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.

April 20, 2020

Visiting the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum

by Sophie Richard

Japan-Insights Expert Sophie Richard is a freelance art historian based in London. She was educated at the Ecole du Louvre and the Sorbonne, Paris. Over the last twelve years, she has travelled to Japan many times. In Japan-Insights.jp she published Portraits of Museums, Exploring art museums in Shimane Prefecture , a detailed research on the museum offerings of West Honshu for international visitors.

Sophie Richard

I was happy to return to the Izumo region in Shimane Prefecture a few months ago and I would like to share one visit that particularly enchanted me, that of the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum. Being a self-confessed Mingei fan, I am always curious to visit local crafts museums and I was excited to see this one for the first time.

Approaching the Izumo Folkcraft Museum

A short drive from Izumo city, the museum is located in a leafy residential area. It is housed in parts of a beautiful Edo-period compound still today the residence of the Yamamoto family (not open to the public).

The walk towards the entrance

Visitors enter via a grand gate that was built over two and a half centuries ago by some of the carpenters who worked at Izumo Taisha, one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in Japan. Below the gate’s roof I noticed numerous wooden tablets bearing inscriptions. Upon asking I was told that these were hung during the Edo period to protect the house and ensure its prosperity. Members of the family would have them made while visiting temples and then bring them back so that they could be nailed to the gate.

Entrance gate

Detail of votive tablets nailed to the gate

The Izumo Mingei Association operates the museum, managing its collection and supervising the three buildings that are accessible to visitors on this site: the entrance gate and two kuras, or storehouses, that have been turned into display galleries. Turning right past the gate, visitors will find the museum’s main gallery which was once used to store large quantities of rice.

Towards the museum’s first gallery

Inside, the presentation is pleasantly uncluttered and elegant. A second floor was created when the museum was open in 1974, in order to make more space for the display of ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, and furniture. On view are mostly local Mingei artefacts, but there are also objects from other parts of Japan. The display rotates occasionally, particularly the works in glass cases, while the larger pieces such as wooden chests and hanging textiles are permanently on view.

Inside the first gallery
Gallery view

Among those are many indigo pieces that formed part of a bride’s trousseau. For example, on the photograph below, the rectangular textile in the centre was used as a towel for babies. The crane and turtle that decorate it are auspicious symbols of longevity and the red triangle in its top corner, obtained with bengara dye, was reserved for the face.

Textiles on display in first gallery

Upstairs are a variety of chests for storing household goods, including some with locks for keeping money.

View of the upstairs gallery

The impressive wooden beams that criss-cross the ceiling bear the names of the carpenters who built the kura in the 19th century.

Wooden beams seen from the upstairs gallery

Retracing my steps towards the entrance gate, I walked towards the museum’s second viewing space. The various tools and objects made of wickerwork arranged on the outside walls are a reminder that this building was once used as a barn.

Walking along the gate towards the second gallery
Entrance to the second gallery

On display are practical and beautiful objects illustrating the creativity and practicality of craftsmen. Among the many objects are paper kites (still made today in the small Takahashi shop near Izumo Taisha), ceramic warmers for hands, or for cooking eels.
At the time of my visit a special exhibition focused on dobin, small tea pots used for pouring tea or broth; they were tastefully presented throughout the space, including on the stairs of a step chest.

Inside the second gallery
Temporary display

I warmly recommend a visit to the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum, a very peaceful and atmospheric place. Its temporary exhibitions are worth seeing and while there is little English information provided, this should not deter foreign visitors.
An interesting shop with craftwork from local artisans completes the visit.

Leaving the Izumo Folkcraft Museum

Related websites:
Izumo Heritage Museums
Izumo Folkcrafts Museum, Izumo Mingei Kan (Japanese)

© all photos Sophie Richard

Sophie Richard introduced a selection of Shimane museums in her article Portraits of Museums, Exploring art museums in Shimane Prefecture at Japan-Insights.jp!

April 01, 2020

Jomon Calendar and Wosite Documents

by Harriet H. Natsuyama

Japan-Insights Expert Harriet H. Natsuyama ,  visiting Scholar at the Kanayama Research Center shared her research on calendar systems - such as the one she presented in great detail at Japan-Insights.jp in her eassay Jomon Astronomy, the Solar Calendar of the Kanayama Megaliths .

