Gigaku is a silent dance drama brought to Japan from China. It is performed without words, by dancers wearing big masks.
The masks used for Gigaku are called Gigaku masks and they are different from the masks used for Bugaku or Noh. Gigaku masks are bigger and they cover the head, while other masks only cover the face. There are a number of different masks, corresponding to different roles in the play, including the human, demon, shishi lion and Herculean man masks.
More than a hundred gigaku masks are preserved in such historically important temples as Shousouin, Houryuu-ji and Toudai-ji and they have been designated as National Treasures.
Gigaku flourished around the 6th century in Japan and it was performed extensively in the precincts of temples and shrines in order to promote understanding of the Buddhist teachings. Shousouin temple has a set of Gigaku masks used largely for the gigaku dance that was held on the occasion of Daibutsu Kaigan (a ceremony to consecrate a newly made Buddhist image) at Toudai-ji in 752.
There are essentially two methods of making gigaku masks; kibori (wood carving) and kanshitsu (dry lacquer). Many of the wood carving masks were made from camphor and paulownia wood.
Shichseiken or Seven Star Sword is a Japanese sword that is 62.1cm in length and belongs to the Shitennou-ji Temple located in Shitennouji-ku, Oosaka City, Oosaka. It is designated as a National Treasure.
Shitennou-ji Temple was built by Shoutoku Taishi in 598 and it is sacred to Kukanzeonbosatsu.
Along with Heishishourinken, another sword that is also kept in Shitennou-ji, Shichiseiken is said to have been much loved by Shoutoku Taishi.
The name Seven Star Sword came from the fact that the sword is engraved with seven golden stars in the shape of a plough, using a technique called zougan. Additionally, the front side of the sword is carved with 5 asukagumo, using the golden zogan technique and at both ends of the seven stars, there are three V-shaped stars and three stars aligned with a blue dragon and a white tiger. The back of the sword is also engraved with asukagumo, seven stars, a blue dragon and a white tiger.
Shichiseiken, by comparison to Heishishourinken, has a more noticeable residual metal substance called suragu, however, it uses a finer raw metal called koitame-hada and it has a hososugu blade.
Shichiseiken is a historically valuable sword that has been carefully preserved from an ancient period.
Namura Shrine in Ayado in Ryuo Town, Shiga Prefecture, is a historic shrine and a treasure trove of cultural properties since most of the structures of the shrine are nationally designated as either a National Treasure (NT) or an Important Cultural Property (ICP). The origin of the shrine is not clear, but, as many Kofun (ancient Imperial tombs) have been discovered in the area, it is considered that this shrine was originally founded to enshrine the spirits of ancestors.
The Romon gate (ICP) has the impressively huge thatched roof. The wooden statue of Fudo Myoo (ICP) is enshrined in the Fudo Hall in the precinct, which is the reminder of Shinbutsu Shugo (the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) practiced until the end of the Edo period (1868).
The main hall, Nishi-Honden (NT), was constructed in 969 to enshrine the deity Kunisazuchi no Mikoto, who had resided in Mt. Kongo in Yoshino in Yamato province (present-day Nara Prefecture). The old shrine located on the opposite side of the road is the east shrine, Higashi Honden (ICP), which enshrines Okuninushi no Mikoto and Susanoo no Mikoto.
Namura Shrine is the head shrine of all the branch shrines in 33 adjacent villages; hereby the Grand Autumn Festival is held once every 33 years.
Mikami Shrine is at the foot of Mt. Mikamiyama in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. The enshrined deity is Amenomikage no Kami, the god of Mt. Mikamiyama. Historic buildings including the Romon gate, Honden (the main hall) and Haiden (the oratory) stand quietly in the deep forest. Honden is designated as a National Treasure for its unique architectural style called “Mikami-zukuri,” which is the combination of the architectural styles used for a shrine, a temple and a nobleman’s residence.
Zuiki Festival is held at this shrine on the 2nd Monday of October every year. The word “zuiki” means the stem of a taro potato. Every year five Mikoshi (portable shrine), which are made of zuiki and decorated with vegetables and persimmon leaves, are dedicated to the shrine to express gratitude for the year’s crop. It has been held for over 400 years and was designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the national government in 2005.
