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Take A Tour Through The Gorgeous Castles of Japan! 

When most Westerners think of castles, they think of medieval fortifications built at the edge of chilly cliffs, but Japan has many beautiful castles, each with their own interesting story to tell. Many were built during the Sengoku, or "warring states" era of Japan, where warlords battled for control of the country. Here are some of our favorite castles and the tales behind them.

Matsumoto Castle 

Known as the Crow Castle because of its black panels and winged roofs, Matsumoto Castle has a great ghost story attached to it. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, a farmer named Tada Kasuke lead an uprising of farmers in protest of the regions high taxes. The revolt failed and Tada Kasuke was executed, but his ghost has since been seen of the castle ground and his curse has been blamed for structural damage during the reconstruction. The castle is a regular tourist attraction and known for its weapon exhibit.

Osaka Castle 

The majestic Osaka castle played a central role in the unification of Japan during the 17th century. Built by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in imitation of Oda Nobunaga's castle, the site became the center of two major battles between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his former ally Tokugawa Ieyasu. In the first battle, Toyotomi forces inside the castle were able to fend off the numerically superior Tokugawa forces. The second battle lead to the death of the Toyotomi line. The castle was regularly used as an armory and munition storage through both the Meiji restoration and WW2. Today it's a favorite site for visitors who come to watch the cherry blossoms bloom. Also, Godzilla destroyed it in the 1955 film Godzilla Raids Again.

Odawara Castle 

This beautiful castle, located in Kanagawa Prefecture, has been touched by some of the most dramatic events in Japanese history. 

Built during the Kamakura period of Japan, the era marked by the rule of the first shogun and the formation of the samurai class, the castle saw several new owners as fortunes changed through constant warfare. It was in regular use during that era. In the 19th century, when the Meiji government worked to modernize the country, Odawara castle was torn down and a Shinto shrine was built in the castle's memory. It was later listed as a historical site and several of the buildings were restored to pristine condition.

Takeda Castle 

The Takeda castle ruins stand on the mountains to the northwest of Kyoto and is known as the Machu-Picchu of Japan. 

Originally built as Izushi castle in 1441, the castle fell under the control of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1577. The castle changed hands through the years until it fell into the hands of its final owner, warrior Hirohide Akamatsu. He fought on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu but was accused of arson and ordered to commit ritual suicide. Takeda castle fell into ruin shortly thereafter.

Gifu Castle 

Gifu castle has a very long, colorful history. A constant battleground, the castle was considered one of the most formidable castles in the Sengoku era but was once captured by only sixteen men! 

The first story involved Takenaka Hanbei, a samurai who entered the castle on the pretext of visiting his sick brother. In reality, he came to kill Saitō Tatsuoki, the lord of the castle at the time. Tatsuoki believed that a large army was attacking him and he fled the castle. The castle was eventually returned to him but Tatsuoki suffered a loss of face for his cowardice. 

The second story involved the siege of Gifu castle, which involved an assault very similar to a Special Forces raid! The castle is built on top of a very steep hill which helped keep invaders at bay. When Oda Nobunaga laid siege to the castle, he sent his retainer Kinoshita Tōkichirō to scale the mountainside to attack the undefended rear of the castle. His team opened the castle gates and let the rest of the army through.

Himeji Castle 

The largest and most visited castle in Japan, Himeji castle is a massive structure comprised of 83 buildings. Known as the White Heron Castle because of the wing shape of the buildings, the fortress features views of the surrounding areas and elevated defense positions for soldiers to fire down on attacks. Himeji castle has been featured in film and TV for years, most notably in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. 

The castle is full of legendary tales, from the master carpenter who killed himself over dissatisfaction in his work to the old woman who turned over her millstone to help with the castle construction to the ghost of the poor servant woman whose spirit still haunts the well her body was thrown into. Visitors to this magical castle can see a rich tapestry of Japanese history.

Did we miss any favorites? Let us know in the comments. And please share this article with anyone interested in Japanese history or castles of yore.

