Bo-no-te (staff techniques) is a folk performing art handed down in several parts of Aichi Prefecture. Bo-no-te in Aichi Prefecture dates back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1598), when Niwa Ujitsugu, the castellan of Iwasaki Castle in Owari province (the western half of present Aichi Prefecture), hired Kamata Hironobu as a bujutsu shinan (martial arts instructor).
He was a person of great skill in martial arts and especially excelled in staff techniques. Hironobu distinguished himself in the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute, but he became a Buddhist priest after the battle and traveled around the country to appease the souls of the dead soldiers.
When he returned to his hometown in Owari province, he opened the Bo-no-te school in reply to the local villagers’ earnest petition. Later, Kamata-ryu Bo-no-te (the Kamata school of staff techniques) spread to Mikawa province (the eastern half of present Aichi Prefecture).
When the nation returned to peace, the staff techniques turned into the performing art that was dedicated to gods in hope for a good harvest. The techniques in Bo-no-te have been proudly handed down in many towns in the prefecture.
Kamata-ryu Bo-no-te in Tanuki Town in Nishio City is one of such folk performing art. The men in traditional costumes skillfully wield 1.8 meter long staffs with distinguished calls. It was designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the prefecture in 1959.
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.
Enchoko Lion Dance, which was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by Aichi Pref. in 1965, is composed of seven acrobatic dances performed by a pair of dancers. One dancer wearing a lion mask plays a part of the upper body and fore legs, while the other the back legs. The origin of this performance is unknown, but according to the most dominant opinion, it originates in the dance dedicated to a shrine in the Genroku era (1688-1703) in return for offering a prayer for rain. There are also several opinions about the origin of its unique name of “Enchoko.” One opinion goes that it came from the word “henteko (meaning “funny and queer”) while another goes that it is a phonic transformation of “en no za no shishi (the lion at a feast).” This gallant Enchoko Lion Dance, which is performed to up-tempo tones of Japanese flute and drums sounds, is the art created by the pair’s movement in total sync.
Umamioka Watamuki Shrine at the foot of Mt. Watamuki in Hino Town, Shiga Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded in 545. The enshrined deities are Amenohonohi no Mikoto, Amenohinadori no Mikoto and Takemikumaushi no Mikoto. It was originally founded at the top of Mt. Watamuki and was transferred to the present place in 796.
The spring festival of the shrine “Hino Festival” held on May 2 to 4 every year is the most gorgeous festival on the eastern side of Lake Biwa. The festival dates back to 1170, since when ancient rituals and customs have been passed down to the present time.
On the main festival day on May 3, a lot of Shinto rites are performed in traditional ways. The highlight is the parade with the 3 holy children and the guarding attendants in samurai costumes in the lead, who are followed by a sacred horse, shrine priests and the 3 mikoshi from the attached shrines and sumptuous 16 festival floats, which were donated by wealthy Omi merchants about 130 to 200 years ago. The festival is prefecturally designated as an intangible cultural property.
Hanamaki Festival is held in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture for 3 days centered on the 2nd Saturday in September every year. It originates in the float parade held in 1593 to revere Kita Shosai, the founding father of the town.
The festival features a number of events such as the parade of Furyu-dashi floats, which were originally made of bamboo and represented a whale but later changed its form into a Kyoto-styled Yakata float, and 140 taru-mikoshi (portable shrine made of barrels), and the prefecturally designated intangible cultural property, Deer Dance, which represents the ancient rituals to pray for peace of the town and to get rid of the evils.
The highlight is the Hanamaki-bayashi Dance Parade, in which 1,000 dancers elegantly dance to the Hanamaki-bayashi music, which is modeled on the Gion-bayashi of Kyoto. The pompous mixture of the sounds of large drums, small drums, Japanese flutes and Shamisen enhances the festival mood of the town.
Morioka Autumn Festival serves as the annual festival of Morioka Hachimangu Shrine in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture. It is held for 3 days from September 14 to 16 every year, and the festival eve events are performed on the 13th.
Morioka Hachimangu was founded about 800 years ago by the Nanbu clan as the guardian god of their castle town of Morioka. The festival dates back to 1709, when a parade of floats was performed to celebrate the completion of all the 23 sub-towns of the castle town. It is said that the parade was composed of 23 floats made by each town.
The float parade has been performed since then and it is now designated as a city’s intangible cultural property. In the Hachiman-kudari parade, all the floats start parading from Hachiman Shrine in the afternoon and go through the town. And in the Dashi-Daiemaki parade in the evening, the gorgeously lit up floats parade through the town again. Also, traditional Yabusame (horseback archery) is held in the shrine precinct.
The front approach of the shrine is lined with night stalls including “yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles),” which is a must for a Japanese “omatsuri.” Listening to Nanbu’s distinctive “Ondo” music played by children on the floats and eating yakisoba; it’s a fantastic way to spend your holiday.
Shirahama Shrine, or Ikonahime no Mikoto Shrine, located in Shimoda City at the southernmost end of Izu Peninsula is the oldest shrine in the Izu area. The enshrined deities are Ikonahime no Mikoto and Mishima Daimyojin with the accompanying deities of Mime, Wakamiya and Tsurugi no Miko.
According to the legend, the shrine was founded 2400 years ago by Mishima Daimyojin himself. When he traveled on Kuroshio Current and landed on Izu Peninsula, he adopted an advice from his attendants, Mime, Wakamiya and Tsurugi no Miko, and decided to reside in Shirahama and got married to Ikonahime no Mikoto, the princess of Kamo Shrine.
At Hitachi Festival held at the end of October, the shrine priests set fire on the torches placed on the beach to let all the deities on Izu Seven Islands know of the start of the biggest event of the year. After offering a branch of a sacred tree to the gods, fireworks are shot up into the sky. When all the torches are going to burn out, big fireworks are displayed. On the next day, the precinct is bustled with visitors and stall venders. The dedications of the Shirahama Daiko drum performance and the Sanbaso Dance (an intangible cultural property of Shimoda City) are open to the public on this day.
Bunraku is a traditional puppet theater comprising three key elements: puppet performers, a chanter and a shamisen player. During the performance, puppets are manipulated by skilled performers while a chanter recites to the sound of a shamisen guitar. Their performance is enchanting and inexplicably erotic and spectators are captivated by the elegance of the puppets movement. Kiho Bunraku is a Bunraku that has been passed down for generations in the southern part of Ehime prefecture.
In the early Edo period, there were three puppet theater groups considered the best in the land. One of them, dating back more than four hundred years was Awaji Puppet Theater troupe lead by Kamimura Heitayuu. Their performance has been passed down in this region along with the puppets and complete sets of costumes during Meiji period, which have been carefully preserved to this day. Among them, thirty nine of the doll’s heads, which were created by Tenngusa who was considered a master artisan, were especially highly regarded and have been designated as tangible folklore cultural assets by the prefecture. The puppet performers are also designated as intangible cultural assets by the Kihoku Town.
In order to preserve Bunraku and nurture its successors, Kihoku Bunraku Preservation and Kihoku Bunraku Kouenkai were formed and they have been actively involved in performing at schools and senior centers. They also perform with other nearby Bunraku groups every few years.