Winter Solstice 2017 Photos


Chika-san has sent us two photos taken this winter solstice in Kanayama. The first is the megalith that views the sunrise. Fortunately the weather was good, even though there was snow on the ground from the earlier snowfall, and the group could climb Higashinoyama.

The other photo shows the split megaliths of the Senkoku group. The winter setting sun shines right through the crack, making a splendid sight.








Winter Solstice 2017


Kanayama Megaliths in December by S. Tokuda

Winter weather has arrived in the mountains of Kanayama. The solstice is coming soon to the megaliths. It will arrive on Friday, December 22, 2017 at 1:28 am. Unless you live in the same time zone, it will probably arrive for you on Thursday the 21st. See the dates and times below.

EarthSky has a posted information about the winter solstice of 2017. Here are some excerpts telling us that the four quarters of the year vary in length from 89 to 94 days. There is an exciting graphic as well on the site.

The 2017 December solstice will come on the December 21 at 16:28 UTC. That’s 10:28 a.m. on December 21, for those in the central time zone in North America. It’s when the sun reaches its southernmost point for the year. This solstice marks the beginning of the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere, and the start of the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere. And, no matter where you are on Earth, it marks the beginning of your shortest season.

By season, we mean the time between a solstice and an equinox, or vice versa. The upcoming season – between the December solstice and March equinox – is a touch shy of 89 days.

Contrast the number of days of the upcoming season with that of the longest season, a Northern Hemisphere summer or Southern Hemisphere winter. The longest season as measured from the June solstice to the September equinox lasts 93.65 days.

Why is the upcoming season nearly 5 days shorter? Every year in early January, the Earth swings closest to the sun for the year. Because Earth is nearest the sun at this time, Earth moves most swiftly in its orbit. That’s why a Northern Hemisphere winter or Southern Hemisphere summer is the shortest of the four seasons.

On the other hand, in early July, Earth is farthest from the sun and moving most slowly in its orbit.

Lengths of the astronomical seasons:

December solstice to March equinox: 88.99 days
March equinox to June solstice: 92.76 days
June solstice to September equinox: 93.65 days
September equinox to December solstice: 89.84 days

For those in various time zones, here are some astronomical dates and times of the winter solstice.

Fri 1:28 am     Tokyo
Thu 9:58 pm    New Delhi
Thu 7:28 pm    Moscow
Thu 4:28 pm    London
Thu 11:28 am    New York
Thu 8:28 am     Los Angeles
Thu 6:28 am     Honolulu

For those who have accessibility issues, we thank a reader for suggesting this site

For Kanayama megalith visitors, there will be a hike up Higashinoyama on the morning of the winter solstice.

December 22 – December 24
Dec 22 at 7:30 AM to Dec 24 at 4:20 PM UTC+09
See the link for details.

Gifu Castle

DSC04533 Gifu-jo in clouds

We wrote about Jomon rebel Ryoumen Sukuna in an earlier post.  We mentioned that the warlord Oda Nobunaga acquired Gifu Castle (岐阜城, Gifu-jō). Gifu-jō was built on Mt. Kinka in 1201 in the Kamakura Period. It was originally called Inabayama Castle in the town of Inokuchi. In 1567, Oda Nobunaga launched an attack on Mino Province and attacked the castle on 13 September. After two weeks, Nobunaga claimed the castle and made it his own. He renamed the castle Gifu-jō, and the town Gifu. The castle has been damaged and destroyed several times, including during World War II. The current version of Gifu Castle is a cement structure that was built in the 1950s. What we see today is the donjon, the castle keep (tower). Gifu is the name of the capital city of Gifu prefecture.

These photos were taken early in the morning when the castle on the top of Kinka mountain was shrouded in clouds. When the mist dissipated, we could see the donjon. For 800 years the castle has been siting majestically high over the town and the Nagara river below.

DSC04534 Gifu-jo on hill

For those who want to know what the donjon looks like close up, here is a photo from Wikimedia.


The Nagara-gawa is one of the major rivers of Gifu-ken. Here it is by day and by night.




Okuhida Sake and Vodka in Autumn

2017-10-25 13.14.04 Okuhida front

Okuhida Sake Brewery continues to produce top quality sake. For this autumn season, there are two special sakes. They are announced on their shop window, to the left of the sugitama cedar ball. One is a newcomer with an attractive harvest moon label, and it is called Aki Agari. It can be served cold or warm. Either way, it has a taste entirely appropriate for autumn.

