews24 readers what he considers the top three rock power spots in Japan. It didn’t take him long to come up with this list! 

 

1) Kamikura Shrine at Shingu, Wakayama

Kamikura Jinja is part of Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine in Shingu (Wakayama Prefecture), a World Heritage Site. People come here to worship the Kamikura rock as a god. As you can see, this shrine is located under a large boulder onto which the kamiare believed to have descended from Heaven.

The shrine now guards and protects the town of Shingu below it. 

 

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The best way to feel the energy of this rock is to enter it.

 

▼A power spot practitioner meditates and plays a flute inside the Kamikura rock
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2) Seifa Utaki, Okinawan Nature Shrine (World Heritage Site)

 

▼The rock altar at Seifa Utaki

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▼This sacred rock opening leads into the most holy area of Seifa Utaki. Offerings are prepared here.

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▼This triangular opening leads to the place where prayers are made.

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 3) Koshikiiwa Shrine in Nishinomiya (Hyogo Prefecture)

 

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▼ This megalith is 10 meters tall with a circumference of 40 meters.

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The Koshikiiwa rock promotes pregnancy and protects childbirth, so many couples visit the rock to pray to it and feel its energy. The tradition is to walk around the rock in a clockwise direction.

So now you have all the tools you need to go out and start harnessing the power of sacred rocks. You’ll be in good company too, as the Japanese power-spot craze has taken the country by storm.