links to APDL and KCC link to KCC homepage link to APDL homepage

Roads of Oku: Home

Inspiration ...

Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa / Google Map: Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi ("Narrow Road to the Deep North")

Journeys ...

Spring 2004: On the Road in Kansai / Google Map
Summer 2005: Roads of Oku / Google Map
Fall 2006: Where Gods Alight / Google Map
Summer 2007: Hōkūle‘a in Yokohama / Map
Winter 2008: Snow Country / Google Map
Spring 2008: Full Bloom & Festivals / Google Map
Summer 2009: Fireflies & Sweet Fish / Google Map
Fall 2009: North Country Colors / Google Map
Summer 2010: Legends of the Land / Google Map
Spring 2011: On the Far Side of Disaster / Google Map
Summer 2012: Travels in the Fifth Moon / Google Map
Summer 2013: Far Roads: Finishing Touches / Google Map
Summer 2015: Saké-Tasting in the Kingdom of Local Brew

Memorable ...

Roads / Seacoasts & Coastal Roads / Bridges / Ferries / Walks & Hikes / Mountains / Ropeways / Rivers / Waterfalls / Lakes / Trees / Rocks / Caves / Hot Springs / Sakura / Fall Colors / Archaeology and History / Castles / Shrines / Temples / Gardens / Festivals / Food / Drinks
Photography: Dennis Kawaharada and Karen Ono

Note ...

On Driving in Japan

Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland

A collection of essays on Japanese culture, history and literature. Available at (Far Roads Press, 2015).


Hanabi (Fireworks) Festival, Tejikarao Shrine, Gifu. Spring 2008

A 300-year old spring fireworks festival held on the second Saturday in April. Mikoshi (portable shrines) from the twelve towns in the area converge on Tejikarao Shrine and light up the night with fireworks to celebrate the return of the mountain gods in spring.

Tejikarao streetOmikoshiStageFireworks

Takayama Spring Festival, Gifu. Spring 2008

On April 14 and 15 each year. Takayama welcomes the spring gods with afestival that features twelve exquisitely-made floats, beautifully lacquered, carved, and embellished with metal ornaments, and hung with banners and paintings on silk. Three of the floats house 21-string puppets that perform dances to traditional music. After the puppet performance in the central plaza, several hundred residents dressed up in Edo-style costumes and paraded through the town, stopping to perform a lion dance before the shrines along the way.

Takayama floatPuppetLion danceProcession

Opening of Ukai, Iwakuni, Yamaguchi. June 1, Summer 2009

Ukai is the practice of river-fishing at night for ayu (sweetfish) with trained sea cormorants on leashes. The fish are attracted with fires burning in metal baskets attached to the front end of the shallow-water boats. The birds dive for the fish, but cannot swallow them because the leahs ring constricts its esophagus. Originally from China, ukai is described over 1300 years ago in Japan: using this method, fishermen provided ayu to the imperial court. Eventually, the art declined to near extinction when it was no longer economically viable, but has since been revived to promote cultural and regional tourism. Ukai takes place about a dozen towns and cities in Japan. In Iwakuni, upstream of the five arches of the Kintai Bridge, the season opens on June 1 and continues till August 31.

Iwakuni boatAyuComorantsNight fishing

Nebuta Floats, Aomori. Fall 2009

The Neputa festival takes place in summer and celebrates the victory of samurai over the demons of the northland. We were in Aomori in summer and fall, so never saw the festival, but the beautiful paper floats lit from the inside are on display year round at Sato no Nebuta, just south of Aomori.

Nebuta floatFloat

Kami Ari, the Gathering of the Gods, Izumo Taisha, Shimane. Fall 2006

Kami Ari begins on 10.10, the tenth day of the tenth moon. In fall 2006, 10.10 fell on November 30. Photos: Ten day old moon. Preparing the fires to welcome the kami from around Japan. Pathway of the gods arriving from the sea. Priests lead the procession back to the shrine. Ceremonies are held at the Taisha the following week. Izumo Shrine.

Izumo moonIzumo beachPathwayPriestsProcession of priestsShrine rooftop

Thanksgiving Festival, Udo Jinja, Miyazaki, Kyushu. Fall 2006

On November 25, shrines around the country hold an annual first fruits/thanksgiving festival, when rice, fruits, and sake are offered to the gods, accompanied by music and dance.

Udo JinjaMusic performersVisitorsGiftsMusic performanceShrine

Ishiteji, Matsuyama, Shikoku. Fall 2006

When we visited Ishiteji, the courtyard was crowded and hazy with incense smoke pouring out of a large censer. A ceremony was taking place, culminating in the torching of a large boat made of paper, straw, and branches, the flames and smoke lifting prayers skyward and connecting the living to the spirits of the dead.

Ishiteji statueMonkSenserTempleFestivalRice

Hi Matsuri (Fire Festival), Nozawa, Nagano. Winter 2008

The festival is dedicated to dosojin, dual kami (male-female) of fertility and safety. A shaden, or tower-shrine, is built for the festival from pine and beech trees from the village’s forests. The festival begins with fireworks and a celebration of the sons born in that year, with a toro, or lantern pole, for each, with best-wishes streamers hung from them.. 42 year olds sit in the nest of pines on the shaden, daring the townspeople to try to burn it down. The 25 year olds are stationed at the base to protect the 42 year olds above. The villagers load up on sake snd attack with torches. After an hour battle, in which the 25 year olds fend off the attackers, the 42 year olds declare victory, then descend from the nest of pines. Then the shrine is torched.

DosojinShadenCloseup of shadenFireworksFather and sonTaking sakeThe 42 year oldsThe 25 year oldsAttackersTorchesSetting the bonfireBurning of the shadenSacred fireDestruction of the shaden