Photo/IllutrationA street is lined with restored merchant houses from the Edo Period (1603-1867) in Boso-no-Mura village--an open-air museum that aims to expose visitors to the traditional local lifestyle of the Boso region in Chiba Prefecture. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Born in the Year of the Dragon, I have a soft spot for the mythic, mystical creature.

Once upon a time in Chiba, the legend goes, there was a village that suffered from drought. And in this village there was a temple that was built by a dragon.

Concerned villagers got together and were chanting prayers for rain when a tall man who was an incarnation of a dragon stood up and said that he would sacrifice himself for rain because the villager’s incantations were so genuine.

At that moment, thunderclouds appeared, and lightning struck the man-dragon, who was sliced into three parts.

The tail was enshrined at Ryubiji (dragon tail temple), the torso at Ryufukuji (dragon stomach temple) and the head at Ryukakuji (dragon horn temple). These temples make up what’s called The Three Dragon Temples of the Kanto Area.

“Cool story,” I thought, and headed to Ryukakuji to pay my respects, as right now I could use some heavenly showers, metaphorically speaking.

On the way, I was diverted by a sign that read Boso-no-Mura because it had an illustration of a dragon with the name Doramu on it, which turns out to be the mascot of the Ryukaku area and is a portmanteau of dragon and dreams.

Boso Village and its vicinity turned out to be a real treat.

At the local museum, visitors can learn about the history of the area, from the Paleolithic Age with a skeletal replica of a Naumann elephant that roamed the area, to the showcased artifacts from the somewhat more recent Jomon, Yayoi, Kofun, Nara, and Heian periods.

Around the museum are the Ryukakuji Kofun mounds, which consist of 115 tombs including Iwaya Kofun, the largest square-shaped tomb in Japan. Clearly, this used to be a happening place!

Fast-forwarding to the latter half of the Edo Period (1603-1867) and the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), visitors can stroll through an authentic reproduction of a typical commercial street made up of 16 shops that include a pharmacy, liquor and fuel shops, a kimono fabric shop, a tatami-mat workshop, a blacksmith, and more.

What makes Boso Village special is its hands-on approach. You can sign up for traditional candle-making; Japanese papier-mache painting; ukiyo-e printing; rice planting, harvesting and threshing; blacksmithing; and creating your own “magatama,” an ancient accessory said to hold mystical powers.

Dragons are masters of the elements. Maybe you too can get some dragon power with a visit here.

At the very least, you’ll leave with a deeper grasp of what it was like to live here in the past.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the April 29 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.