Japan (October 2018): Ozu, Uchiko, and Ishidatami


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Ozu and Uchiko are two small towns between Uwajima and Matsuyama, both with historic districts. Ishidatami is a rural village in the hills north of Uchiko.




Ozu-jo. The castle was constructed in 1331, but took a more permanent structure between 1585 and 1617. In 1617 it fell under the control of Kato Sadayasu and remained under the control of the Kato clan until the Meiji restoration. In 1888 the main tower was severely damaged by a fire and demolished, but some smaller turrets were saved. Using historical documents the main castle tower was reconstructed in 2004 as closely as possible to its original state. The castle sits on a small hill above the Hijikawa (river) that traverses the city of Ozu.





Garyu-sanso. The main structure in this site is a single-story villa (Garyu-in) with a mountain-farm-like exterior, including a thatch roof, built in the early 20th century above a bend of the Hijikawa. The site also includes a beautiful garden that leads to a pavilion (the Furoan) on a clifftop above the river. In the past the location of the Garyu-sanso was a prized retreat of the Sato lords. After the Meiji restoration, Kochi Torajiro, a rich merchant, bought the land, and hired famous carpenters, craftsmen, and gardeners to build the villa and its garden according to his design. Work started in 1897 and the project was completed in 1907. Kochi Torajiro died in 1909 in Kobe and never lived in his villa.


Left: Old lantern tower near Garyu-sanso. Right: West side of Garyu-in (the river is on the east side of the villa). The white window near the center of the photo is that of the Seisui-no-ma room discussed below.



Left: Main entry gate into Garyu Sanso (on the north side of the site). Right: Photo of Kochi Torajiro posted in Garyu-in.


The interior of the Garyu-in looks very simple to a casual visitor. However, people who have an intimate knowledge of the villa see it as an architectural masterpiece with an exquisite attention to detail. For example, the villa is designed so that the light of the moon reflected by the Hijikawa hits interior features in very specific ways. Some features can be observed only by seating on the tatamis, the normal position for a Japanese dweller. Unfortunately, I was unable to observe and appreciate most of these subtleties.


The two photos below illustrate one the design detail. The photo on the left shows a wall of the Kagetsu-no-ma (″foggy moon″) room located on the east side of the villa. The photo on the right shows the other side of the wall in the Seisui-no-ma room, located on the west side of the villa. However, the two rooms are not exactly adjacent, but separated by a narrow room containing a small Buddhist altar. So, there are two circular windows facing each other, not one. In the evening the setting sun hits the Seisui-no-ma room, in such a way that in the Kagetsu-no-ma room the circular window then appears like a full moon in the midst of floating clouds represented by the three-tiered shelves on its left. This effect is reinforced by the gap between the two windows that makes the light more diffuse and by the color of the paper in the Kagetsu-no-ma room. At night a similar effect can be obtained by lighting the candle on the altar.


Garden leading to the Furoan pavilion. The autumn colors were still a few weeks away.


Morning view of the Furoan pavilion from the opposite bank of the Hijikawa.


Streets in the old neighborhoods of Ozu.



Nyoho-ji temple. This Buddhist Zen temple is located in the hills facing Garyu Sanso on the other side of the Hajikawa. It was built in 1669 by the second lord of the Sato clan, who brought a reputable Zen monk, Yotaku Bankei, to the temple. Seven Sato lords are buried in the grave site of the temple.


Beautiful stairway leading to Nyoho-ji.


Pillars marking the end of the stairway.


Sanmon of the temple. (A sanmon is the main gate of a Japanese Zen temple.)


Shoro (bell house) on the left and Jizodo (Jizo hall) on the right. This Jizodo venerates a jizo named Mokuzo Jizo Bosatsu Ryuzo.


Buddha hall, with the Sutra repository on its right (the white building partially visible in the photo). Unfortunately, all the buildings were closed when I visited the site.


Another view of the Jizodo and the Buddha hall.





Located 12km northeast of Ozu. Uchiko prospered from the late Edo to the Meiji period as a manufacturing center of Japanese wax. The Yokaichi Gokoku historic district contains many houses and other buildings erected during that time, some still inhabited and/or in use. In the 19th and early 20th centuries there were up to 23 wax manufacturers-merchants in Uchiko, making it the biggest wax producing town in Japan (30% of the total production). But demand for wax decreased quickly in the late Meiji and early Taisho periods, due to cheaper substitutes and the spread of electricity. In 1924 the last wax merchant in Uchiko went out of business.


Streets in the historic district.


Shops in the main street.



Large ceramic onigawara leaned against a house. Onigawaras are more often used as roof ornamentation.


Uchiko-za, a superb wooden Kabuki theater built in 1916 and renovated in 1985. With a 650-person capacity, a revolving platform at the center of the stage, trapdoors, and underneath corridors, it hosts about 60 performances per year.



Colorful decorations above the entrance doors, below an overhang roof (barely visible in the previous photo).



Inside the two-level entertainment hall, with the standard Kabuki curtain in the back of the stage. The rectangular tablet above the stage is inscribed with three characters meaning ″Have fun with art″.



Left: Corridor underneath the stage. Right: Tiny shrine in the side-yard of the theater


In the Kamihaga family residence. This family developed its wax making process in the 19th century and became wealthy by exporting wax overseas. Today the former residence hosts a wax museum and the only remaining wax production facility in Uchiko.


Impressive timber roof truss of the residence.


Berries of the sumac tree from which the wax is extracted by a multi-step process


Reproduction of 19th-century scenes in the Kamihaga residence.




Honhaga Residence. The Honhaga family was another major wax producer in Uchiko.




Kosho-ji, a Buddhist temple at the northern end of Uchiko′s historic district.





Spleeping Buddha outside Kosho-ji.


Day hike to Ishidatami:


Ishidatami is a village north of Uchiko. In fact, the village is more a collection of sparsely distributed houses and farms than a village. This 23km hike (itinerary in yellow in the aerial map below) follows small roads with low traffic. It starts at the Iyo-Tachikawa station and ends in Uchiko and traverses a quiet region that represents rural Japan at its best.


River along the road #224 (after leaving Iyo-Tachikawa station) leading to the Yuge shrine.


The perfectly shaped Taiko bridge built across a pond to give access to Yuge-jinja (a small Shinto shrine). The bridge is covered by a roof made of cedar bark shingle.




Sketch of the bridge posted near the shrine.


Yuge-jinja. Built during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), this shrine is guarded by two half-lion/half-dog statues and is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Ookami. The local people come here to pray for good harvest.


Seiryu-en. Until the 1950s up to 30 water mills were in use in this area. Local volunteers have restored and maintain three of them that are still occasionally used to produce rice flour. This is a rare sight in modern Japan.





Covered bridge between mills.




Tamaru bridge, 2m wide with a 15m span, across the Fumoto-gawa. The support of the bridge has been specifically designed to sustain floods of the river. Again the roof is made of cedar bark shingles.



Chestnut tree along the way. Chestnuts are popular in Japan and are used in a variety of cakes. The area around Ishidatami is planted with many chestnut trees. Their chestnuts are said to be excellent.


Harvested rice fields in the lower parts of the hike. The local climate allows two harvests per year.




Weirs on the Fumoto-gawa downstream from the Tamaru bridge.



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