The Rakan statues (Kyoto, Japan)

If you visit Arashiyama, the hills lying to the west of Kyoto city, you’ll find the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple. Standing all over the temple grounds, are 1,200 statues of rakan, the original disciples and followers of the Buddha, carved from stone and covered with moss. They were carved decades ago by believers who worshipped at the temple, and were donated as a blessing. Due to the many different sculptors involved in the project, many of whom were amateur, all the statues have different expressions, poses, and artistic styles. They may be praying, laughing, holding birds or even goblets. These differences add a touch of whimsy to this lovely temple, making it a true hidden treasure.

Open hours: Mon-Sun 8am-5pm

Address: 2-5 Sagatoriimoto Fukatanicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto 616-8439.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Gassho-Style Houses of Shirakawa-go

In 1995, the villages of Shirakawa-go were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for the beautiful scenery they create and their historically significant structures.

The Gassho-style houses are a marvel to look at, and the wooden buildings built with steep-angled thatched roofs are the everyday residences of the people in the village, even today after 300 years have passed. Some of the buildings are open to the public, and you can also make arrangements to stay overnight, so these spots are highly recommended.

Wada-ke House is the largest of the many homes, so you should definitely take the opportunity to check it out. In the southern area of Shirakawa-go, you can find the Hirase Onsen (hot spring) area, where you can enjoy a steamy bath amidst an untouched expanse of vivid green nature.

“Located in a mountainous region that was cut off from the rest of the world for a long period of time, these villages with their gassho style houses subsisted on the cultivation of mulberry trees and the rearing of silkworms. The large houses with their steeply pitched thatched roofs are the only examples of their kind in Japan. Despite economic upheavals, the villages of Ogimachi, Ainokura and Suganuma are outstanding examples of a traditional way of life perfectly adapted to the environment and people’s social and economic circumstances.” 

~ UNESCO

Takayama Jinya (岐阜県 Gifu-ken)

National Historic Relic : The Takayama Local Agency of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

“Jinya” refers to a venue where political proceedings were conducted during the Edo period (1603-1868), and the term collectively refers to the administrative headquarters, as well as the residence of the local magistrate. Takayama Jinya was built by the shogunate as an administrative base to enforce its rule over the Hida Province. You’ll also find the rice storehouse, where rice collected as land taxes was stored. Takayama Jinya is also famous as the lone remaining magistrate’s office in Japan, and offers a vivid, firsthand glimpse of life in feudal Japan.

Although there were 64 regional headquarters and sub-headquarters during the Edo period, the Takayama Jinya is the only one existing today.

In 1692, Shogun Tokugawa took direct rule over Hida, and for the next 176 years until the Meiji restoration, 25 generations were sent from Edo to work as Administrators, Accountants and Police in the Takayama Jinya.

The present main building was constructed in 1816, and consists of the Public Administration Office, Grand Hall and Messengers Hall, all in their original condition. The Rice Storehouse that was used to store the rice collected as a tax was built in the 1600’s, and is presently used as an exhibition space, displaying items from the time of direct rule to the Meiji period. There are over 250 separate historical displays including documents, maps and artifacts.

Takayama Jinya received two stars in the 2015 Michelin Green Guide Japan. ★★ Two stars … “worth a detour”.

Hours:

March to October (except August) —> 8:45 – 17:00 (last admission)

August —> 8:45 – 18:00 (last admission)

November to February —> 8:45 – 16:30 (last admission)

Closed —> December 29th and 31st, January 1st

Admission:

Adults —> 440 yen

Groups (30 or more) —> 390 yen

Children 18 and under with student I.D. —> Free

Hida Kokubunji Temple (飛騨国分寺)

National Historical Site and Important Cultural Treasure.

There is a huge ginko tree over 1200 years old and a ‘Triple Pagoda’ in the precincts, as well as Bell Tower Gates, said to have been moved from Takayama Castle and the cornerstone of the pagoda built over 1200 years ago. The main temple building is the oldest structure in the city, constructed in the Muromachi era (about 500 years ago). It has a style worthy of its reputation as Hida’s greatest ancient temple.

Kokubunji is the oldest temple in Takayama, possibly founded during the Nara Period. A Shingon sect temple, it preserves a seated image of Yakushi (the Buddha of medicine) and a standing image of Kannon )the Goddess of Mercy). There is also a wooden image of Hida-no-Takumi, a sculptor from the Edo Period of Japanese history. The main gate was originally part of Takayama Castle. The fine 7-story pagoda dates from the Muromachi Period.

300 yen per adult, 250 yen per elementary or junior high school student.
Group (30 or more people): 250 yen per adult, 150 yen per elementary or junior high school student

Gifu Castle (岐阜城)

First built as a fortress on the top of Mt. Kinka in 1201, Gifu Castle has a history of about 800 years. ODA Nobunaga, a famous general in Sengoku period, occupied the castle and became its master in 1567. At this time, ODA changed the name of this area from “Inokuchi” to “Gifu” and of the castle itself from “Inabayama Castle” to “Gifu Castle”. As ODA expanded his empire and unified the nation with his fresh ideas and unique politics, Gifu Castle became a bustling center of activity.

The ODA family lost the castle after Hidenobu, Nobunaga’s grandson, allied his clan with the losing side of the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 that resulted in over 250 years of Edo Shogunate rule of Japan.

The present three-story and four-floor castle was rebuilt in 1956 and has been a popular symbol of Gifu City ever since. You can enjoy displays in the castle’s exhibition hall and the observation gallery on its top floor.

From the observation gallery, you can enjoy the magnificent landscape of the area, including the clear waters of the Nagara River below against a backdrop of mountain ranges, and Ise Bay to the south.

Gifu Castle is dramatically illuminated every night from sunset to 10 p.m. For a limited period during summer, the castle’s opening hours are extended to nighttime. Providing a dynamic 360-degree panoramic view of the region, this castle is one of Gifu’s most popular night spots.

Adults (16 and above): 200 yen

Children (4 years and above): 100 yen

Wisteria Tunnel

Wisteria Tunnel

Kitakyushu, Japan

For most of the year, the wisteria tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens is a latticed canopy overlaid with barren, twisting vines. But for a few weeks every spring, the tunnel is in magnificent bloom, its dangling flowers and sweet scent enveloping all those who walk its path.
The private garden is home to around 150 wisteria plants in shades of purple, pink, and white. Visit between late April and mid-May to see the wisteria in bloom—the exact dates vary each year.

A member of the pea family, wisteria is an ornamental vine, wildly popular in both Eastern and Western gardens for its graceful hanging flowers and its ornate, winding branches. Easily trained, the woody vines tend to reach maturity within a few years, at which point they bloom in cascades of long, lavender flowers of varying pastel shades.