History and Culture of Fukano and the Surrounding Area

In modern times, Fukano Village, the home of Sasayuri-ann, has been part of the Muro district of Uda City, Nara Prefecture. However, land surveys were not performed until the time of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (mid-to-late sixteenth century), the two great unifiers of medieval Japan, and for this reason the borders of Fukano do not seem to have been clearly demarcated during Japan's Warring States Period (1467-1568).
The view looking out from Sasayuri-ann in Fukano-splendid mountains and the Nabari plain beyond.
The procession of the torches.
The Omizutori rite at the Nigatsu Hall, Todai Temple.

In prehistoric times, the plains below the mountain site of Fukano Village, contemporary Iga and Nabari cities, were part of the bed of Lake Biwa, which makes for fertile soil and bountiful rice harvests today. Proximity to the capitals (Nara and Kyoto) made it one of the areas where many aristocratic manors developed, and because the Taki-no-hara region of contemporary Nabari produced good quality iron-sand containing high concentrations of titanium, in antiquity it became home to many manors controlled by the Taira clan, attracting the attention of the centers of power of that time.

Good quality iron-sand is used in the production of swords and armor, and for this reason prior to the appearance of the Taira, the Fujiwara clan controlled the manors. The Imperial Court also seems to have attempted to monopolize control of the area.

Outcrops of megaliths are found at the old practice sites of Shugendo, or mountain asceticism, and because of the presence of sand-iron, leaders among the mountain ascetics with knowledge of mining technology became involved in extracting sand from these places, the production of military goods and the shipping of the finished product.

Fukano lies next to Nabari City, Mie Prefecture, and even though it is technically part of Nara Prefecture, in terms of its regional economic zone it is fair to say that Fukano is actually part of Nabari. A fertile plain called Kuroda is found in Nabari, and when the imperial court controlled Kuroda the plain was the manor of the Todai Temple, the memorial temple of the imperial family. Those close ties continue to this day. The procession of torches used in Todai Temple's famous "Omizutori" rite sets out from Gokuraku Temple in the Akame neighborhood of Nabari and goes over the Kasama Pass, right next to Fukano, on its way to Nigatsu Hall of Todai Temple.

The foundation stones of the Buddha Hall of Kebara Temple ruins.
The historical site of Natsumi Temple's ruins in Nabari.

The ruins of a grand Nara period temple can be seen at Kebara village, which is in the same Muro district as Fukano. There are no historical records of the ruined Kebara Temple, but the scale of its Buddha Hall was as large as that of Nara's Toshodai Temple, and its remains are a Nationally Registered Historic Site. This temple was located in the center of lands donated by the Imperial Court to provide lumber for the construction of the building that houses Todai Temple's Great Buddha Statue, and for this reason the ruined temple is also thought to have been the administer of forests for Todai Temple.

Additionally, in neighboring Nabari City there are also the ruins of Natsumi Temple, constructed by the Princess Tairai, daughter of emperor Tenmu, between the close of the late 7th and first half of the 8th century. The princess served at the Grand Shrine of Ise for 13 years as its Itsuki-no-miko, which is an imperial princess who represents the emperor in ceremonies at the shrine.

Fall festival at Shinmei Shinto Shrine in Fukano Village.

Incidentally, beginning in the Nara period (710-784), Fukano performed an important role as the route by which the Itsuki-no-miko traveled from the capital to the Grand Shrine of Ise.

It those days Nabari was one of the counties of Iga Province, but later it fell under the control of the forces allied to Kitabatake, the feudal lord of Ise Province (equivalent to contemporary Mie, parts of Aichi and Gifu Prefectures). In addition to Nabari, neighboring Fukano also came under the powerful influence of the Kitabatake clan.

Close to the capital but centered in a basin ringed by mountains, in the ancient period Iga Province became home to many ?migr?s and political refugees. For example, the Mononobe clan, which had roots on the Asian continent and oversaw both military matters (called mono-no-fu) and magico-ritual ceremonies (mono-no-ke) for the ancient Yamato (later imperial) court. Following their defeat in power struggles at the court, part of the clan took up residence as local samurai in the Iga region. An inscription inside the kofun tumulus at the summit of Kono Mountain reads "Nigihayahi-no-mikoto", which is the name of the legendary ancestor of the ancient Mononobe tribe. The Mononobe in Iga later changed their surname to Hattori, and the famous ninja Hattori Hanzo is said to be one of their descendants.

Furthermore, after the emperor Godaigo established his court at Yoshino during the schism in the imperial court known as the War of the Southern and Northern Courts, Kusunoki Masashige, accompanied by Kitabatake Chikafusa visited three sites in order to carry out Kusunoki's plan for additional encampments for a temporary imperial court. These were located in contemporary Kami-Kasama, in Muro, Uda City, Nara Prefecture (next to Fukano), Kasama in Haibara ward, and Tsukigase Village in Nara City. The places that Kusunoki chose all border on Iga Province, where the local forces were allied with Godaigo's southern court. Kusunoki also brought 48 ninja with him to serve as bodyguards, which ensured the success of the highly secret mission. The site of the temporary court at Kami-Kasama was completed in 1344 after the death of Godaigo, during the reign of emperor Gomurakami. Today, the "Nantei Kogo" tomb that remains in Kami-Kasama is the grave of the wife of emperor Gomurakami, said to have been the daughter of Kitabatake Chikafusa, whose grave lies next to it (Kami-Kasama is adjacent to Fukano in the same Muro ward of Uda City).