Aichi’s Obara is a quiet, rural, out-of-the-way location. That is what makes it so special! It is where traditions live on, and Japan’s spectacular nature can be best enjoyed. In Obara, rare cherry blossoms bloom twice a year, spring and autumn, and traditional washi paper continues to be made by hand.
Many visitors to Japan choose to come in the spring or the fall. They come in the spring for the iconic cherry blossom, and the fall for the stunning beauty of Japan’s famed autumn leaves. That makes it difficult to choose when to come to Japan. Want to see both at once? Then Aichi is the ideal destination!
There is one place in Japan where you can see both the fiery red and orange autumn leaves AND the soft pink cherry blossom at the same time, and that is in Obara, the famous district of Toyota City, in Aichi Prefecture.
Here, a type of cherry tree called Shiki-Zakura bloom twice a year, once in spring, and again just as the autumn leaves are at their best. This creates an incredibly beautiful, and amazing scene.
Over 10 thousand of the rare Shiki-Zakura trees can be found across the Obara region, and are usually at their best from early to late November. The trees are said to have originated in the early 1800s when the samurai physician, Fujimoto Genseki was presented with one of the rare trees from a temple in Nagoya. This tree, now designated a Natural Monument, was planted in Obara, where it grew very well, and soon the special trees were spreading across the district.
If you want to enjoy both Japan’s famed cherry blossom and also the autumn leaves, visit Aichi’s Obara in the fall, and enjoy the best of both seasons.
Traditional Japanese paper manufacturing began in the Obara region during the civil war periods of the late 1400’s. Paper-making began as a side job to farming during the off months for the locals as a way of creating extra income. By the peaceful mid Edo period (1603-1868), paper-making had become one of the main businesses for the area. In the Meiji Period (circa 1876) there were some 27 washi manufacturers making the strong paper for traditional Japanese umbrellas, sliding doors and screens in homes, as well as Shrine documents and writing paper. In more modern times, western styled paper and plastics have seen a downfall in traditional washi paper production and uses.
In 1932, the famed artist Fujii Tatsukichi, known for his fine Japanese paintings, pottery, cloisonné, bamboo works, paper crafts, lacquer ware, dyeing, embroidery, as well as his literary skills, ordered 15,200 sheets of washi paper from Obara. Despite it being a busy time in the fields, the people of Obara strove to fill the order. Fujii himself at one point came to stay at the home of the Yamauchi family of traditional paper makers. It was then he noticed the wonderful thick washi paper containing grass stems and leaves used for the fusuma sliding panels in the home. He realized that these could be craft art works in their own right. He then advised the people of Obara to make not just washi, but washi with artistic value. During wartime of 1945, Fujii had evacuated to Obara to live. As Obara is surrounded by nature, Fujii made works featuring grasses, flowers, leaves and plants embedded in the washi, and experimented with dyeing the paper too. Through this, Obara Washi became recognized as an artistic craft product.
One of the traditional paper-makers who received guidance from Fujii Tatsukichi, and a leading expert on Obara washi, is Yamauchi Issei.
One of Yamauchi’s works, a large folding screen depicting plum blossoms, was presented at the 1959 marriage of the Crown Prince, current Emperor of Japan, and Princess Michiko. The Royal Couple were very much impressed by the work, and later visited Yamauchi’s studios in Obara, making further purchases.
Yamauchi’s much admired and sought after art works, using only Obara washi, have a certain spiritual softness about them. Some of the works are created using wet washi pulp to create an organic, multi dimensional image, while other works use finely torn or twisted strips of washi to create scenes. The natural colors are simply dyed in the washi before the piece is started. Although abstract works do appear, forest scenes occur regularly, and often incorporate cranes, signs of longevity in Japan. Each work, its colors, theme and essence exudes a natural, calming effect, brought about by the wonderful traditionally made Obara washi.
Obara is also famous for the special Shiki-Zakura cherry trees that bloom twice annually, once in spring, and again in the autumn when the other trees are showing their brightest orange and red leaves, giving you the chance to enjoy Japan’s iconic cherry blossom and famed autumn leaves at the same time.
The other attraction that draws crowds year round, is Obara’s traditionally hand-made washi paper, made since the 1400’s from the pulp of the Kozo mulberry tree. Japanese washi paper is the strongest, longest lasting paper in the world, and Obara’s washi is counted among the best. The paper was used for traditional shoji sliding paper screen doors, umbrellas, folding fans, folding screens, also for writing, wrapping gifts, paper craft and hundreds of other uses.
At the Obara Paper Art Museum, Washi no Furusato, you can enjoy a range of products and artworks created using the traditional paper. Set aside an enjoyable hour or two and for a small fee, make your own decorative Hasuki paper, calligraphy art, painting, or even a traditional uchiwa fan. If you don’t have the time to make it yourself, high quality Obara paper products and souvenirs are available at very reasonable prices.
While you’re waiting for your masterpiece to dry, take a stroll around the extensive gardens and forests surrounding the gallery and workshop. It’s even better in the fall, with the added bonus of autumn leaves and cherry blossom.
Enjoy the washi based artworks of Fujii Tatsukichi, Yamauchi Issei, and many more artists of the Obara region in the Obara Paper Art Museum, Washi no Furusato. Try your skills at creating your own sheets of handmade Obara washi, or purchase quality washi, and washi craftworks too.
•Location: 216-1, Hora Eitaro-cho, Toyota-City, Aichi
•Open: 9am – 4:30pm
•Closed: Mondays (The following day if a public holiday), December 28 – January 4.
-Senior High School Students and over, 200 yen
-Junior High School Students and below, free.
-Paper Making Experience: 1,000 yen - 1,500 yen
Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.