Do You Know the Story Behind the Iconic Hawaiian Tune? (video) 

From the first few notes of the iconic ukulele intro to  "Somewhere Over the Rain," joy washes over many people's faces when they recognize the familiar and heartwarming song. It's hard not to be mesmerized by Israel Ka'ano'i Kamakawiwo'ole (IZ) velvety beautiful voice. While many people know IZ because of this iconic song, they may not be aware of the story of the man behind the music. Israel touched millions of peoples lives through his artistic pursuits as well as through Hawaiian advocacy groups. IZ was known for promoting Hawaiian rights and Hawaiian independence, both through his lyrics, which often stated the case for independence directly, and his life.

From the moment he was born, his parents knew that he would be special. They named him Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole, and in Hawaiian his last name translates “the fearless eye, the bold face.” During his lifetime, many referred to IZ as the "Gentle Giant" While his stature was large and imposing, his singing voice was as soft and sweet as could be. On a sad note, it was due to his larger than life size that ultimately led to his early death at age 38. 

While he only graced this planet for 38 years, he left an incredible musical legacy behind him. As a member of the group "Makaha Sons" Israel recorded 21 albums, and then when he ventured out on his own in 1993, IZ went out on his own and recorded 6 solo albums. 

Now as you listen to his immensely popular song again, you might appreciate it with some new perspective and understanding. Enjoy!


These Dogs' Days Are Over: Check Out These 12 Extinct Dog Breeds! 

Believe it or not, there are at least 40 dog breeds known to be extinct. These breeds were either deliberately mated out, wiped out by predators, or ignored by breeders. We're posting 12 of these dog breeds who, sadly, we can no longer play with, cuddle with, or post funny videos of.

1. English Water Spaniel

The last English Water Spaniel was seen in the 1930s. Somewhat similar to a Collie, this cutie was used to hunt waterfowl and was known for its ability to dive and duck. It had curly fur, typically in a white and tan pattern. It is described as similar to a Collie, or a cross between a Poodle and a Springer Spaniel with curly fur, typically in a white and tan pattern.

2. Chien-Gris

Originating in medieval times, the Chien-Gris was a scent hound and formed part of the royal packs of France, which were composed exclusively of hounds of this type.

3. Molossus

Known for being especially vicious, Molossus dogs haven't been around since the ancient Romans... We lucked out!

4. Alpine Mastiff

The Alpine Mastiff was of the Molosser breed (see #3). It contributed to the breeding of the modern day St. Bernard and Mastiff.

5. Kuri

Introduced to New Zealand by the Maori people of Polynesia, Kuri dogs were food to the Maori, as well as a source of clothing, belts, and weapon decoration- all made from their skin and fur. The poor things became extinct in New Zealand after the arrival of European settlers.

6. Cordoba Fighting Dog

This Mastiff, Bull Terrier, and Bulldog mix was bred to be ruthless and powerful. Used for pit fighting in Argentina, their vicious temperament eventually got the better of them: When it was time to mate, males and females would try to kill each other which, needless to say, made mating difficult and extinction imminent.

7. Hare Indian Dog​

Known for its speed, the Hare Indian Dog was originally bred in northern Canada by the Hare Indians for game hunting. While it had many characteristics of the coyote, its domesticated temperament was reminiscent of house breeds. As Indian hunting methods declined, the Indian Hare went extinct through interbreeding.

8. Moscow Water Dog​

A little-known breed derived from the Newfoundland shepherd, the Moscow Water Dog was produced only by the Red Star Kennels in Russia, the state-operated organizations chartered to provide working dogs for the armed services. After World War II, there were very few working dogs in the Soviet Union as many had been killed during the war. Some were imported but there were not enough to establish a dedicated breeding program for a specific breed.

9. Talbot

A tracking dog, the Talbot was so loved in the Middle Ages that many families had its image on their crests. The hound was slow but loyal, and had a great sense of smell. It was often used in battle and for law enforcement purposes. The Talbot went extinct around the 16th century, but its posterity thrives in the form of the beagle.

10. Bullenbeisser​

The Bullenbeisser was a no-nonsense German bulldog. It was eventually bred into nonexistence in order to create the Boxer.