Todai-ji Temple Nigatsu-do is located inside the vast Todai-ji Temple complex in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, just north of Hokke-do. Since it is highly significant historically,
it was designated as a national treasure in 2005.
Formally named Kannon-do, it became known as Nigatsu-do (hall of the second month) because it holds the Shuuni-e religious ceremony every February of the lunar calendar.
The temple was built in 752 and the first Shuuni-e was celebrated the same year, an annual tradition that has continued until now without interruption.
In 1667, Nigatsu-do was destroyed by a fire caused by Otaimatsu, a fire-carrying ritual that is part of the Shuuni-e ceremony. Two years later, it was restored to what it is today.
The principal images of Budda are two statues: Oogannon and Kogannon, both of which are Juuichimen Kannon, or eleven-headed gods. These Buddha statues are not shown to the public.
Nigatsu-do is an impressive and serene presence that enchants visitors with its more than 1200 years history.
Maruoka Castle, located in Maruoka town, Fukui pref, is the oldest standing castle with a remaining donjon. The castle, built with an old style stone wall that uses natural found stones, is rather small but has a simple beauty that remains unchanged to this day. The castle was built in 1576 by the order of Katsuie Shibata who was awarded the Echizen territory, now a part of Fukui pref., by Nobunaga Oda, who ruled a vast area of Japan in the Sengoku Period. The castle was built originally in Toyohara town, however, for more convenient road access, it was moved to Maruoka by Katsuie’s nephew, Katsutoyo. The castle employs a unique architectural method. It is three stories high with two layers of roof and there is a watch tower with handrails going around the donjon on the top story. The castle was roofed with Shakudani stone, a local stone, and has thick lattices and black wooden walls, which are unmistakable characteristics of the early style of castle making. The castle has lived through many war-torn periods of deadly strife and carnage. The castle is also known as Kasumiga Joh, Mist Castle, owing to a legend that, at a time of battle, a giant serpent appeared and blew mist over the castle and concealed it from attackers. In 1934, it was designated as a National Treasure. It was destroyed by an earthquake, then later reconstructed and was designated an Important National Property.
Osasahara Shrine is a very old shrine founded in 986. As the place where the god of water resides, it is visited by a lot of worshippers. Susanoo no Mikoto, Kushinada-hime and other 3 deities are enshrined.
Assembling the cream of the gorgeous Higashiyama Culture, Honden (the main hall) was constructed in 1414 during the Muromachi period. Though small in size, elaborate decoration is given to every detailed part of this Irimoya-zukuri building. The transom and doors are also beautiful. It was designated as a National Treasure in 1961.
To the right of the main hall is a bottomless swamp named Yorube-no-ike. It is said that the swamp has been filled with affluent water even though there is a long spell of dry weather since two mikoshi (portable shrines) were sunk into the swamp in hope for rain.
As this area has produced high quality glutinous rice and it is said to be the birthplace of Kagami-mochi, Kagami-no-miya Shrine enshrining the original of Kagami-mochi is located in the shrine precinct.
Saie-Hiogi is a crescent folding fan with blades made of Japanese cypress wood. Hiogi fans were made in the Heian period (794-1192) as the accessory used by the nobility on formal occasions in the Imperial court. The number of blades differed according to the rank of the person who carried the fan. At the present time, there are only seven Hiogi fans remain; one at Atsuta Jingu Shrine, five at Itsukushima Shrine and one at Asuka Shrine in Kumano.
Gofun (powder made from oyster shells) solution is applied as the base coat onto slats of cypress wood threaded with silk. Then after applying mica, pieces of gold and silver leaf and foil are sprinkled on the surface, where colorful pictures are painted with Iwaenogu (mineral pigment).
The motifs of Kachofugetsu (flowers, birds, wind, and moon), noblemen and court ladies are painted in well-mellowed brush strokes. Saie-Hiogi fan was not only an implement but also a work of art that was like a picture scroll. The existing Saie-Hiogi fans are designated as either National Important Cultural Properties or National Treasures.