2017-10-19 17.06.39 Aki Agari

The other selection in the Hatsumidori series is the classic Yamahai. Yamahai is created lovingly with extra care, rice being polished up to 55%, and it takes three times as long to make. The recipe is 150 years old! When you taste this fine sake, you will know why it has been popular for such a long time. The Yamahai will be your choice for your autumn sake.

2017-10-25 14.09.36 Yamahai

Lest you forgot that Okuhida Sake Brewery produces an acclaimed vodka, here it is again. Our earlier report was posted prior to Putin’s visit to Japan.

2017-10-26 20.57.01 vodka

Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2016, was presented with Okuhida Vodka by former Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi. This vodka is made from premium Miyama Nishiki rice and the clear, pure water of the Maze river of Hida, plus it takes six long years. Okuhida ran out of stock recently because of increased demand. It’s no wonder that Okuhida Vodka is a tremendous success!

2017-10-25 13.14.20 Okuhida signs





Shichifukuzan Minshuku



If you want lodging in a traditional home in Hida Kanayama, Shichifukuzan is the place to stay. Shichifukuzan 七福山refers to the mountain (san 山) of the seven (shichi 七) lucky (fuku 福) kami. The building is from Edo jidai, 1603-1868. This minshuku guest house is run by the proprietress who is called Okami-san.


Here is a view from the room on the ground floor of the building which is in a grove of trees. And here is the room itself.


There is a rushing river across the street. There are additional rooms on the second floor. Breakfast and dinner meals are cooked by Okami-san. You have the opportunity to taste real mountain food, fresh from the rivers and mountains of Kanayama.

One night, several of us gathered and asked Okami-san to prepare a dish of nabe. On a crisp evening in autumn, what could be better? After the nabe veggies had been consumed, a wonderful broth remained. Okami-san brought out rice and two eggs. They were mixed into the broth and the result is called zousui. The perfect way to end a meal!

2017 nabe dinner-10-22 18.45.26

2017-10-22 19.00.29 nabe pot





Nangu Taisha


Nangu Taisha Entrance Gate


View from gate: Haiden of Nangu Taisha, with kagura den in front

Nangu Taisha is Ichinomiya of Mino. This is a grand shrine painted in vermillion. The gosaishin of Nangu Taisha is Kanayama-hiko, kami of metal-working. 

We were interested in visiting this taisha because we had been to Nangu Jinja in Hida Kanayama. We found that Nangu Jinja faced the sunrise of winter solstice. We wondered if these two shrines are related and wanted to measure the taisha’s orientation.


Elegant altar in haiden


Kagura den in front of haiden


View from haiden through kaguraden to entrace gate and winter solstice rising sun

We verified that the shrine faces the azimuth direction of 120 degrees. This means that the winter solstice rising sun penetrates the gate, the kagura den, and finally strikes the altar of the haiden. We have found the east, the sunrise direction, to be the most preferred orientation of jinja, and especially the sunrise of the winter solstice. In latitudes around 35 degrees North, as such here in Gifu, that direction is about 30 degrees south of east, namely 120 degrees. Which is exactly what we found at Nangu Taisha and at Nangu Jinja.




Taki Jinja


Taki Jinja 瀧神社(たきじんじゃ)

Taki means waterfall. This is a Seoritsuhime shrine in a truly lovely secluded place. This shrine is simple and mysterious, in a shady forest. It is very peaceful here, listening to the sounds of birds and running water. This site is located in Mino, in Gifu Prefecture.

The shrine grounds are a level area with a slope to the right as we face the buildings from the parking lot. This is the slope from which the taki falls to the valley below, which its waters have created so long ago. Surely, the sacredness of this site was recognized by the ancient people. The taki itself is the goshintai sacred body. The named kami is Seoritsuhime, the guardian spirit of waterfalls and white water streams. There is another Taki Shrine in Kyoto, also dedicated to Seoritsuhime. The river formed by this taki is Itadori-kawa, a tributary of Nagara-kawa


The waterfall was the original sacred object and then the spirit of the waterfall was identified as Seoritsuhime no Mikoto. Other gosaishin are identified as Minasame no Mikoto, and Yaoroyorozu no kami, a panoply of kami. There is no chigi on the prayer hall. The direction is 263 degrees, which does not seem to be significant. After all, the main sacred object is the waterfall itself.