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Intricate Japanese Silk

  • Posted by:
  • September 28, 2015

silk3Silk has been a much coveted commodity since it was first developed in ancient China. The Silk Road is a 6,ooo-kilometer trading route that stretched through regions of the Asian continent, connecting the West and the East. The ancient trading route was named after the lucrative silk trade during the Chinese Han dynasty (206BCE- 220 CE). Merchants travelled this ancient route while multiple cultures mingled through pilgrims, monks, soldiers and even nomads through the centuries.

Silk obi. | Cynthia M

Silk fabric was initially developed in ancient China with the earliest examples dating back to 3630 BCE, when it was used to wrap the body of a child at the Yangshao site at Xingyang, Henan. Silk was made for the use of Chinese emperors and given out as gifts to others. Gradually its popularity spread as many coveted the intricate beauty, softness, and sheen of the fabric. Silk became a luxury fabric and was much in demand.

silk1The practice of harvesting silk was introduced in Japan in 199 CE when a Chinese man came to the country bringing with him a cluster of silkworm eggs. Japanese silk making techniques were further refined. It wasn’t long before Japanese silk became widely distinguished for being of the finest quality. In 600 CE, Japanese had to pay taxes in silk. In 701 CE, there was a decree ordering every family to plant a certain number of mulberry trees (their leaves are the primary food of silkworms) based on their socio-economic standing.

Silkworm cocoons. | TANAKA Juuyoh

During the rule of the Tokugawa Bafuku, Japan was largely isolated from foreign trade. Silk in Japan was mainly produced for domestic use.  Japanese society was divided into castes, and only men and women from the imperial family, noblemen, priests, and military families were allowed to wear silk. The kimono, long an iconic symbol for Japan, is often made with woven silk. Silk also had other uses such as for fans and parasols.


The Japanese silk making industry has a long history and is deeply ingrained in the country’s culture. One such example is ushikubi tsumugi (pongee, home-spun silk), designated as an Intangible Cultural Property of Ishikawa Prefecture. The technique was brought to the area of Mt. Hakusan in 1159 CE by members of the Minamoto/Genji Clan who were on the losing side of the Heiji Rebellion (1180-1185). The Tomioka Silk Mill in Gumma Prefecture was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2014. Considered a factory, it was established in 600 CE to mass-produce and export high-quality silk. Tomioka played a key role in the start of Japan’s modernization.

Tomioka Silk Mill. | PROTANAKA Juuyoh


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The Great Buddhas of Japan

  • Posted by:
  • September 24, 2015

Religion is an important cultural aspect and way of life for many Japanese. Numerous Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are scattered all around, as well as several “giant Buddhas” (Daibutsu). Thousands of visitors flock to pay homage to these historical monuments. Here are just a few of the most popular great buddhas of Japan.

GifugreatbuddhaGreat Buddha of Gifu – located in Shōhō-ji (a Buddhist temple of the Ōbaku school of Buddhism) in Gifu City, the statue was envisioned by Ichyuue, the 11th head priest of Kinpouzan Shōhō temple in 1790. The 45-ft. statue took 38 years to build and was meant to avert large earthquakes and famines. The Great Buddha of Gifu is uniquely constructed with a central pillar measuring 1.8 meters in circumference formed from gingko tree wood. The Buddha’s shape was then formed using bamboo lattices covered in clay to add shape with many of the Buddhist scriptures inlaid on the clay. The scriptures were then covered in lacquer and gold leaf that still appear today.

Great Buddha of Gifu. | Douggers

NaraTodaijiBuddhaGreat Buddha of Nara – located at Tōdai-ji (Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism) is the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha. The Great Buddha of Nara measures 52 ft. in height. Construction began in Shigaraki but after several fires and earthquakes was resumed and completed in Nara in 751. The building of the Nara Daibutsu nearly bankrupted Japan’s economy using up most of Japan’s available bronze at the time.

Great Buddha of Nara.

