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.
Akihisa Kominato is a Shakuhachi player and the third successor to the head of Japanese folk music Kominato Style. He was born in 1978 in Fukushima and is the eldest son of the head family of the Kominato Style. His father is Mitsuru Kominato, a folk singer, and his elder sister is Miwa Kominato, also a singer. He started learning to sing age 5 with his father and soon began playing regularly on stage. In his teens, he studied the traditional shakuhachi playing style called Kinko and, in 1995, began studying under the late National Living Treasure, Goro Yamaguchi. Age 20, he became the third Kominato preserving the Traditional Folk Kominato Style. After graduating from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music majoring in Shakuhachi, he began performing not only Japanese traditional music but also international music such as fusion and bossa nova.
In 2004, he formed a band called ZAN featuring Japanese traditional instruments and made his debut on the mainstream music scene. With the techniques he learned through his association with folk singing and shakuhachi performance, he is pursuing new avenues of expression for shakuhachi players. Also through his involvement with other bands such as AEKA, Priest and Hannya Teikoku he is further expanding his scope and activities. He also plays overseas regularly.
The fire festival is held on the 2nd Saturday of January every year at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Moriyama City in Shiga Prefecture. On the same day, another fire festival is held at Katsube Shrine in the city. Both are prefecturally designated as intangible folk cultural properties.
The festivals are based on the story dating back about 800 years. When Emperor Tsuchimikado fell into a critical condition, it turned out that the illness was caused by a huge centipede living in Mt. Mikami. Then Fujiwara no Hidesato shot three arrows at the same time and they hit the huge centipede. Its head fell into the precinct of Sumiyoshi Shrine, the body into Katsube Shrine and the tail onto the ground near Karahashi Bridge in Seta village. The parts of the body were burned down at the places they fell; hereby the festivals are held at the two shrines.
On the morning of the festival day, the Shinto ritual and the arrow shooting ceremony are held at the shrine. Then the huge straw torch is brought into the precinct by men in loincloth in the evening. The torch is about 6 m long and weighs about 40 kg.
The men set the fire to the torch and dance wildly around the blazing fire with the powerful calls of “Heiyu! Heiyu!” which means “May an illness be cured!”
Kemari is an ancient football game in the Imperial court in Japan. It is said that kemari came from China during the Yamato period about 1,400 years ago. There are no winners or losers in this game because the objective of the game is simply to pass the ball to fellow players.
In Kagawa Prefecture, Hono Kemari (the kemari offering) is held at Konpira-gu Shrine on May 5th and July 7th (Tanabata Kemari) and in the middle of December (Osame Kemari), among which the ones in May and July are open to the public.
The kemari game is played in a sacred court called “Mari-niwa.” When a team consisting of six shrine priests and shrine maidens wearing colorful costumes called Mari-suikan and Mari-bakama appear in the Mari-niwa court, the High Priest performs a ritual to release a ball from a branch of paper mulberry. Then the players start playing the game, shouting “Ariya!” as they control the ball, and “Ari!” as they pass it on to the next player.
The fire festival is held on the 2nd Saturday of January every year at Katsube Shrine in Moriyama City in Shiga Prefecture. On the same day, another fire festival is held at Sumiyoshi Shrine in the city. Both are prefecturally designated as intangible folk cultural properties.
Katsube Shrine is a historic shrine, which is said to have been founded in 649 by Mononobe no Sukune Hirokuni to enshrine his ancestry deity. During the Warring States period (1493-1573), the shrine thrived under the faithful protection from the Sasaki clan, the governor of Omi province and other powerful daimyos such as the Oda and Toyotomi clans.
At Katsube Shrine, 12 large straw torches in the shape of a huge centipede are provided in the shrine precinct. This is based on a story that, when Fujiwara no Hidesato launched an arrow, the body of a huge centipede fell down from the sky and he burned it down. The torch is about 6 m long and 40 cm in diameter.
After dedicating the offing including holy sake wine, sardine and tofu and offering a prayer to the deity, young men in loincloth receive the holy fire from the altar and set it to all the 12 torches at the same time. Then the men dance wildly around the blazing fire with the powerful calls of “Goyo! Hyoyo!” which means “May a headache be cured!”
The Annual summer festival of Tsuno Shrine in Tsuno Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, is held from August 1st to 2nd. As the festival of Hyugakoku-Ichinomiya Shrine (the highest-ranked shrine in ancient Hyuga Province), the festival has been so proudly handed down by the people of the town as to be said that even young people living in far-off cities never fail to come back to their hometown to join the festival.
On the first day of the festival, the parade of the huge mikoshi (portable shrine), which is said to be one of the few most magnificent mikoshi in the country in structure, size and decoration and weighs more than 300 kg, goes around the town with the powerful call of “Chosaina! Sora! Yare!” while the drummers on the four drum floats and two kids’ floats beat on the drums repeatedly.
The climax is Omiyairi (the returning of the mikoshi to the shrine) held on the second day. In the roaring sounds of drums, men carrying the heavy mikoshi come back into the shrine precinct, where Kenka-daiko (drum fight) is performed by the drum teams competing in showing off the valiance. The dynamic sounds of the drums fascinate the spectators.
Nakayama Shrine in Kadogawa Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, is said to have been founded in 857, when the deity at Izumo Taisha Shrine was transferred to this shrine.
Onamuchi no Mikoto and three other deities are enshrined. Onamuchi no Mikoto is another name for Okuninushi no Mikoto. As Okuninushi no Mikoto is known as the god of nation-building, farming, business and medicine as well as love stories with many princesses, the shrine was famous for the divine power of marriage tie. It was believed that if a young man and a woman passed each other in the front approach of the shrine, they would fall in love with each other.
As there is a song about the shrine, which goes, “Nakayama-san is a good god because if you don’t have any kimono, you can visit him naked, and if you don’t have any sandals, you can visit him with bare feet,” it is said that, in the ancient times, men were allowed to visit the shrine even only in loincloth, and women in koshimaki (waist wrap).
The grand festival held on January 7 every year is famous as a naked festival, in which both toshi-otoko (men whose zodiacal sign corresponds to the year's sign) and men of Yaku-doshi (the unlucky age) wearing only white loincloth, white tabi (Japanese socks) and white headbands run up the stone steps to the precinct, shouting loud encouragement. In the precinct, they pour cold water onto the head and all over the body to purify themselves and pray for the safety and a good health of their family.
The Homei Shijuhattaki (Forty-eight) Falls is on the upstream of the Hirose River, which runs through Wakaba-ku in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. Water flows down the terraced rocky slopes one after another, forming a basin on every stage. The largest flow was once called “the Bomeki-no-taki Waterfall.” The origin of its name “Homei (Phoenix’s Cry)” is obscure, but there are several theories. One theory states that it was because the overlapping sounds of the waterfall sounded like a cry of a Chinese phoenix.
Off the road from National Route 48, the waterfall is surrounded with densely grown trees. As the waterfall flows at the bottom of the sheer cliffs, only the cool sound of flowing water can be heard from the hiking trail. If you want to see the whole picture of the waterfall, you have to pluck up the courage to lean forward and look down.
The upper part of the waterfall consists of several stages, each of which has a large basin. You will never get tired of looking at the water flowing from one basin down to another, creating the flow of white bubbles. There is a legend that, once upon a time, a heavenly maiden descended from the sky and danced beside the waterfall. Looking at the beautiful flow of water, you might think that it really happened.