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.
The Date Masamune Festival is held on the second Sunday of September every year in Iwadeyama Town in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. It started in 1964, when the statue of Date Masamune was moved from the Aoba Castle ruins site in Sendai to Iwadeyama Town, where Masamune spent his adolescent years.
On the eve of the festival, the parade of the Yosakoi Dance, the Masamune Drums, lanterns and the gorgeous Mikoshi goes through the town. The highlight of the main festival day on Sunday is the procession of the warriors of the Date clan. With horse soldiers blowing conch shell horns at the head of the procession, the present head of the Iwadeyama Date family making himself up as Date Masamune rides in a dignified manner, which is followed by the palanquin carrying Masamune’s mistress, the members of overseas delegation to Europe led by Hasekura Tsunenaga. It is a magnificent reenactment of the procession of the Date clan, which makes spectators slip into delusion of being transported back to the Warring States period.
When the festival draws near, there are a glut of applicants who yearn to act as a gallant warrior. It is the charming sight of autumn, in which everyone in the town participates and has fun.
Chintoro Festival in Kamihanda is a part of Spring Float Festival held in every district in Handa City, Aichi Prefecture. Two festival floats are pulled all through the town, while two boats called “Chintoro boats” are set afloat on Miyaike Pond in the precinct of Sumiyoshi Shrine.
On the festival eve, 365 paper lanterns, which represent 365 days of the year, are set over the roof of each boat in hemispheric shape, in the midst of which a long pole with 12 paper lanterns representing 12 months of the year is erected. The lights of lanterns reflecting on the surface of the pond are very beautiful.
The name “Chintoro” is said to be derived from the name of lanterns used for the boats, or some say it is because the Ohayashi music sounds “CHINTORO, CHINTORO.” The highlight of the festival is the cute Sanbaso Dance performed by young children on the temporary stage built in the bow of the boat.
Kouchi Festival takes place at Koza, Kushimoto-cho, Wakayama prefecture on July 24th and 25th each year. It is also known as “Mifune-matsuri”, or Boating Festival, and is held on the banks of the Koza River. The festival is designated as an important intangible folklore cultural asset by the Japanese government.
The festival dates back to the Gempei War in 12th century when the naval forces of Kumano who fought for Genji Clan celebrated their victory at Kouchi Shrine. The festival replicates the triumphal return of the military force.
Three boats decorated with vividly colored battle cloth, mizuhiki paper strings, spears, halberds and lanterns enter the river after the opening ceremony at the Koza Shrine and slowly move up to Seisho Island where Kouch Daimyoujin, the local deity, is enshrined. The boat takes two days to reach the island and therefore all prayers and offerings take place on the 25th.
Shishi dances are demonstrated in the town and an exciting boat race called “Kaitenma Kyousou” is undertaken by junior high school students further enchanting the crowd.
Wisteria Festival is held from the middle of April through early May every year at Kotoen Wisteria Garden in Hekinan City, Aichi Prefecture. The wisteria trellises in this 1,000 square meter garden were built by Hirosaku Oda, a local wisteria fancier, in 1820.
The garden features the special kind of wisteria trees called “Hiro-no-nagafuji,” which have 1.5 meter long bunches with beautiful purple flowers hanging from long vines that wind around the trellises. Together with Daruma-fuji (Daruma Wisteria) with sweet fragrance, the garden is filled with gentle scent of wisteria flowers.
The flowers are illuminated in the evenings during the festival period. Different from the scenery under the daylight, the lit up pink and purple flowers create a fantastic atmosphere. If you join the traditional tea ceremony held on the selected day, you can enjoy a gracious time.
Chochin Lantern Festival is an annual festival held at Kashima Shrine, the headquarters of all the shrines in the Shirakawa region. The festival is held once every two years; only in the odd number year in the Heisei period (1989-present). Together with Yahiko Lantern Festival at Yahiko Shrine in Niigata Prefecture and Isshiki Grand Chochin Festival at Suwa Shrine in Aichi Prefecture, it is counted as one of the three largest chochin lantern festivals in Japan.
The present form of the festival was established in the Edo period, when Honda Tadayoshi, the lord of the Shirakawa domain, dedicated a portable shrine. The festival includes the parade of mikoshi and floats accompanied by people carrying big chochin lanterns. As is called “the ceremonial festival,” it hands down formal procedures of the Edo-period warrior class.
However, there is more than ceremony of course. The parade of thousands of chochin lanterns, which looks like a long brilliant light belt, creates a magnificent atmosphere. When the huge chochin lantern, which leads each of the 23 arrays carrying its own mikoshi, is raised high and pulled down repeatedly, a big applause is evoked among the spectators. As the festival with a history of 400 years, it is the pride of people living in the Shirakawa region.
Miyoshi Great Lantern Festival held for two days in August at Miyoshi Inarikaku Shrine is one of the most famous festivals in Aichi Pref. Three great lanterns of 11 m tall and 6.5 m in diameter are hung in the precinct and lit at night. In 1927, the Shin-Aichi Shinbun (newspaper company), the predecessor of present Chunichi Shinbun, planned to select “Aichi’s New Ten Notable Sights” and Miyoshi Inarikaku Shrine was selected as the second. In memory of this selection and his own 60th birthday, Yazo Nonoyama, a townsman of Miyoshi-cho, dedicated a great lantern, which was first lit at the summer festival in 1929. The other two were dedicated in 1988 by the municipal government of Miyoshi-cho and many well-wishers of the town in memory of the 30th anniversary of the town organization. Since the summer festival in 1993, three great lanterns came to be lit in the precinct as the symbol of the festival.
The autumn festival at Usuki Hachiman Shrine in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture, is one of the largest festivals in the prefecture. As it is popularly called “Chochin Festival,” the most attractive feature is the lantern parade and “Chochin-neri.”
On the first day of the two-day festival, more than 1,000 lantern-carriers gather and head for the shrine. Each holds a lantern hung from a 3-meter long bamboo pole and walk slowly along the front approach, guarding the mikoshi (portable shrine) procession. When they get to the Sakura-mon Gate, they suddenly bump into each other to try to tear down the others’ lanterns. The spectators are excited by the violent atmosphere created by the clanging sounds of bamboo poles beaten hard against one another, the lantern-carriers’ vigorous shouts and the sights of lanterns burning and falling to the ground. By the time the mikoshi enters the precinct, it is said, all the lanterns are burned down and only the poles remain.
On the second day, the parade of 18 mikoshi-floats goes through the city, during which the float carriers raise the float high up into the air, at the sign of the powerful call, “Chosa!” In the shrine precinct, various performing arts such as Lion Dance are dedicated to the deities.