On top of Mount Torigata in Asuka-mura, Nara, sits Asukaniimasu Shrine.
Asukaniimasu Shrine traces its origins to the mythological age when Ookuninushi-no-kami dedicated the spirit of Kanayaruno-mikoto, a guardian god of the Imperial Family, to Ikazuchinoka mountain. This is considered to be one of the holy mountains to which a god might descend. In 829, as directed by an oracle, the spirit of Kanayaruno-mikoto was transferred to Mount Torigata.
The shrine was burned down in 1725 and its structure was restored to its current state in 1781 by Uemura Ietoshi, the head of the Takatoshi Clan.
On the first Sunday of every February, an event called The Onda Festival takes place at the shrine to pray for a rich harvest and family prosperity. The festival is a religious ritual that represents life and it is one of the “Three Unusual Festivals” in Western Japan.
At the beginning of the performance, two men wearing masks of Tengu, the mythological goblin, and Okina, an old man, both holding a bamboo stick called “sasara”, begin chasing the audience around- adults and children alike, and whacking them on the behind. Once the men come back to the stage in front of the shrine, they perform the ritual of the rice harvest including prowling the rice paddy and planting rice. This is followed by the wedding of Tengu and Otafuku, representing a woman.
Otaue Dance Festival takes place on April 29th annually at Okudari Minamikata Shrine in Kinpo-cho, Minami Satsuma City, Kagoshima Prefecture. The festival, a performing art particular to this region, has long been performed to pray for rich harvests for over 400 years.
Around 150 local men gather from the seventh and the eight divisions of Kinpo Town and perform as dancers. Their costumes, hachimaki headbands and style of dance vary slightly from division to division.
Starting at Okudari Minamikata Shrine, the procession of dancers consisting of various styles of dance such as Kama (Sickle) Dance, Naginata (Pole sword) Dance, Bou (Pole) Dance and Kinzan Dance parade through the town.
Senior residents sing traditional songs which have been passed down for years by word of mouth. With their songs and beats from banging poles on the ground by dancers in red sash, performers demonstrate strong and powerful dances, which enchant spectators and they enjoy the seasonal dance until dusk. The festival used to continue well into the night in the past.
Otaue Dace is a well preserved tradition and continues to captivate people in the region.
Taue Odori (the rice planting dance) handed down in Akiu Town in Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a traditional folk performing art that is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. It is said that the dance dates back to the 12th century, when the Heike refugees, who settled in the Nagafukuro area, began the dance to recall the good old days.
This rice planting dance is danced by a large number of dancers. It is said that as many as from 50 to 60 dancers or over 100 at peak time joined the dance in the past. The dances are dedicated to Nagafukuro Myojin Shrine, Baba Otaki Fudo-do Temple and Yumoto Yakushi-do Temple from the middle of April to the beginning of May every year.
Two boys taking a part of “Yajuro” appear on the stage followed by the two young boys taking a part of “Suzufuri (the bell men)” and give the prologue, after which the rice planting dance is performed by 8 to 14 girl dancers called “Saotome” in hope for a rich harvest in the coming fall.
Akiu Otaki Fudoson in Baba in Akiu-cho, Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a temple of the Chizan school of the Shingon sect. It is located beside the Akiu Otaki Falls, a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty. The temple was founded by the priest Jikaku in the early Heian period (794-1192) as the back temple of Risshakuji Temple, which he had founded in Yamadera in Yamagata City.
The Grand festival is held at the temple on April 28 to 29 every year. It features a variety of events including the Rice Planting Dance of Baba, the Deer Dance of Noguchi, and the Sword Dance of Takihara as well as the alpine rose festival and the sale and exhibit of wild plants.
The Rice Planting Dance of Baba is s folk performing art nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. Girls from aged 8 to 15 dance elegantly, singing the counting rhyme which is said to have been handed down from the Heike refugees. The Deer Dance of Noguchi is a dynamic deer dance to drive away devils.
Yakunin Taue Odori (Yakunin Rice Planting Dance) is open to the public at the summer festival of Johgi Nyorai Saihoji Temple in Okura, Aoba-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, on July 6 on the lunar calendar every year. It is designated as a prefecture’s folk cultural property as a precious traditional folk performing art that has been handed down in a community. It is said that a mountain practitioner named Genso from Kyoto taught this dance to the people in this area in 1833.
The word “yakunin” used for the name of this dance indicates “to play a part.” In the Yakunin Taue Odori dance, the part called Yajuro is supposed to be a half-ogre man, and the head of Yajuro plays a part of the god of rice paddy. He wears a hikitate eboshi cap (a cloth cap pulled upright) with the sun and moon marks and a junbaori jacket with the kanji charcters representing Emperor Jinmu (Japan’s first emperor) on the back and join the rice planting dance danced by women dancers called “Saotome,” exchanging the words of compliment and responses with each other.
The words uttered by Yajuro and the song and movements of Saotome dancers are typical to this rice planting dance, which can’t be seen in any other similar dance in the country.
Minazuki is a Japanese traditional name for June on the old calendar. Minazuki (水無月) literally means “a waterless month.” According to the lunar calendar, it falls on the period around the end of the rainy season; thus it means “a month without water.” However, there is another theory that states the 無 character is a particle meaning “of ”and Minazuki is “a month of water,”because it is the time when farmers irrigate a rice field after rice planting. We don’t know whichever is right, but “a month without water” seems to fit more for the image of the rainy season.
In Kyoto, there is a custom to eat Minazuki rice cake, which is made to resemble frozen snow, on June 30 every year. As ice was very precious in the Heian period (794-1192), only the nobilities can have the opportunities to eat ice. Then the commoners ate this rice cake in stead of ice and offered prayers for their good health for the rest of the year.
In late June comes Geshi (summer solstice), when a hot summer begins right after the rainy season has gone.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar. Geshi (夏至) literally meannig “to reach summer” is the 10th solar term. It usually begins around June 21st, the longest day of the year when the Sun is farthest north in the northern hemisphere and Sun gets the highest meridian altitude. As the axis of the Earth declines 23.5 degrees towards or away from the Sun ecliptic, the meridian altitude of the Sun differs from season to season. It is this declination that creates seasonal changes on the Earth.
The summer solstice marks the first day of the summer. Different from the winter solstice, there are relatively few social activities held in Japan. Farmers usually start rice planting on the day of Han-geshi, the 11th day from the summer solstice. In the Kansai region, people eat octopus on this day in hope that the roots of rice plants will grow steadily like octopus legs. In Sanuki area in Kagawa Prefecture, July 2nd is Day of Sanuki-udon Noodle, because farmers usually entertain assistant workers with Sanuki-udon noodles after rice planting.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar. Rikka is the 7th solar term. Rikka (立夏) literally means the beginning of summer. It usually begins around May 6th, when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 45°. The terms from this day to the beginning of Risshu are considered as summer in Japan. It is just between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is the season of fresh green. It is when wheat come into ear in the Kyushu region, farmers begin seeding of potatoes and peas in Hokkaido, rice planting begin all over the country, frogs start croaking on the paths between rice fields, and Koinobori (carp streamers) are flying in fresh bleeze.
It is also the season when people enjoy aoutdoor activities because there is a long spell of fine weather and gentle winds. The sunlight gets stronger little by little tward the day of Taisho (Large Heat).