11. Braque Du Puy

The Braque Du Puy was a French domestic hunting dog, first bred in the 19th century. It was white with orange or liver coloured marks, and was medium to large in size. Although many similar breeds can be found today, this pooch can no longer be found in its original form.

12. Russian Tracker

Weighing 100 lbs on average, these big boys were bred in Russia and used by farmers in the Caucasus Mountains to guard livestock. In the 1800s, a man named Sir Dudley Marjoribanks watched these pooches perform in an English circus. He was so delighted by them that he bought the entire pack. He eventually created the Golden Retriever out of the Russian Tracker.


Meet the Oldest Resident of Europe... 

Meet Adonis, the 1075 year old Bosnian Pine that is a resident in the Pindos Mountains of Northern Greece.

Have you met Adonis? On August 19, a group of scientists from University of Arizona, Stockholm University and University of Mainz, confirmed and announced the discovery of the 1075 year old tree. Adonis is a Bosnian Pine that lives in the high lands of northern Greece.  In fact, Adonis, is one of several other ancient pines that have been discovered living in the Pindos Mountains in Northern Greece, near the border with Albania. 

The team of scientists confirmed the tree's age by taking a core of its wood to analyze. After counting the rings in the core, which was 3 meters in diameter, they determined that Adonis is the oldest known, living tree in Europe. 

Paul J. Krusic, the dendrochronologist leading the expedition, is quoted saying: "It is quite remarkable that this large, complex and impressive organism has survived so long in such an inhospitable environment, in a land that has been civilized for over 3,000 years." 

The scientists who discovered Adonis plan to use the information based on the variation of the tree rings to draw conclusions about historical climactic and environmental conditions. 

Article by Rajmani Sinclair, August 23, 2016

Kids Take on US Governement in Court Battle over the Environment 

In the words of the great novelist, poet, environmentalist and farmer Wendell Berry, we must act as “a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” 

A group of 20 children, ages 8 – 19, seem to be putting Berry’s words into action. They are currently suing the US government on the assertion that: 

Young people and unborn generations are being discriminated against when it comes to the U.S. propagation of climate change

The children who are currently suing the US government are backed by the environmental advocacy group, Our Children’s Trust. Our Children’s Trust asserts on its website that it is: “Leading the frame changing, youth-driven, global climate recovery campaign to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.”

The case that the group of 20 children have brought before the Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon (OR), presents a new approach to environmental advocacy that is fighting climate change. 

On April 8th, 2016, US Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of Eugene's Federal District Court agreed to hear the children’s case. The main points that the children assert in the case include: 

  • The US government has known for decades that CO2 pollution has caused climate change and failed to take necessary actions to curtail fossil fuel emissions. 
  • The actions or lack of action taken by the US Government and its agencies has contributed to increased CO2 pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation and exportation. 
  • The actions of the US government have made it extremely difficult for current and future generations of children to protect their vital natural systems and maintain a livable world. 
  • The US government’s actions or lack of action infringes on children’s rights to life and liberty. 

Judge Coffin’s agreement to hear the children’s argument upheld their claims (supported by the 5th and 9th amendments) that our government is denying them protections afforded to previous generations by favoring the short-term economic interests of certain citizens. Furthermore, Judge Coffin upheld the youth plaintiffs’ assertion of violations under the public trust doctrine, ruling that there is a federal public trust, and the plaintiff’s claims deserve acknowledgment.

As mentioned above, this case is an unprecedented lawsuit in that it holds the US government accountable for its action, or inaction, that has contributed to global climate change, thereby effecting the current and future generations of children on this planet. While the case has not gone to trial yet, the fact that Judge Coffin has agreed to allow this case to proceed is a significant victory for the plaintiff, and ultimately for the future generations that we are currently borrowing this planet from. 

For more information regarding this case, check out these links: 

Our Children's Trust 
The April 8, 2016 Press Release regarding Judge Coffin's Decision 
Judge Coffin's Legal Brief regarding the Case

Photographer Spends 14 Years Searching for World’s Oldest Trees: The Results are Breathtaking! 