Harriet H. Natsuyama

Mt. Kasagi, Mt. Ena, and Achi Shrine in the Nakatsugawa region, bordering the prefectures of Gifu and Nagano ©Google Maps


This article extends the recently reported findings of Kobayashi and Tokuda about the solar calendar of the megaliths in Hida Kanayama, Gifu prefture.

Viewed from Nakatsugawa, the 2,191m Mt. Ena straddles the border of Gifu and Nagano prefectures

Possible System of Megaliths: From Mount Kasagi in Gifu to Achi Shrine in Nagano

The thesis about the megalithic calendar system of the previous post may be supported by ancient Jomon documents. The three locations – Mt. Kasagi, Mt. Ena, and Achi Shrine – play an important role in the Jomon civilisation. They are centered around Nakatsugawa and cover an east-west spread of about 90 kilometers. The blue route has a driving distance of 58 kilometers.

Koyomi, meaning calendar, written in Wosite characters

Wosite Jomon Documents

In addition to my work with the Kanayama Megaliths, I have studied ancient documents written in the Wosite language of the Jomon period. These documents are not well known in Japan, even less in Western countries. The Wosite documents Hotuma Tutaye (also written Hotsuma Tsutae) and Hutomani (Futomani) are at least 2,000 years old. They represent a possible connection between the solar calendar of the megaliths and the ancient Jomon calendar. The Wosite word for calendar koyomi is still in use today.

Looking west to the winter solstice sunset from the Ena Jinja lower shrine

Omoikane Achihiko, Jomon Calendar Maker

The Wosite documents quote a prominent scholar of his day, Omoikane Achihiko. He was appointed as the first Hiyomi no Miya, whereby hiyomi refers to the solar calendar (koyomi), and miya indicates a high social position.
Omoikane took responsibility for the transformation of the lunar calendar into a solar calendar. He is remembered as a deity in shrines around the towering 2,191m Mt. Ena, which borders the prefectures of Gifu and Nagano.
The enshrined gods (kami) of Ena Jinja are Isanami and Isanagi, the parents of his wife Wakahime. The inner shrine, okumiya is located on the top of Mt. Ena and the more accessible lower shrine is on the western foothills of the mountain. The prayer hall of the latter faces a notch in the mountain ridge which indicates the direction of the winter solstice sunset.

Middle shrine of Togakushi Jinja

Omoikane no Kami

The great Togakushi Jinja in northern Nagano enshrines Omoikane, who is considered the god of wisdom, learning, and scholarship, and his two sons: the first, Tajikarao, in the Oku-sha and the second, Uwaharu, in the Hoko-sha of Togakushi.

Maemiya shrine of Achi Jinja, the memorial to Omoikane Achihiko. © Watari Kayo, November 2019

Achi Jinja

It is said that Omoikane Achihiko's found his final resting place in the Achi Jinja shrine in the town of Achi, southern Nagano, to the east of Mt. Ena. This shrine is considered to be the original one built before Togakushi Jinja.
The original location of Achi Jinja was the Motomiya, also called Okumiya, an ancient place of worship. There is an Iwakura stone to which the revered kami are said to descend. The stone is said to be aligned with the four cardinal directions and the winter solstice sunrise. The kami are Ame no Yakokoro Omoikane no Mikoto and his son Ame no Uwaharu no Mikoto.

Concluding Remarks

In modern Japanese, there are completely different variants for the writing of the names Omoikane, Ena, and Achi. These inconsistencies indicate that these names must be very old, originally written in Wosite characters. It must have been much later that different ways of writing them in kanji developed. Perhaps it was Omoikane Achihiko himself who established the Jomon megalithic solar calendar system. That is why we are enthusiastic about Kobayashi's and Tokuda's findings as reported in previous articles and the Japan-Insights topic on Jomon Astronomy. Carrying out fieldwork and analysis, running astronomical software, researching ancient documents, and learning about the history of shrines lead to revelations about the broad and deep extent of Jomon knowledge and achievements.

Additional information about Wosite and Omoikane can be found here:

© all photos Harriet Natsuyama (spring 2019) unless stated otherwise.

Learn more about the Kanayame Megaliths by reading Harriet Natsuyama's article Jomon Astronomy, the Solar Calendar of the Kanayama Megaliths. at Japan-Insights.jp!