Posted on January 22nd, 2018 by Mike Roberts
Amano Yasukawara Cave
Takachiho, located in the northern central area of Miyazaki Prefecture on the southern island, is steeped in Japanese mythology. It is known as a “power spot”, a place of profound religious importance and natural beauty, which radiates spiritual energy. It is the disputed landing place of the gods who were sent down from heaven to establish the lineage of Japanese emperors. And it is the supposed site of the legend where Amaterasu, the Shinto Sun Goddess, hid herself in a cave to escape her brother’s cruel pranks sending the world into darkness. This prompted the other gods and goddesses to lure her out, which they did successfully thereby returning light to the world.
Today this legend (and others) are reenacted in a series of 33 dances. On winter weekends, people gather to watch the all-night performances called “Yokagura” (night dances). Each weekend the performances are held at different locations, sometimes even at private homes. A shortened version of the Yokagura is performed every night throughout the year at Takachiho Shrine. The one-hour show, performed by masked dancers and accompanied by traditional instruments, consists of a few scenes from the story of Amaterasu. My favorite, however, is the last dance of the evening, which includes Izanagi and Izanami, the gods who, according to Shinto mythology created Japan. This comedic dance follows them as they make sake and end up drinking too much of their product. As a result, they walk among the crowd, fraternizing with the audience. It has been my observation they like to choose foreigners, so if you are lucky enough to attend a performance, be prepared. Many of our tour members in the past have had the good fortune to enjoy this experience.
About 10 km (about 7 miles) outside of town, is the Amano Iwato Shrine. Here, you will find the cave where Amaterasu is said to have hid herself. The cave itself cannot be approached. However, there is an observation deck behind the shrine’s main building located on the opposite side of the river from the cave. You must inquire at the shrine office in order to access the observation deck, and a priest will give you a guided tour in Japanese.
If you keep walking past Amano Iwato Shrine along the road and down a pathway to the river, you will find the cave known as Amano Yasukawara. This is said to be the cave where the gods and goddesses met to discuss their stategy of luring Amaterasu out of hiding. The natural beauty of the cave and surrounding nature lined by countless stacks of stones make Amano Yasukawara a place not to miss.
Located on the edge of town, Takachiho Gorge is a narrow chasm cut though the volcanic rock by the Gokase River. The sheer cliffs lining the gorge are made of slow-forming volcanic basalt columns. Partway along the gorge is the 17 meter high Minanotaki waterfall cascading down to the river below. You can view the gorge from a rental rowboat, or there is a paved path that runs along the edge of the gorge. The path is about one kilometer (about 2/3 of a mile), is relatively level and easy to walk.
Access to Takachiho is by bus or train. An infrequent tourist bus connects the main sights with the bus center on weekends and public holidays. There is no bus service around town on regular weekdays. Because of this, the best way to visit and tour Takachiho is by car.
Takachiho is included on our Shikoku and Kyushu Rail and Drive tour. Please find more information about this tour (and others) here:
Posted on January 22nd, 2018 by Stephanie Miera
Geiko (modern day Geishas) are arguably the most iconic symbol of Japan. Their kimonos and white makeup distinguish them as an almost Japanese celebrity. The name Geiko translated literally means “person of the arts” as they are highly trained in various performing arts, including traditional Japanese dance and classical music. Some of their other training includes learning how to be great conversationalists and leading tea ceremonies to entertain their clientele. These young women start their journey as Maiko, meaning a Geiko in training, spending years practicing different skill sets before graduating to Geiko status. It may surprise some to learnthat the very first geishas were actually men. It was almost two decades later when women would take over the Geisha role.
Traditionally, Geishas started painting their faces white so they could be better seen in candlelight. They continue the tradition today in honor of their history. The makeup a Maiko is wearing can also be indicative of where theyare in their training. If you see a Maiko with only their lower lip painted, this means that they are new to the training and have not earned the top lip being painted. Girls as young as 14 can decide to join the house and start their training. Their training typically takes about 5 years to complete. Once the Maiko graduate to Geiko status, they are free to live and work on their own, although, they are not permitted to get married. If the Gaiko decided to get married, they have to forfeit their Gaiko status.
Today, you will find the Geikos and Maikos in the Gion District of Kyoto. If you are in the area and very lucky, you may spot one walking to their evening appointment. You can tell the difference between the two in very subtle ways. The Maiko will have more ornaments in their hair and a more brightly colored Kimono, while the Gaikos wear a more simple, sophisticated Kimono and hairstyle.
Many of our tours offer a Tea Ceremony and other cultural activities that feature a Maiko performance. Clients have the opportunity to learn matcha making and drinking skills, ask the Maiko questions, and take some pictures with her. The cultural experience gives clients a great sense of how Japan is bringing its past into the future.