Gigaku is a silent dance drama brought to Japan from China. It is performed without words, by dancers wearing big masks.
The masks used for Gigaku are called Gigaku masks and they are different from the masks used for Bugaku or Noh. Gigaku masks are bigger and they cover the head, while other masks only cover the face. There are a number of different masks, corresponding to different roles in the play, including the human, demon, shishi lion and Herculean man masks.
More than a hundred gigaku masks are preserved in such historically important temples as Shousouin, Houryuu-ji and Toudai-ji and they have been designated as National Treasures.
Gigaku flourished around the 6th century in Japan and it was performed extensively in the precincts of temples and shrines in order to promote understanding of the Buddhist teachings. Shousouin temple has a set of Gigaku masks used largely for the gigaku dance that was held on the occasion of Daibutsu Kaigan (a ceremony to consecrate a newly made Buddhist image) at Toudai-ji in 752.
There are essentially two methods of making gigaku masks; kibori (wood carving) and kanshitsu (dry lacquer). Many of the wood carving masks were made from camphor and paulownia wood.
In the south of the center of Nara City, Nara is the area developed around the Gankou-ji Temple, an area vibrant with old houses and temples. This area is called Nara-machi and it is the oldest town in Nara. Nara-machi is designated and preserved as an Area of Traditional Buildings.
The town escaped the fires of the Second World War and it carefully preserves its landscape and old, charming buildings, which were built during the end of the Edo and Meiji periods.
Nara-machi was initially developed as a suburb with some significant temples in the northeast area of Heijyou-kyou. Heijyou-kyou had been the capital city of Japan from 710 to 794. When the capital was transferred to Nagaoka-kyou, Heijyou-kyou declined, but the temples remained and the people who worked for those temples continued to live in the area around Toudai-ji Temple and Koufuku-ji Temple. The residents eventually developed it into a merchant district called a “gou”.
Within Nara-machi, is Nara-machi Shiryoukan, a museum of Nara-Machi’s history, which exhibits such items as the daily utensils used in the old times. Another notable building is Nara-machi Koushi-no-ie, a lattice-worked building that has a traditional building layout with a small frontage and deep interior. Walking through the buildings and the streets, visitors can enjoy the appearance of the city as it was originally.
Todai-ji Temple Nigatsu-do is located inside the vast Todai-ji Temple complex in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, just north of Hokke-do. Since it is highly significant historically,
it was designated as a national treasure in 2005.
Formally named Kannon-do, it became known as Nigatsu-do (hall of the second month) because it holds the Shuuni-e religious ceremony every February of the lunar calendar.
The temple was built in 752 and the first Shuuni-e was celebrated the same year, an annual tradition that has continued until now without interruption.
In 1667, Nigatsu-do was destroyed by a fire caused by Otaimatsu, a fire-carrying ritual that is part of the Shuuni-e ceremony. Two years later, it was restored to what it is today.
The principal images of Budda are two statues: Oogannon and Kogannon, both of which are Juuichimen Kannon, or eleven-headed gods. These Buddha statues are not shown to the public.
Nigatsu-do is an impressive and serene presence that enchants visitors with its more than 1200 years history.
The Todai-ji Temple Omizutori or Water Drawing Ceremony is one of the rituals that takes place during Shuuni-e religious services at Nigatsu-do, located inside the Todai-ji Temple complex. Because it is regarded as the most significant, the Omizutori ceremony has become almost synonymous with the Shuuni-e services. These are held for two weeks, beginning with the first day of March.
Shuuni-e is formally called “Juuichimen-keka-hou” (which, translated literally, means eleven headed repentance). It is a memorial service in which priests at the Todai-ji temple forgive people’s sins and pray to Juichimen Kannon, the eleven-headed goddess and principal image of Budda at Nigatsu-do for the nation’s peace and prosperity.
Shuuni-e is said to have been started by a Priest named Jichu in Februrary of 752. This is even prior to Daibutsu Kaigen, another well known ceremony at the Todaiji-Temple that was first held in April of the same year. Since then, it has been continued for more than 1,200 years without any interruption.