Great Buddha of Kamakuragreatbuddhakamakura – located in Kōtoku-in (a Buddhist temple of the Jōdo-shū sect), Kamakura City, the great Buddha of Kamakura is made from bronze and said to date back to 1252. It measures a hefty 121 tonnes (267,000 pounds) with a height of 43.8 ft.

Great Buddha of Kamakura. | KCP Flickr

takaokagreatbuddhaGreat Buddha of Takaoka – located in Toyama Prefecture, it measures 52 ft. tall and is made from locally-mined copper. Completed in 1933, it was moved to its present site in 1980 after the ground beneath it sank about 11 meters.

Great Buddha of Takaoka. | Izu navi


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Explore the Wonders of Wakayama Prefecture

  • Posted by:
  • September 21, 2015

4909796117_8782353f00_zWakayama Prefecture (和歌山県 Wakayama-ken) stretches from the center of Japan to the southernmost part of Honshū Island, the Kii Peninsula in the Kansai region. The mountains in Wakayama are considered sacred ground and have been a popular pilgrimage site since the ancient times. The area also offers numerous hot springs and rich coastlines lined with cliffs offering spectacular views of the astounding 130 islands that dot the area.

Wakayama coastline. | cotaro70s

Kumano-NachiSome popular places to visit in Wakayama include the shrines on the ancient pilgrimage routes along the Kii Hantō, the largest Peninsula of Japan. The sacred trails are still being used for the sacred site “Kumano Sanzan,” the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, and are part of UNESCO’s designated World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range of Japan. The three Shinto shrines are the Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and the Kumano Nachi Taisha which is a perfect example of Shinbutsu shūgō, or the syncretism of Buddhism and kami worship.

Kumano Nachi Taisha. | Kansai explorer

Shirahama (白浜町 Shirahama-chō) is a resort town in the southern coast of Wakayama Prefecture. It has unique beaches with white sand brought all the way from the shores of Australia. Shirahama is a popular destination for its hot springs. Only two and a half hours from Osaka via the JR West’s Ocean Arrow train service, Shirahama is a hidden jewel unlike any other.

toretoreWithin the picturesque town lies Toretore Village. It isn’t really a village but is like a world of its own. Toretore Village is made up of small bubble-like houses with cobblestone sidewalks.  The tiny domes are hotel rooms for tourists who want a unique lodging experience. They are furnished with the usual hotel amenities, and a convenience store is located within the village for your everyday needs. It makes for a truly eclectic adventure.

Toretore Village. | AHLN

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Ishikawa Goemon: Japan’s Legendary Outlaw

  • Posted by:
  • September 17, 2015

Hinasuke_Arashi_IIIshigawa Goemon  (石川 五右衛門; 1558 – 1594) was a legendary Japanese outlaw. He was looked upon as a hero who stole gold and other valuables and gave them to the poor. His story lives on in contemporary Japanese pop culture; he is considered a a folk hero by many.

The 16th century saw sengoku daimyos constantly fighting each other. This resulted in fewer daimyos emerging from local wars and others expanding their lands. This prompted Oda Nobunaga, one of the major daimyos, to initiate the unification of Japan under the shogunate that had a decisive military conquest. His vision was continued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and ended with Tokugawa Ieyasu.  This era saw daimyos and their territories organized into domains (han) and were rated based on how much rice they produced and their ties to the ruling Tokugawa family.

Poster of kabuki actor Hinasuke Arashi as Goemon Ishikawa.

It is believed that in 1558, Ishikawa Goemon was born as Sanada Kuranoshin to a samurai family in the service of the powerful Miyoshi clan of Iga Province.  Supposedly, Ishikawa Goemon’s father, Ishikawa Akashi, was killed by the men of the Ashikaga shogunate. Goemon, then 15 years old, swore to avenge his father’s death and began training in the arts of Iga ninjutsu under the tutelage of Momochi Sandayu (Momochi Tamba). When Goemon’s master found out that Goemon was having an affair with one of his mistresses,  Goemon moved to neighboring Kansai region where he formed and led a band of bandits and thieves. Eventually he took the name Ishikawa Goemon, started robbing rich feudal lords, clerics, and merchants, and gave his spoils to the poor.


