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.
The Oo-jishi Ko-jishi Dance (Dance of big shishi lion and small shishi lion) takes place once a year at the spring festival of Handa City. Its performance is dedicated to the Narawa Shrine.
There are a number of shishi dances dedicated to religious rituals, yet this Oo-jishi Ko-jishi Dance has an especially long history. It is recorded that the dance had already been performed by the middle of the Edo period and it was formally influenced by styles that existed even earlier.
The dance is performed by two dancers together comprising the legendary four-legged lions. It is done in a style called Gigaku Shishi.
The ritual starts with the Oo-jishi dancers being accompanied by a boy wearing a white crest on his head and holding an instrument called sasara. Oo-jishi Dance consists of four dances: Ran-jishi; Hana-jishi (Flower Shishi); Tobi-shishi (Kite Shishi) and Ken-shishi (Sword Shishi).
After the Oo-jishi Dance comes the Ko-jishi Dance. Okame and Hyottoko (a pair of female and male characters) play clowns while Ko-jishi performs twelve dances to an upbeat tempo. The dances, said to symbolize farmers praying for rain, show a dragon writhing on ground and trying to gather clouds and ascend to the sky.
In 1967, the dance was designated as an Intangible Folklore Cultural Asset by the Aichi prefecture.
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.
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.
Ise Ookagura is a theatrical dance in the Shinto religion. The dance troupes traveled around remote areas for those who could not visit and worship at the Ise Shrine. The history of Ise Ookagura dates back more than 600 years.
The performance is composed of two elements: “dance” from shishi-mai dance and “music” called houkagei, which later became known as Daidougei or street performance.
Ise Ookagura starts with a slow and elegant bell dance, followed by the Shiguruma Dance and the humorous Leap Dance, in which Sarutahiko (a monkey boy) jumps around a sleeping shishi lion.
The houkagei music performance has a wide repertory, including the Music of Ayatori (“cat’s cradle”) in which performers manipulate wooden poles freely and the Music of Plates, in which performers do dish-spinning tricks with long poles, to pray for a rich harvest. Between the performances, houkagei performers and a clown act comically together. The performance then finishes with Rankyoku music.
Ise Ookagura was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Asset by the Japanese government in 1983. Ise Ookagura, which originally started with 12 troupes, is still preserved by a handful of troupes that travel around Japan to pass down their historical culture to future generations.
Kurikoma Dashi (Float) Festival is held on the last weekend of July every year in Kurikoma in Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture. It is an attractive festival that tells coming of summer. It originates in the festival held to pray for a rich harvest about 300 years ago, when the area was under the rule of the Date clan.
On the eve of the festival on Saturday, some of the floats parade through the town, while the Bird Dance by elementary school children, the Teodori Dance by 300 women and Monji-Jinku, the distinctive combination of folk song and dancing, are performed all over the town.
On the main festival day on Sunday, Ohayashi music performance is held at the festival center early in the afternoon. Then the 10 festival floats altogether start for the parade all through the town.
The floats are about 4 m tall and decorated with colorful ornaments. Each float is carrying a huge colorful doll of popular figure such as Miyamoto Musashi, Kaguyahime and Matsuo Basho. The dolls are designed to move mechanically. The town receives about 30,000 tourists for the two-day festival period every year.