The Tenjin Festival is a spectacular boat festival held at the Oosaka Tenman-guu Shrine in Kita-ku, Oosaka, and it is one of the Three Greatest Festivals in Japan. Oosaka Tenman-guu Shrine was built in 949 by the order of Emperor Murakami. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, who was deified as the patron god of learning.
The origin of this festival dates back to 951, two years after the foundation of the shrine, when kamihoko, a portable shrine with a halberd on its top, was released into the river near the shrine and a temporary funeral hall was built at the place where the kamihoko washed ashore. Local people who worshiped at the shrine rode on boats and welcomed the arrival of the kamihoko, which was said to mark the beginning of the festival. Since then, the event has been held every July 24th and 25th.
In modern days, the first day of the festival begins with the Yoimiya Festival to pray for the success of the Hokonagashi ceremony. It is followed by the actual ceremony in which the sacred halberd is released from the Hokonagashi Bridge at the sound of a ryuuteki flute.
On the following day, the holy spirit of the Tenjin deity is transferred to a portable shrine called gohouren and paraded around for about 4km from the Tenman-guu Shrine to the point of embarkation, accompanied by as many as 3,000 festival participants. Gohouren is then transferred onto a boat and, accompanied by some 100 river boats, while it moves toward the Naka River to the Okawa-river, with spectacular fireworks overhead.
The Tenjin Festival is a grand festival that brings a dramatic and stunning display to the water city of Oosaka.
Omanto at Kasuga Town is a festival held at the Kasuga and Yatsurugi Shrines in Kasuga-cho, Aichi Prefecture, on the first weekend each October.
Its origin is not known, but it is believed that the festival started in the beginning of 1800, when horses were dedicated to the Kasuga and Yatsurugi Shrines to pray for rain. The festival is said to be the biggest in the Nishi-mikawa region.
In the festival, young men wearing happi festival coats and jikatabi rubber-soled socks enter a riding arena of about 100 meters in circumference and start running toward horses that have been decorated with bells and flowers. They grab the horses’ muzzles and run around the arena at a fast speed.
In precincts of the Omanto Shrine there is a rounded square preserved solely for this festival. On the day of the event, 40 ~ 50 horses are gathered from seven neighboring towns and released in the square. All participants running with horses become as if they were one with the horse, and a powerful and exciting scene unfolds in front of a big crowd of spectators.
GOCOO (pronounced gokuu) is a Japanese Taiko Drum band that, while playing more than 40 Japanese drums, creates the sound and beat of mother earth. The band consist of 7 female and 4 male members who generate their original sound that cannot simply be categorized as traditional, folk or rock music. The sound is more primitive and trance-like and it is beyond nationality and music genre. The core of the band is its leader, Kaori Asano, who possesses the enchanting power of a modern shaman.
Ms. Asano brings her sticks down with full power as she swings her long hair as in a shishi lion dance.
Ms. Asano has said: “On stage, there comes a moment when daily affairs are stripped down to nothing but “love” and “gratitude” - the most genuine feelings of our souls. I think this must be what was originally intended by the idea of having a “festival”. I am often told that I am expressing something new but in truth, the newest things are intimately connected with the oldest things”
The band was formed in 1997 and GOCOO is highly regarded in Japan as well as in other countries. They have performed more than 100 shows abroad, including Europe. Their music was used in the movie, Matrix. GOCOO also performed their music at the opening of the Earth Summit in 2008 as an Asian representative.
Yansanma Festival is a big Spring festival that takes place at the Shimomurakamo Shrine in Imizu City, Toyama Prefecture. The festival lasts over 4 hours, starting with Soume-no-gi (Horse Riding), and followed by other ceremonies including Shinkou-shiki, Gyujyou-shiki (cow riding), shishi lion dance and yabusame (horseback archery).
Throughout the festival horses and cows play important roles. The Cow Riding ceremony is rare religious ritual that can be seen only at this festival.
In the Horse Riding ceremony, some riders run through the area on horses and the best horse is chosen and dedicated to the gods to pray for a rich harvest.