There is not much historical information on the life of Ishikawa Goemon and very little facts are recorded, but many believe accounts that have been passed on through the years.The earliest mention of Ishikawa Goemon appears in the 1642 biography of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In Hideyoshi’s biography, Goemon is referred to as a thief. As the legend of Goemon became more popular, he was credited with the more notable anti-authoritarian exploits in Japan’s history. Some of these include the assassination attempts against the Oda clan, Oda Nobunaga, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi himself.

Ishikawa Goemon was later captured by Japanese authorities, and his death resounds in the annals of history by its gruesomeness. He was boiled alive along with his son in public after his botched attempt to assassinate the civil war-era warlord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Poster of actor Bandō Mitsugorō III playing the role of Ishikawa Goemon.

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Delicious Imagawa-yaki, Ningyo-yaki, and Taiyaki

  • Posted by:
  • September 14, 2015

Japan is known for its kawaii culture. Kawaii means cute or adorable in Japanese, and the phenomenon has influenced Japanese entertainment, pop culture, toys, clothing, and of course, even food!

Imagawa-yakiImagawa-yaki (今川焼き) is a popular Japanese dessert that is a staple at Japanese festivals. It is made with a batter like pancake or waffle batter and typically with sweet azuki (red bean paste) filling. Other types of filling such as vanilla custard, chocolate, and even savory fillings are increasingly popular. The batter is placed in an iron mold followed by the filling then again topped with batter.

Imagawa-yaki. | Gregg Tavares

Imagawa-yaki was first sold at a shop near Imagawa Bridge in Tokyo in 1772, hence its name. It is a disk-shaped sweet snack usually 3 centimeters thick. Imagawa-yaki is also know by other names such as oban-yaki, kaiten-yaki, nijū-yaki, and koban-yaki.

328293156_14eab687eb_zNingyo-yaki and taiyaki are also made from the same ingredients as Imagawa-yaki but are shaped differently. Taiyaki, which means “baked sea bream,” is shaped like a fish and is considered to bring good luck in Japan.

Taiyaki. | takahito

ningyoyakiNingyo-yaki, named after the Nihonbashi-ningyocho area of Chuo City, are favorite Tokyo souvenirs. They are usually in the traditional shape of the Asakusa Kaminarimon gate, the shichifukujin  (seven gods of good luck) or a miniature edible version of a giant chochin (lantern).  Ningyo-yaki in the shapes of popular animated TV shows and other kawaii characters such as Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and Doraemon are also a favorite among many people with a sweet tooth.

Ningyo-yaki. | Charlotte Marillet

Sampling delicious, cute snacks such as ningyo-yaki  is a great way to get full while  experiencing the catchy kawaii culture when visiting Japan.

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Amazing Japanese Wildlife

  • Posted by:
  • September 10, 2015

macaqueIt would be such a surprise to have an unexpected visitor join you while you were having a relaxing dip in one of Japan’s incredible hot springs—especially if that visitor is a Japanese macaque, one of Japan’s endemic wildlife species.

Japan has islands that stretch long distances from north to south with a large range of climactic zones. Japan is also quite geographically isolated from the rest of Asia. This gives Japan a vast diversity of wildlife that include flora and fauna, natural habitats, and an array of mammals. In the northern area of the country are many subarctic species, while to the south are an abundance of southeast Asian species typical of tropical regions. In between lies a temperate zone that is home to many species found in China and Korea and a number of endemic species unique to Japan.

Macaque monkey. | Yiannis Theologos Michellis

Here are just some of the mammals found in Japan:

TanukiJapanese raccoon dog (tanuki) – a subspecies of the Asian raccoon dog, the tanuki or raccoon dogs of Japan are significant in Japanese folklore. They are believed to be mischievous and masters of disguise and shapeshifting.They are also thought to be gullible and absentminded. The tanuki is also a common theme in many Japanese art.

