Genbee Yamaguchi is one of the most respected kimono makers. In 1981, he became the head of “Kondaya”, a long-established wholesale store of obi sashes that was founded in Kyoto in 1738. As the tenth head of Kondaya, he devoted himself to advancing obi making. His recent works, however, have been more involved in designing and making the whole kimono. He also takes an active role in revitalizing the dyeing and weaving technologies through such measures as the revival of Koishimaru - a specific type of silk worm cocoon found in Japan and the preservation of a unique village in the Philippines called “Dreamweaver”. In 2003, Yamaguchi received the Japan Culture Award. After successful collaborations with Kengo Sumi, an architect, and Hiroko Koshino, a designer, he released a new kimono line called Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu, in collaboration with UNITED ARROWS, a specialty retailer. It is an exciting and bold kimono collection for men.
Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu is inspired by the men of the Momoyam period (approximately 1568 to 1603) who loved to live a wild and flamboyant life-style. Japanese men in those days were respected as the toughest of the world. Kabukimono is expressive of that type of man who pursued an extraordinary and “cool” life style. The fashion of Kabukimonotachi-no-keifu evokes masculinity and the true “rock and roll” spirit of the time.
“If you keep on pursuing the basics, there will be a moment when you will suddenly see limitlessness revealed to you, as once Zeami (the greatest playwright of the Noh theater) said. Mastering the basics is the shortest road to freedom”
The vital life force and sexiness in Yamaguchi’s designs come from the inner depth of his creative process.
Shinmeisha Shrine in the Naka area in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, is an old shrine, which was relocated to the present place in 1600.
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at this shrine on the evening of November 2 and on the morning of November 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). It is said that this is one of the Ningyo-Joruri performances that were introduced to this area during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The doll performance is dedicated to give thanks to nature and to pray for a rich harvest, family safety, national peace and prevention of diseases. The dedicated play “Okina” is a drama in Kabuki style, which is originally a repertoire of the Noh play. Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is about 1 meter tall and operated by two local young men. Taking charge of operating different parts of the doll, the two doll handlers skillfully operate the doll and make it dance and perform the drama, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The movements of the dolls are so elaborate that you will feel as if a real man is acting as a doll.
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at the annual autumn festival of Ushikoshi Shrine in Ukusu in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, on November 2 and 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). Sanbaso is a genre of the Kabuki and Ningyo-Joruri dancing, which originated in the Noh play. The doll performance is dedicated to pray for a rich harvest and national peace and stability.
There are several theories about the origin of Ningyo-Joruri performance in this area. One theory states that it was introduced by a nobleman from Kyoto, who was exiled to the Izu province. Another theory states that it was introduced in the early Edo period (1603-1868) by Okubo Nagayasu, who came to this province as Magistrate of Izu Gold Mine. In any case, it is clear from the shrine record that the Sanbaso dance was already performed at this shrine by the local young men during the Tenmei era (1781-1788).
Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is operated by three doll handlers. Taking charge of operating different parts of the doll, they handle the doll in a well-balanced manner to the music of Japanese drums, flutes and clappers. The unity created by the dolls and their handlers leads the spectators to the fantastic world.
The Shinjo Festival has been handed down in the city of Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture since 1756, when Tozawa Masanobu, the 5th lord of the Dewa Shinjo domain, carried out a festival at the Tenmangu shrine located in the castle area to pray for rich harvest. It is said that the people in the domain, who had suffered from famine and epidemics, were revitalized by this festival and able to have a hope again.
Today, the festival is held for three days in August. On the eve of the festival, the parade of floats depicting famous scenes from Kabuki plays and historical picture scrolls create a magical atmosphere of light and shadow when the lights are lit at night. Another feature of the festival is the Mikoshi Togyo Parade on the main festival day. There is also a floats parade on this day. On the 3rd day, floats are displayed in the central part of the town.
The Deer Dance is dedicated to Tozawa Shrine and Gokoku Shrine in the castle ruins site on the 3rd day to pray for rich harvest of the year. It is designated as an intangible folk cultural property of the prefecture as a dance mocking an antelope, which is rarely seen in the country.
