“Japan Heritage” – Keeping Fascinating Local Histories Alive

What is Japan Heritage?

The aim of the “Japan Heritage” designation is to preserve unique cultural narratives across all regions. Since the initiative was launched by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in 2015, 37 Japan Heritage sites have been recognized.

When you visit a “Japan Heritage” site, you’re taking an active role in handing down a region’s particular traditions, relics, and beliefs. This could be in the form of festivals, local food or other products, and simply being in the natural settings where these incredible histories occurred. Here are seven places to get you started on your next visit to Japan.

A) A Walk Through the History of Japanese Tea in Kyoto’s Minamiyamashiro Region
B) Enter the Mysteries of Natural Worship in Yamagata’s Three Mountains of Dewa
C) 88 Hallowed Grounds of Shikoku – A Pilgrimage 1200 Years in the Making

① Flames Dance in Giant Lanterns at the Kiriko Festivals on the Noto Peninsula

Abare Festival
Abare Festival in Noto Town is just one of the many kiriko festivals

Kiriko festivals started on the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture sometime in the 17th century.
“Kiriko” are cuboid lanterns used to light the way for portable shrines carried on foot. Some kiriko are huge, measuring up to 15 meters (49 feet) high and weighing roughly two tons (4,400 pounds). At festivals, Kiriko are lifted up and paraded through the town with intensity, or sometimes elegance, backed by lively rallying cries. At the Abare Festival in Noto Town, the fiery action even spills into the local waterways! From early July to the end of September, this site can be seen in around 200 places throughout the loca region!

② A Scene From an 18th Century Book Recreated in Shimane Prefecture

The startling heron costumes and choreography of the “Sagimai” ritual dance performance take place 16 times on July 20 and 27. Founded in 1542, this annual tradition has continued uninterrupted for 475 years!

In the mountain town of Tsuwano in Shimane Prefecture, scenes of local life at the end of the 18th century were chronicled in the book “100 Famous Views of Tsuwano”. Samurai residences, waterways teeming with fish, and scenes of traditional performing arts and festivals are some of the views depicted. Enjoy the contrast of these sights as you walk through the town of Tsuwano.

③ Supply Route to the Ancient Capital of Kyoto

Road Out of Wakasa - Kumagawajuku
Road Out of Wakasa – Kumagawajuku

Facing the Sea of Japan, Wakasa in Fukui Prefecture has supported the great food culture of nearby Kyoto with the likes of salt and seafood shipments for over 1500 years. The trading routes between the two cities provided a means of cultural exchange, furthering the spread of the arts and religion to nearby fishing villages. Wakasa itself has upheld its own festival culture into the modern era.

④ The Trees of Nara Prefecture – 500 Years of Afforestation Skills

Autumn leaves of Yoshino region

Nara famously encompasses part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range UNESCO world heritage site. It also boasts centuries of cedar tree production in the Yoshino region, with afforestation techniques (producing forests in areas where they didn’t previously exist) dating back 500 years. Except for the natural forests of mountain ridges where Shinto deities are believed to dwell, the mountain surface is carpeted with Yoshino cedars. In the autumn, the contrast between the two forests becomes even more vivid.

⑤ A Village Straight Out of Japan’s Past in Kiso, Nagano Prefecture

Kisoji’s Tsumago-juku
Kisoji’s Tsumago-juku

Among the historical routes between Edo (present day Tokyo) and Kyoto, Kisoji (Kiso route) snaked through rugged natural scenery and extensive mountain terrain, dotted with inns and posting stations. The modern world slips away and you’re transported into 17th and 18th century Japanese villages, complete with timeworn stone pavings and traditional houses with finely-crafted lattice gates.

⑥ Shiga Prefecture – Divine Scenery & Holy Waters

Shirahige-jinja Shrine
Shirahige-jinja Shrine in Shiga Prefecture

In Japanese mythology, water is home to water spirits. According to Buddhist beliefs, water is revered for its ability to purify spiritually and physically. On the western side of Japan’s largest lake – Lake Biwa (Biwako) – the torii gate of Shirahige-jinja Shrine rises out of the waters off of the coast. This stunning scene takes on an even more fantastical appearance when the gate is illuminated for two hours after sunsent every weekend.

⑦ Tottori Prefecture – Ascetic Training on the Face of a Cliff

Japan’s most dangerous national treasure – Nageiredo

At an altitude of approximately 900 meters (2592 ft.) on Tottori Prefecture’s Mt. Mitoku, you will encounter the rich history of Sanbutsu-ji Temple, founded in the year 706 as ascetic training grounds.The most striking feature of the temple’s precinct is the “Nageiredo” inner sanctuary. Called Japan’s “most dangerous national treasure,” Nageiredo is seemingly suspended on the sheer cliff face. Its construction remains a mysterious marvel to this day. Admittance to Nageiredo isn’t permitted, but visitors can get an up close look through the nearby sightseeing telescope.

When planning your next trip to Japan, include some of the officially designated Japan Heritage sites and become an unforgettable part of living history!