Japanese raccoon dog. | 663highland

Ryukyu_Flying_FoxRyukyu flying fox or Ryukyu fruit bat (Pteropus dasymallus) – They are a species found in the Miyako,  Osumi, Okinawa, Tokara, Daito, and  Yaeyama Islands. The Ryukyu fruit bats thrive on subtropical or tropical dry forests and  swamps. The species are believed to be threatened because of habitat loss and hunters who catch them for food. They are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “Near threatened.”

Ryukyu flying fox. | KCZooFan

ussuri-bearUssuri brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus) – a subspecies of the brown bear found in Hokkaidō and Kunashiri Island, the Ussuri brown bear is similar to the Kodiac brown bear in size and may be an ancestor of the North American grizzly bear. Ussuri brown bears are believed to have crossed to Alaska 100,000 years ago and did not move south until 13,000 years ago.

Ussuri brown bear. | kabacchi

The Ainu people worshipped the Ussuri brown bear. As part of an ancient religious ritual known as iomante, they would eat the flesh and drink the blood of the bear.


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Nagano Prefecture’s Awe-Inspiring Mishaka Pond

  • Posted by:
  • September 7, 2015

Nagano is a picturesque inland prefecture located in the Chūbu region in the island of Honshu.  Nagano prefecture spreads across the Central Highland known as the “Roof of Japan” with pristine mountain ranges that include most of the Kita-Alps, Northern Alps, Southern Alps, and Chu-Alps. Mt.Fuji, Mt. Norikura-dake, Mt. Nasu-yama, and the 3,000-meter-class Japan Alps Mountains to the west are connected to mountains in Nagano. Summer is a paradise of flora and fauna with lush alpine plants flourishing in the area. Nagano hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics and is regarded now as a world-class winter sports destination.  Nagano can be conveniently accessed from the Shinkansen line to and from Tokyo.


Nagano scenery. | m-louis

Mishaka-ike, or Mishaka Pond (御射鹿池), is one of Nagano’s must-see hidden natural jewels. Nestled in Chino City, it has been the inspiration for many artists. The pond’s simple, serene beauty has attracted not only many artists but also visitors who seek to discover the off-the-beaten-path places. Mishaka Pond was immortalized in the work of Japanese painter Kaii Higashiyama in his 1972 painting, Midori Hibiku (緑響く; “The Green Echoes”). The pond is easily recognizable by the mirror-like waters that reflect the tranquil scenery of Mishaka-ike.


Mishaka-ike. | Yuki Hirano

Mishaka Pond is a haven for photo buffs. Nature’s four seasons are perfectly captured in the crystal clear waters. The area is an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Mishaka Pond was selected by  Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 2010 as one of the top 100 ponds in Japan.

Related post:

Check out photos of KCP’s Summer Short-term 2012 students when they visited Nagano Prefecture. Deanna Nardy of the Japanese Anime and Manga Program tells us about the exciting Nagano excursion.


KCP Flickr


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Buddhism in Japan

  • Posted by:
  • September 3, 2015

buddhaGautama Buddha , Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni, or Buddha, was a sage whose teachings are the foundation of Buddhism. Regarded as the central figure in Buddhism (obviously), he taught mostly in Northeast India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries. Buddha means “awakened one” or “enlightened one.” The accounts of Gautama Buddha’s life, monastic rules, and discourses were memorized and passed down by oral tradition . They were not committed to writing until 400 years later.

Buddhism spread from the Indian Subcontinent to China and most of Central Asia via the Silk Road and reached Japan eventually. Buddhism in Japan has been thought to have been practiced since sometime near 550 CE or even as early as the Kofun period, 250-538 CE. In modern times, the most popular schools of Buddhism in Japan are Pure Land Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, and Zen. Buddhism has had a major influence in the development of Japanese society and culture even now.

