- San'in Travel Diary Vol.3 -
It’s Tom here with another travel report from the San’in region. This time my travels took me to the heart of Japanese traditional steel making in Okuizumo, the majestic Ishitani Residence in Chizu, and the refreshing Tottori Prefectural Flower Park. I hope you enjoy the report.
By Tom Miyagawa Coulton
For centuries, the hills of Shimane Prefecture burned bright and bellowed smoke. These weren’t volcanoes, but the combustion of traditional tatara furnaces smelting iron and steel that was forged into countless samurai blades across Japan. Okuizumo and the mountains of the Chugoku region were the center of this industry and a visit to the Okuizumo Tatara and Sword Hall will show you how they satisfied Japan’s demand for tatara steel in the past and through to the present day.
Inside the main exhibition room, the huge cross section of a tatara furnace will give you a good idea of the process and the ingenuity of the smelters. There are exhibits of wooden bellows that you can try for yourself. The bellows should be familiar to anyone who has seen Miyazaki Hayao’s animated movie ‘Princess Mononoke’. It is said Ghibli Studios used this region as a reference point for their depictions of iron town and the forging process.
There are also exhibits of samurai swords forged in Okuizumo – some even 500 years old. I was lucky to time my visit with a sword demonstration. With poise and concentration, the sword master sliced through tightly rolled up straw mats, exhibiting the terrifying strength and sharpness of the blade. There was also a live Sword tempering performance run by the Kobayashis – a family of traditional sword smiths who still create Japanese samurai swords. Audience members were invited to help push the bellows and strike the hot steel in an entertaining demonstration.
The sword tempering performances are held on the second Sunday and fourth Saturday of each month. There are no set times for the sword demonstrations, so you’re lucky if you manage to witness it.Read More >>
‘Awe’ is the only way to describe the sensation you feel as you enter the Ishitani Residence. Located in the mountain town of Chizu due south of Tottori Prefecture, the building was the brainchild of Denshiro Ishitani and constructed between 1919 and 1929. As well as being the head of the influential Ishitani family who made their fortune in forestry, Denshiro was a member of the House of Peers in the Japanese Diet. He passed away suddenly in 1923 and never saw the completion of his project, but his brother Denichiro finished the house according to Denshiro’s designs. The impressive house is built on a scale rarely seen in the traditional Japanese style. As the family business was lumber, the vast entrance hall, or ‘doma’, was created to impress visitors and clients.
Look up and you see the high, open ceiling exposing gigantic beams that criss-cross above your head. Inside, the immaculate rooms and finely manicured Japanese gardens and a heart-shaped Japanese paper screen window show the imagination and attention to detail that went into every aspect of this building. This is Japanese craftsmanship at its zenith and a joy to behold.Read More >>
I met my tour guide interpreter Katsumi Nagata outside the Tottori Prefectural Flower Park – one of Japan’s biggest flower gardens. As we entered the park, I saw the glittering main dome and a clear view of Mount Daisen in the distance. I knew I was in for a treat.
Opened in 1999, the flower park is a popular destination for families and flower enthusiasts alike. It has also become a popular date spot for couples, with its romantic garden settings and evening illuminations in summer and winter.
Each season at the flower park has its merits, whether its picnicking under the cherry blossoms in spring, or barbecuing outside in summer (prior booking essential). During our visit, the trees were ablaze in their autumn finery. Katsumi led me to the circular observation gallery. This one kilometer long walkway with roof is flat, so everyone can easily walk around it. In addition, the site of this park lies on gentle slope, so a part of this walkway is located high from the ground – about 30m , where you can enjoy impressive views of the different gardens.
The centrepiece was the impressive Flower Dome – an enormous glass dome measuring 50 meters in diameter and 21 meters in height, housing an array of tropical and subtropical fauna and flora. Katsumi explained the park’s main flower is the lily and Japan is famous for its varieties of lilies. In the East Wing (accessible via the walkway) there is a beautiful variety of lilies on display all year round.
During the park’s construction, Tottori Prefecture reached out to the world famous Dutch flower garden Keukenhof. To celebrate this collaboration, tens of thousands of tulips come out in bloom every April in the Keukenhof Corner, also known as the Flower Valley. It was a wonderful experience visiting the flower park. It had the perfect balance. Even though it was a manmade space, it felt like nature and being inside the natural world.
This article is the third in this series. Follow our Facebook account for notifications on the latest articles.