The San Francisco-based photographer, Beth Moon, in search for the world’s most ancient trees, embarked on a fourteen year quest that took her across the United States, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Over the course of her long and far-reaching travels, Moon managed to capture captivating, moving and majestic images of trees that truly feel as old as time.  

In 2014, Abbeville Press published a collection of sixty of Moon’s duotone photos in the book, “Ancient Trees: Portraits Of Time”.  The work ranges from isolated trees, found in various types of remote locations, to full-bodied ones standing proudly among civilizations. 

The book contains captions with the photographer's narrative that describe both the natural and cultural history of each pictured tree. The book of photographs is also accompanied by writings by other experts in their respective fields that shed more light on various aspects sorrounding ancient trees such as their preservation and as an art form.

In choosing what to photograph, Moon follows the criteria of age, size and history. Using history books and botany references, tree registers and newspaper articles, she tracks down tree survivors in various locations. Some trees are even aged at over a thousand years old!


Thanks to the beautiful worlds captured by Moon’s lens and her special platinum process, we are reminded of the power of time and nature.  


In her artistic statement, Beth Moon expresses her motivations and aspirations for the prints: “Standing as the Earth’s largest and oldest living monuments, I believe these symbolic trees will take on a greater significance, especially at a time when our focus is directed at finding better ways to live with the environment”.


Beth Moon’s work can also be seen in the VERVE Gallery of Photography  

Author: Gal Shyli Dayan


The Judean Palm Tree: Redefining "Back From The Dead"! 

One 2,000-year-old Judean Palm Tree seed has been keeping very busy! 

Considered to be extinct, the ancient Judean palm tree, nicknamed Methuselah after the oldest person named in the Old Testament of the Bible, has not only been sprouting- it has recently started pollinating! 

So what is this tree all about?

The Judean Palm Tree was once found in Israel in great abundance, but became extinct around 500 AD due to conquests in the region. Historically speaking, the palm tree was recognized as a symbol of the Judean Desert as it was an integral source of food, shelter and shade for thousands of years.

This tree also provided food for the Jews who protected the fortress of Masada from the Romans in 70 A.D., before they killed themselves to avoid surrender after the two year siege. Ancient records document the Jews’ plight, including the contents and locations of their food stores. Sure enough, dates from the Judean Palm were cited as an important source of nourishment for the Jews at Masada. 

The tree became a thing of legend until, in the 1960s, excavations at the site of Herod the Great’s palace at Masada unearthed some old seeds hidden in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years.

The seeds were stored away until 2005, when Sarah Sallon, director of the Hadassah Medical Organization's Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center in Jerusalem, hoped to find unique medicinal properties that are not seen in the dates produced by the palms of today.

Ms. Sallon launched the Germination of Ancient Seed Program in conjunction with her Middle Eastern Medicinal Plant project, through which she works with Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors to develop and conserve the medicinal plants of the area. "Plants have no borders,” Ms. Sallon has expressed. Furthermore, she believes in the potential to be found in their medicinal properties.


To be able to study the potential of the fruit, the ancient seed needed to be resurrected!

The seeds were then passed to Elaine Solowey, the director of the experimental orchard and NMRC cultivation site at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel. Elaine planted one of the ancient seeds to see if anything would sprout. She has said, “I had to think very hard how I could sprout them, because you only get one chance."

Amazingly, the seed did sprout and Methuselah became the oldest known tree to germinate!

Since 2005, the tree has grown to reach 10 feet and, in 2011, it pollinated to produce its first flower. In March of this year, news came out that not only has Methuselah been producing more flowers, his pollen has been effective in pollinating with a wild female of another, but similar, species to create delicious dates! 

Today, the team continues to work with palms from ancient seeds found in archaeological sites around the Dead Sea to eventually plant an ancient date grove. However, they are still searching for a female of the Judean Palm species to assure the survival of the tree. The researchers hope that these new dates can be used as they were in ancient times, when date palms were known to cure many diseases and infections, promote longevity, and act as a mild aphrodisiac. This will be a truly fascinating way to get a taste of history! 

Author: Gal Shyli Dayan

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