Saitorisashi is a traditional dance that has been carried down over the ages in Tottori. Saitorisashi means the person who captures, or the act of capturing, a small bird, which was traditionally used by the nobility as bait in falconry.
A long time ago, people, who been granted the license or pardon to engage in saitorisashi, gained power and brought ruin to the land. It is said that the saitorisashi dance originated when ordinary folk, in order to oppose the tyranny of feudalism, started to dance and sing in a Kyogen style (a comical form of theater) at drinking parties and so on. Shortly after, the idea of saitorisashi changed, from capturing birds to 'capturing' a wife or happiness, and was passed down as a congratulatory kyogen.
The dance is performed by four or five people, all wearing happi coats and headbands, while holding the stick of Torimochi, and hanging a license of pardon on their waists. The humorous outfit, accompanied by the energetic singing and dancing, results in a very pleasant, and enjoyable atmosphere. Saitorisashi is an important traditional performing art, which has been passed down from the Edo period.
Karakasa firework displays are held at Otori Shrine in Tsuchiura. In these displays, fireworks are set off from 'karakasa' umbrellas made from oiled paper. These giant umbrellas measure 5m in both height and diameter.
A 100m-long rope acts as a fuse to carry the spark that sets off the actual fireworks, which are set on a box called 'yatsuguchi' on top of the karakasa. The fireworks in turn send sparks which then light a series of lanterns hung around the circumference of the karakasa. After that, the sparks are the main feature of the moment called 'te-botan' ('hand peony'), when the sparks appear to fall from the umbrella like raindrops. This beautiful display lasts for about 7 minutes. Legend has it that this firework display began as a prayer for rain by farmers who were suffering from drought.
Under the karakasa is a lantern with the words 'productive crops'. When the fireworks of the karakasa have finished, bottle rockets are fired into the night sky and the festival ends.
Kamakura is a Lunar New Year festival held sometime in January or February in Akita prefecture. Kamakura is a kind of small igloo made from compacted snow with a small opening and a larger space inside. This festival is from the Tohoku region, but its origins are unclear.
The contents of the festival differ according to region. In Rokugo, Akita, a 'blue-bamboo battle' is held. On the other hand, in Yokote, children make an altar inside the kakamura as a dedication to a god of water inside, while adults visit to pay money to the god and are served sweet sake and rice cakes.
'Bamboo battle' means driving birds away and praying for bumper crops. The dedications to the water god are also a way to pray for bumper crops.
The kamakura igloos have spread all over Japan as an attractive winter display loved by both children and adults.
Jugoya, or the 15th Night, refers to the 15th night of the 8th month in the lunar calendar when the moon is supposed to be especially beautiful. People enjoy looking at the moon and eating dango dumplings and taro, as well as making decorations with autumn plants such as susuki (Japanese pampas grass).
This custom comes from the mid-autumn festival in China. In Japan, in the Heian period, it became an Imperial event and was called 'Moon Feast'. Courtiers looked at the moon, wrote poems and played music.
Commoners called this event 'Taro Beautiful Moon' and it was a harvest thanksgiving festival, in which dumplings, taro, chestnuts and persimmons were eaten.
One month later, the 13th Night takes place on the 13th of the 11th month in the lunar calendar. Beans and soybeans are dedicated, and the festival was known as 'Bean Beautiful Moon'. You were supposed to enjoy the moon on both 15th and 13th Nights because if you did not, it was believed to cause bad things.
In some local versions of these festivals, local people are allowed to steal offerings or crops as a form of good luck, and these have formed parts of much-loved autumn or harvest festivals.
A hammer is typically used to pound or smash objects, but the Uchide no Kozuchi (magical hammer) carried by Daikoku, one of the seven gods of fortune, is different: with just one swing, that person can achieve happiness, with all the fortune and the necessities of life (food, clothes, shelter) they would want.
Daikoku is usually portrayed holding the kozuchi, and a grab bag, seated on bales of rice with a smile that is in a way charming. The bag, which is over the shoulder of Daikoku, first appeared in the Japanese myth, 'Inaba no Shirosagi', and is said to hold the luggage of the Yasogamis. It is also described in an old fairy tale that relates how Daikoku was almost burned to death, due to Sanoo's trap, but was saved by mice. Mice then became the guardians of Daikoku.
At first, Daikoku was deified as the god of destruction and good harvest, but as time passed, he became the god of good harvest, food and fortune.
The kozuchi can be seen in other fairytales such as the 'Issun Boshi' ('One-Inch Boy') and the 'Binbogami and Fuku no Kami' ('God of Poverty and God of Fortune') as a hammer that granted any wish.
The Shinobusanzan-akatsuki-mairi festival is held at Haguro Shrine, which is located on Mt Shinobusan. This mountain looms over the center of Fukushima City.
The festival is held every February on the 10th and 11th. This festival, widely known for its enshrinement of a 'giant waraji sandal' has continued for more than 300 years since the Edo period. The festival first originated when a giant waraji sandal was enshrined for the Nio-sama guardian statue enshrined inside the Nio Gate which used to stand in front of Haguro Shrine.
Currently, a giant waraji sandal is enshrined by the Onyama-keishinkai of the Onyama quarter as a prayer for plentiful harvests, family safety and personal health.
This giant sandal is 12m long, 1.4m wide and weighs 2 tons. 3,000 batches of straw, nearly 10,000 square meters of cloth, and 10 kilograms of rope are also used to make it. It takes seven people ten days to complete the sandal. Since the path to the shrine is covered with wet, slippery snow, it is said that participants of this festival tend to build up strong legs.
The Isshiki Giant Lantern Festival takes place at Suwa Shrine in Isshiki, Hazu-gun, Aichi Prefecture. The shrine was established as a branch temple of Suwa Taisha (in Nagano Prefecture) in 1564.
Back then, a monster known as Kaima used to appear and ransack the land and its crops. The villagers offered an Evil-Repressing Sword in front of their household altars and prayed for the monster to be expelled.
The monster did disappear and the ritual became an annual event. Gigantic lanterns about 4m round and 6m high are hung in rows. The people of the area form associations of 6 groups each, which compete with their lanterns. The Isshiki Giant Lantern Festival is held on August 26 and 27 every year.
The Sasagao Stone Buddha statues in Amagasemachi, Hita, Oita Prefecture, consist of as many as 100 statues of all sizes standing from 30cm tall to life-size, carefully positioned all over a small rocky hill. The taishido statue is in the center.
A rock stairway up the hill has been built along with a drinking fountain for those who need a rest from the climb up. The stone Buddha statues are all different in both size, shape and facial expression.
The moss-covered Jizo statues standing alone in the winter landscape suggest the subtlety of 'wabi-sabi'. Indeed, the Sasagao-sekibutsugun is a wonderful location that is not widely known, and where one's heart is always struck by the appearance of the statues quietly withstanding the harsh elements of nature.