Although the rooms and buildings of the elegant Kiun-Kaku in central Atami City are nice enough, the gardens that they enclose might be even better. It is visible from most rooms in the complex, and every view is different, so much that sometimes you feel you are looking at a completely different place depending on in which room you are located. It is also possible to go for a stroll in the garden, along the paths provided for visitors, if you want to get closer to it. My favorite part was the retro-styled cafe though, which has one of the best views of the garden, if you are lucky enough to get a seat with a good view!
In the sea-side city of Atami in the western Shizuoka Prefecture one of the best sight seeing spots is without a doubt the refined Kiun-Kaku mansion (起雲閣). The compound has been built and expanded tastefully and gradually from 1919 to the present day, having served as everything from the house built to his mother by a loving son to a high class traditional hotel popular with the elite of Japanese literature. Today the house is a tasteful mix of Japanese, Asian and western styles and motifs, all the building surrounding a very beautiful traditional Japanese garden landscape. It is an easy 20 min walk from the station and the entrance fee is about 500 yen. If you are a fan of traditional housing and Japanese architecture, this is a must visit! More photos to come.
A few weeks ago I visited the city of Mishima in eastern Shizuoka Prefecture to the west of Tokyo just to enjoy their big summer festival. It was a three day event full of performances and culture but this time I could only take part in the first two days of events. This festival too has as one of its main features the giant dash, huge festival platforms pulled about by towns people. In Mishima City most of the townspeople seems to take turns being on top of the floats, with lots of flutes and drums to try and outperform each other! It is great fun to watch and enthusiasm and energy is really heart warming. The dashi are also unusually decorated with masses of lanterns hanging up front, making it a bright and colorful festival.
If you are in the area or feel like getting out of Tokyo for a couple of days I can really recommend Mishima, with maybe a day tour to Numazu City nearby or even as far as Kakegawa City or Atami City. They are good even when there are no festivals!
Fireworks started being produced in Japan in the 16th century, soon after the introduction of gunpowder. Naturally they were used like we use them today, but it is said that in 1613, at a fireworks performance inside Edo Castle, the handheld fireworks had the Tokugawa shogun especially impressed and they spread in popularity from that point. Usually fireworks in Japan were made only by specially licensed masters but these handheld fireworks were made by hand by groups of young men who would together go out to gather bamboo, hollow them out into tubes and stuff them with gunpowder before taking them to the local shrine to show of their courage and skills. After lighting the tube, they start pouring a fountain of sparks that depending on the size of the fireworks can reach over ten meters in height. Between 10 and 60 seconds after the fountain of sparks (the roar) comes the bottom explosion, where the sparks fly out underneath to symbolize the wings of the beast, along with a loud bang and plenty of smoke.
These Tetzutsu Hanabi can be found here and there across Japan but are most common in the Mikawa-Enshu area (Aichi and Shizuoka prefectures) where there are several famous festivals featuring this tradition. I visited the summer festival in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Mishima City, at the Mishima Taisha grand shrine where a group of local young men fired hundreds of these hand held fireworks during a 30 minute inferno. The men will walk around a set perimeter holding tubes up. There are a few different sizes of tubes as well as color fireworks and they get progressively bigger as the performance advances.
Few festivals are such an assault on the senses as this one. The noise is spectacular, with explosions every few seconds, the constant roar of the tubes, the flashes of light and fountains of lighted sparks and smoke. But most lasting is the smell! I was lucky not to be standing in the direction of the wind and still my hair, my skin, my camera and my clothes were covered in a light film of greasy gunpowder residue. I don’t think I have ever smelled so bad in my life! Still it was absolutely worth seeing it.