In the Omizutori ceremony, priests scoop up sacred water from the Wakasai Well at midnight on March 12th and present it to the Kannon. The other famous ceremony is Otaimatsu in which priests carry burning torches and run through the balcony of Nigatsu-do.
Omizutoi is also a ceremony to bring Spring to the people of Nara. By the time the ceremony is finished, the cherry trees have begun to blossom and Spring has arrived.
Shiroishi washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Shiroishi City, Miyagi Prefecture. It is presumed that Shiroishi washi paper originates in “the paper from the Deep North,” which is referred to in Makura no Soshi (the Pillow Book) by Seisho Nagon and the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu as
“very soft, pure, elegant and graceful paper.”
Paper making in this area developed after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, when the town of Shiroishi became a part of the territory ruled by Date Masamune. One of the retainers of the Date clan, Kataoka Kojuro, encouraged local farmers to make paper as a side job during the winter. Since then many craftsmen who were specialized in filtering paper came to this town from the nearby areas. Even today, this elegant and pure washi paper is made by hand in the traditional way. As the paper with very high quality, it has been so highly valued as to be selected the paper used in Omizutori ceremony at Todaiji Temple and the paper for the Japanese Instrument of Surrender after World War II.
Saicho was a Japanese Buddhist monk of the early Heian period (794-1192) and the founder of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Saicho was born in Omi province in 767. Being the descendant of Chinese immigrant family, Saicho’s worldly name was Mitsunoobito Hirono. He entered the priesthood at Kokubunji Temple in Omi province when he was 14 and was given the name, Saicho.
At the age of 19, he was ordained at Todaiji Temple in Nara, but he was disenchanted with the worldliness of the Nara priesthood. In 788, he founded a small temple, Ichijo Shikanin (present Enryakuji Temple) on Mt. Hiei, where he trained himself for 12 years until he attained enlightenment. This 12 years of seclusion at Mt. Hiei has become a system to be retained in positions in the monastery up to the present time.
In 804, Saicho was sent to china, where he mastered the four teachings of En (perfect teaching), Mitsu (esotericism), Kai (precepts) and Zen (meditation). After returning to Japan, he founded the Tendai sect of Japan with the backing of Emperor Kanmu.
His writings include “the Sange Gakusho Shiki (Rules for Tendai students),” “the Kenkairon (Treatise elucidating the precepts)” and “the Naisho Buppo Kechimyakufu.” He died at Chudoin Temple in Mt. Hiei in 822. 44 years after his death, he was awarded the posthumous title of Dengyo Daishi.
Kinpusenji Temple located in Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Nara Pref. is the headquarters of the Shugendo temples. The temple is said to have been founded in the late 7th century by En no Gyoja, the founder of Shugendo. The principal image of worship is the statue of Zao Gongen, which is said to have been brought here by the Buddhist priest Rigen Taishi in the Heian period (794-1192).
The statue is placed in the main hall, Zaodo, which is the second largest wooden structure after Daibutsuden Hall at Todaiji Temple. Besides the statue of Zao Gongen, many other designated National Treasures such as the standing statues of Doji and the statues of Prince Shotoku, En no Gyoja and Zen-Go Ki (a pair of ogres) are stored in this Hinoki-bark roofed hall, 9 m in width, 10,8 m in depth and 34 m in height. Kinpusenji Temple is the place that symbolizes the hard training of Shugendo.
Daimon (Great Gate) is the main gate of Koyasan Kongobuji Temple, the headquarters of the Shingon sect. At the time when the temple was established, the main entrance was a torii (shrine gate) located in a place called “Tsuzuraoredani” about 500 m below. Daimon was constructed in 1141, but burned down twice. The present gate was the one restored in 1705.
This red-lacquered great gate is said to be the masterwork of the Edo architecture. The two Kongo-Rikishi (guarding warriors) statues carved by master Buddhist sculptors in the Edo period are designated as National Important Cultural Properties; the deity Agyo was carved by Koi and the deity Ungyo by Uncho. They are the second largest Kongo-Rikishi statues after the ones at Nandaimon of Todaiji Temple.
You can command a wide view of the Seto Inland Sea from the gate on a fine day.