Great Buddha of Kamakura. | KCP Flickr


Buddhism and Buddhist institutions had great influence on the Japanese people throughout history; they peaked during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. Buddhist institutions were used by the shogunate to control the country and its people. Buddhist temples also played a major administrative role during the Edo period via the Danka system (where families provide financial support for a  Buddhist temple in exchange for their spiritual needs). This type of system required Japanese citizens to register at their local Buddhist temple in order to obtain a certification (uke) that was necessary for an individual to function in society.

Buddhist priest c. 1897.

buddhist templeThe whole of Japan converted to Buddhism in 548 CE. The period following the conversion saw Buddhist influences in Japanese art beginning with classical Greco-Buddhist art (a combination of Classical Greek culture  and Buddhism). Many of these elements still remain to be an inspiration today, as seen in some Nio guardian deities in Japanese Buddhist temples.

Byōdō-in, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. | 663highland


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Discovering the Thousand Year Old Mōtsū-ji Temple

  • Posted by:
  • August 31, 2015

In the smallest municipality of Iwate Prefecture in Japan, surrounded by the Katami Mountains and nestled in a basin, lies the picturesque town of  Hiraizumi. The historic town was a part of ancient Mutsu Province and was the home of the Hiraizumi Fujiwaras (a Japanese noble family who ruled the Tōhoku region) for some one hundred years in the late Heian era through the Kamakura period. Hiraizumi is noted for being home to several historic monuments and sites, and has been part of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. One of the more popular places to visit in Hiraizumi is the Buddhist temple Mōtsū-ji, over a thousand years old.


Mōtsū-ji temple. | IwateBud

Mōtsū-ji was built in 850 CE and is the base of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. The temple’s structure was made in the architectural style typical of the golden age of Hiraizumi. There were initially over forty buildings in the area constructed using precious materials such as metals and quality timber. It also had around 500 monasteries where monks had their ascetic training. However, a fire during the 13th century and ensuing wars over the years caused devastating destruction, and all that were left of the once flourishing town are the now preserved remnants of the glory days.


The pure land garden of Mōtsū-ji temple. | Nerotaso

Now, the Mōtsū-ji temple is composed of the Main Hall that enshrines the principal image of the Buddha, the Jogyo-do that houses Buddhist monks in training, and the Jodo Teien (Pure Land Garden). The Jodo Teien has a pond known as Oizumi-ga-ike symbolizing the Buddhist Land of Happiness or the magnificent land of the afterlife. The Oizumi-ga-ike is preserved almost as it was some 800 years ago. The pond is filled with blossoming flowers at some times of the year and is a sight to behold. Various festivals are held all year round for visitors to enjoy.

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KCP Summer Short-term 2015 Students Tour Hosei University

  • Posted by:
  • August 24, 2015

Hosei University was initially Tōkyō Hōgakusha (Tokyo association of law), established in 1880. It was renamed Tōkyō Hōgakkō (Tokyo school of law) a year later. Dr. Gustave Émile Boissonade de Fontarabie (1825–1910) was a French legal scholar credited for drafting most of Japan’s civil code during the Meiji Era. He was honored as one of the founders of Japan’s legal system and was the head  of Tōkyō Hōgakkō beginning in 1883. The school merged with Tōkyō Futsugakkō (Tokyo French School) in 1889 and subsequently took the name Hosei University (Hōsei daigaku i.e. Tokyo university of law and politics) in 1903. It was recognized as a private university in 1920.

Hosei University is one of the top universities of Japan and is 3rd highest in terms of  number of applicants among all Japanese universities in 2008, 2009, and 2011. Hosei University was ranked 100 in Global Executives 2013 top 100 by The Times Higher Education.

This July, KCP summer short-term 2015 students toured Hosei University and had a great time interacting with the university students. Check out our photos!


KCP Summer Short-term students at Hosei University.


Touring the grounds.


Ice cream!


Group session.

For more photos of the Hosei University trip, visit our KCP Flickr album.

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