Japan-Insights is a site where leading experts in Japanese studies present a broad range of historical and contemporary topics, encouraging visitors to engage with the real Japan through immersive experiences.

August 11, 2019

Back in Tohoku

by Dr Nadine Willems

Japan-Insights Expert Dr Nadine Willems  from the University of East Anglia's School of History sent us a short account from her recent trip to Tohoku. At Japan-Insights.jp she published a detailed portrait of Miyazawa Kenji , a social visionary, ecological activist, teacher - and poet from Tohoku in the early 20th century.

I was happy to return to Tohoku for a short trip in July. I headed straight to Osorezan , the fear mountain, which I had heard about but never visited before. This sacred site on the remote Shimokita peninsula, mixes Buddhism with earlier folk beliefs, symbolized by the itako  spirit mediums who offer communication with the dead.

View of the Osorezan land
Osorezan, which is thought to represent the entrance to the afterlife, is accessible via a narrow road that meanders through the mountains of Shimokita. Once there, I walked through the volcanic landscape, with its grey stony ground and puffs of sulfuric steam. The wavelets on the shore of Lake Usori made an eerie sound. Jizo statues, the protectors of the souls of dead and unborn children, seemed to inhabit the place. As I explored Osorezan, a strange sense of quietness overwhelmed me.

The Five Gods of Wisdom

I also traveled to Akita, on the trail of Leonard Foujita, known in Japan as Fujita Tsuguharu . A painter of immense talent, he spent most of his adult life in France but never forgot his Japanese roots. Some of Foujita’s paintings, in particular the large-scale Akita gyōji are hosted by the Akita Museum of Art , a splendid building designed by architect Tadao Ando . Photographing the artwork was prohibited, but I came back with a few shots of the museum itself, with its clear lines and expanse of water soothing the concrete blocs of the building: another haven of peace and reflection in northern Japan.

Akita Museum of Art

© all photos Nadine Willems

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