Masaoka Festival is held in April every year Ichihasama Masaka in Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture, in memory of Lady Masaoka, a wife of Shirakawa Yoshizane and the wet nurse who raised Date Tsunamura, the 4th lord of the Sendai domain. The memorial ceremony is held by the present members of the Shirakawa family at Ryuunji Temple, where the Yatsushika Odori (8 Deer Dance) is dedicated in front of Masaoka’s grave.
After the memorial ceremony, about 500 citizens join the parade and go through the town. Some of them act as warriors in armors to reenact the days when Lady Masaoka lived. The festival floats, the drum and fife band and the dancers of Yatsushika Odori also join the parade.
Lady Masaoka is famous as the model of a Kabuki play “Meiboku Sendaihagi.” This is based on the troubles in the Date family of the Sendai domain in the Edo period. In the story, the wet nurse Masaoka protects her young lord from a party of villains by sacrificing her own son.
Climbing Monkey is a folk toy that has been handed down for years in the Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture. The toy is put up on a bamboo pole along with Koinobori or carp shaped streamers on “Boy’s Day” – May 5th to pray for the children’s good health and prosperity in the future. When the wind blows, the monkey starts climbing up the pole.
The making of the Climbing Monkey toy is said to have started around 200 years ago as a homemade craft by the samurai wives of the Nobeoka Naitou Clan. There are some popular myths as to why a climbing monkey first appeared. One story says that it was created to admonish Sarutahiko, a Monkey God during the mythical age, who acted violently and ran amuck. Another story is that, before he was victorious in battle, the head of the Arima Clan, a previous occupant of the region prior to the Nobeoka Clan, had a monkey drawn on the war banner that he carried on his back.
The toy is made by first creating a monkey shaped wooden mold. The mold is wrapped with many layers of Japanese paper and then, the back of it is cut to remove the mold. The remaining paper is then stitched up before it is colored. The monkey wears the golden-striped eboshi headgear worn by court nobles and it carries a kozutsumi drum and a gohei (a wand with paper streamers) on its back. His appearance resembles a dancer who performs the celebratory dance before a Kabuki performance. The monkey is then suspended from a banner on which iris flowers are drawn. Although it is not a modern creation, Climbing Money continues to delight children into the 21st Century.
Shirabeo, or formally called Shirabe, is a set of ropes used for Kotsuzumi (a small hand drum), Otsuzumi (a large hand drum) and Shime-daiko (a rope-tuned drum). Shirabeo does not only hold the drum heads in place but also tunes the pitch of drums. The pitch can be varied by squeezing the ropes with the left hand while striking the drum with the right. Shirabeo is an indispensable part of drums used in classical Japanese music such as Noh, Kabuki and Nagauta and folk music.
For a long time until around 1877, when a professional tuner came into existence, any durable strings on hand were used for tuning. Today, a code for Shirabeo is made of two Japanese linen ropes twisted each other, after which as many as 25 detailed processes are given. The rope used for Shirabeo must be elastic so that it comes back to its original place after being pulled by the player and at the same time it must be soft so that the player’s hand skins are not damaged after playing for a long time. Highly elaborate techniques and long experience are required to produce such ropes.
One of the cultural assets remaining on Shodoshima Island is the Noson Kabuki, or Farmers’ Kabuki. Each village used to have its own stage or theatre built in the precinct of its shrine. Of these stages, only two remain intact even today; at Rikyu Hachimangu Shrine in Hitoyama and Kasuga Shrine in Nakayama. Both stages are nationally designated as Important Tangible Folk Cultural Properties.
This theatrical tradition dates back some 300 years. In the Edo period (1603-1868), farmers in Hitoyama Village were suffering from drought. The head of the village, Ota Izaemon, spent as many as three years of time and all his own funds to construct an irrigation pond (Kaerugo-ike Pond). When villagers first saw water came flowing into the ditch beside the shrine, they were so glad that they planned to celebrate this feat by putting Kabuki plays on stage. They built a tentative theater in the shrine precinct and invited a Kabuki troupe. This was the beginning of Kabuki plays in Hitoyama.
Later on, the villagers, taking advantage of their accessibility to the Kansai region, began to perform Kabuki plays themselves by taking in some performing arts from Osaka areas, which led to the development of the rural Kabuki on the island, especially from the Meiji through Showa periods.