In the Cow Riding ceremony, a young man, wearing a red mask with a big nose, appears riding on a cow. He then shoots an arrow made with fresh bamboo towards the roof of the shrine. This is done to pray for peace and a rich harvest in the region. The cow is regarded as an incarnation of the god of farming and it is believed to possess the power to protect people from fires and epidemics. Participants in the ceremony, wishing to make the cow stay in the region, struggle to control the cow and make it kneel down on the ground.
The festival ends with the Horseback Archery ceremony in which a warrior, riding on a horse, shoots an arrow along the shrine’s path.
The Yansanma Festival is designated as an Intangible Folklore Cultural Asset by the Toyama Prefecture.
Lantern floating (Toronagashi) is a yearly Japanese ritual which takes place all over the country in August. In this ritual, people float lanterns and offerings onto the water to commemorate the souls of loved ones and ancestors.
More than 2,000 lanterns are floated onto the Otakine River running through the downtown area of Funabiki-cho, Tamura City in Fukushima Prefecture. It started in 1949 as a ritual of the Bon season to commemorate the victims of World War II. Since then it became the custom of the town and together with the fireworks display, which started in 1955, it is now the town’s typical summer event.
The lantern contest is held to choose the most beautiful lantern among the ones made by many teams of the town. The syle changes with the times, but lanterns carry away people’s continuing prayers for the souls of the deseased under the brilliant displays of the fireworks.
Kuroishi Yosare Festival is the biggest event held in Kuroishi City, Aomori Prefecture. It is held on August 15 and 16 every year and counted as one of Three Nagashi-style Dances (dance parades) in Japan.
About 3,000 dancers called “Tokomanpo,” the workers of the local shopping area, wear straw hats and yukata with pictures of sparrow and dance around the city with distinctive call of “E-chaho, E-chaho.” The concept of the dance is to drive away sparrows by swinging the rice ears, from which the present design of the yukata was contrived.
The dances are mainly composed of Nagashi-odori (dance parade), Mawari-odori (a circle dance) and Kumi-odori (a pair dance). The dance parade sometimes stops and takes the form of a circle dance, where spectators invited to join and dancers perform more enthusiastically.
Kuroishi Yosare originates in the pair dance performed by male and female dancers to represent love call about 600 years ago. Later in the Tenmei era (1781-1788) in the Edo period, the chief retainer of the domain, Sakai Gyoemon, encouraged this dance to gain the popularity of the townspeople. Since then it has been handed down in this city.
Okuri-bon Festival is a typical summer event held on August 15 and 16 in Yokote City, Akita Prefecture. It was first held to appease the souls of the victims of the great famine during the Kyoho era (1716-1735). The people in Yanagi (Willow) Town (present-day Chuo-cho) made a houseboat, onto which they carried a willow tree, the branches of which had strips of paper with the Buddhist names of the dead victims written on them and headed for Janosaki riverside in the downstream.
Today every town in the city has the boathouse to join the festival. The boathouse is 7 m long, 2 m wide, 4 m in height and 600 to 800 kg in weight. A boat need at least 20 to 30 rowers, that is, one town team is composed of 40 to 50 rowers including standbys.
All the boats send the spirit off to the riverside in Janosaki and return to their town. The climax is when they get together under the Janosaki Bridge, where they try to be the first to return home and scramble, making their boats bump hard against each other.
Hadaka Kasedori is the traditional New Year’s event handed down in the Kirigome area in Kami Town, Miyagi Prefecture. It is held on the night of January 15 every year in hope of fire prevention and getting rid of bad luck. It is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property.
This is a very unique festival, in which half-naked men with “Hebiso (soot from the Japanese traditional kitchen range)” on the faces visit each of the houses in the village. They are treated with sake and meals, while applying Hebiso on the faces of the family members.
This custom is said to be a kind of rite of passage in that boys over 15 years old undergo physical hardship. New participants, newly married men and men with unlucky ages must wear straw hats and Shimenawa (sacred rice-straw ropes) over their loincloths; and then they stand in front of each houses and are poured cold water all over their bodies.