AS a long-time resident of Kutchan it always disheartens me to hear people complain ‘there is no culture in Hirafu, Niseko, or Kutchan!’ Or; ‘It just doesn’t seem like Japan!’ Many act as if up until five or six years ago, when the western real-estate and development companies decided to rebuild the area, there were samurai and geisha walking the streets, only horses and rickshaw on the streets, and if you weren’t careful when you went out drinking sake you would end up in a sword fight with a drunken ronin.
As if they were to get off the airplane and all of a sudden step into a black and white film, turn to their loved ones and say, ‘it’s just as I imagined, it’s like Seven Samurai’.
Hey, I enjoy a good Kurosawa film as much as anyone, but Japan has leapt with the rest of us into the 21st century. Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, an area that can boast about being one of the most historical, is littered with modernity.
In actual fact, this area is dripping with Japanese culture, and if we were to take the time to wander the back streets of Kutchan, just a short bus ride from Hirafu, we will find that Kutchan is indeed the ‘real Japan’, and there are more than two handfuls of temples and shrines (jinjas) scattered around within walking distance. They may not be as grandiose as those of Kyoto or Nara, but just as ‘spiritual’, and very intimate, one of the main aspects of Zen. Their roofs are less ornate, due to the heavy snowfall, but their layout is based on the traditional paradigm. Daibutsuji, a Soto Zen temple located next to the ski field behind Kutchan Station, has an elaborately painted ceiling officially listed as a ‘town cultural asset’.
Brendan from the town office has put together a ‘walking temple tour’ of K-Town (see also the opposite page). He has contacted all the temples and shrines and composed a detailed list and history of 10 places which, upon appointment, will open their doors and show you around. Just drop by or call the information centre on the main street and set up this free self-guided tour. For more information call 0136-23-0222.
We have provided a map to give a general idea of how close they are, and also suggest visiting www.town.kutchan.hokkaido.jp/town/syoukoukankouka/English/temple_tour.jsp to download Brendan’s tour. Free internet is provided at the information centre.
If I am free, I am more than happy to try to answer any questions you may have regarding Japanese culture, so swing by my cafe, Café Kaku.
Have fun, be respectful, and enjoy Japan!