At the foot of Yahiko mountain soaring high in the middle of the Chikugo plain in Niigata pref. stands the Yahiko(Iyahiko) Shrine. The grounds are covered by a dense grove of aged trees, such as cedars and Japanese cypresses. Though the exact year of construction is not known, the shrine is referenced in Manyoshu, an old poetic anthology dating back to 750 AD, so it certainly predates that time. The shrine is devoted to Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto. Ordered by Emperor Jinmu (the legendary first emperor), Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto taught the people of Echigo region of Niigata pref. various agricultural methods of fishing, salt making, rice farming, and sericulture amongst others, and contributed greatly to the development of the region. The shrine was once affectionately called Iyahiko-sama and flourished as a spiritual home of the mind and the soul for people in Echigo. In its museum, shrine treasures such as Shidano-Ootachi, a prominent long Japanese Katana and designated as an Important National Property, and armors that are said to have once belonged to Yoshiie Minamto and Yoshitsune Minamoto, both being legendary warriors from 12th century, are exhibited. The hall was rebuilt in 1961after being destroyed in a large fire.
Tabayashi Kagura is a traditional folk performing art handed down at Tabayashi Atago Shrine located in the ruins site of Marumori Castle in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture.
It is said that this kagura dance is a kind of Juni Kagura (the kagura with 12 plays), which originated in Izumo province (present-day Shimane Prefecture). The repertoire and the dancing styles of Tabayashi Kagura are typical to Juni Kagura. The repertoire comprises 12 plays, each of which celebrates the feats of gods from “Sarutahiko,” “Uzume,” “The God of Paddy Field” to “Izumogiri” about Susanoo no Mikoto.
This kagura dance is composed of two phases; the “torimonomai,” in which dancers wear no masks and have torimono (a thing to hold in a hand) such as sakaki (a branch of a holy tree) or a sword, and Shinno (sacred Noh), which is a masked dance dramas about sacred myths.
The kagura dances are performed to pray for peace of the land, a rich harvest and happiness as well as to drive away bad luck. The dances have handed down magnificence and elegance of the world of ancient mythology to the modern generations.
It is said that Sendai Chests were created by a local carpenter during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1598). They are solid, yet elegant chests made of zelkova or chestnut wood. The surface of the wood is finished with kijiro lacquer to create transparent coating to bring out the beauty of the grains.
As Sendai Chests were originally made for warriors, they are contrived to contain long things such as a sword or a hakama (a formal men’s divided long skirt). They are also characterized with elaborate metal fittings on which patterns of dragons, Chinese lions, peony flowers and arabesques are hammered out. About 70 to 80 iron fittings are attached to one chest. This elaborate ironwork adds elegant and artistic flavor to a solid chest for men.
Further improvement has been made in skills and techniques, and products in new styles that fit the modern life have been added to the traditional product line. Going through a history of 500 years, they still keep on changing to add colors to people’s lifestyles.
Kamo Grand Festival dates back over 940 years and originates around the Heian period. The festival, an important intangible cultural asset of Okayama prefecture, takes place on the third Sunday of every October.
During the festival, parades consisting of portable shrines and taiko drums start from eight different shrines around the town and come together at the head shrine at Kamo Ichiba where the ancient religious rituals occur.
To the sounds of flutes and drums, exciting events take place in the precinct of the shrine which is possessed by the festive mood. There are demonstrations of “Tachifuri” in which performers wearing the tamadasuki sash and hachimaki headband wield a Naginata sword and “Boutsukai” in which performers wearing Tengu goblin masks and demon masks in bright colored dresses engage in mock battle.
The climax of the festival is “Gojinkou”. With red banners held aloft lining the route, and amid the noise of flutes and drums, the performers unite with a loud shout of “whoh”, raising the portable shrines high above their heads. This is the moment when performers and audience unite.
Kamo Festival is a captivating festival evoking an ancient painted scroll from the Heian era.
There are a lot of autumn festivals to pray for bumper catch and a rich harvest held at many shrines in Muroto City, Kochi Prefecture in October. Some unique festivals include Niwaka Drama Play at Sakihama Hachimangu Shrine, Lion Dance at Hane Hachimangu Shrine, Hanadai Float at Onda Hachimangu Shrine and Abare-Mikoshi (Mikoshi Rampage) at Muroto Ojigu Shrine.
The autumn festival at Shiina Hachiojigu Shrine is a very dynamic festival befitting to the town of gallant fishermen. This festival is known for the unique ritual of Mikoshi-Arai (Mikoshi Washing). The Shinko (the god’s travel) procession of the main mikoshi (portable shrine) and the accompanying mikoshi starts the main shrine located in Shiina Town at Cape Muroto. It parades through the town and heads for Shiinazaki Coast, where the men carrying the accompanying mikoshi go into the sea and go forward in defiance of the raging waves of the Pacific Ocean. Their struggle to hold up the mikoshi overwhelms the spectators.
After the mikoshi procession returns to the shrine, the Shiina Tachi-odori Dance is dedicated to the deity at the stage set in the oratory hall of the shrine. The dancers perform Kabuki-like dancing to the sounds of clappers beaten against the floor. They also take the gesture of “mie (holding a pose)” during the dance.
Genchuji Temple, standing alone and forsaken on a quiet street in Shinhonji-cho, Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture, is where Araki Mataemon lies under a tombstone. Araki Mataemon was a renowned swordsman, who helped the vengeance of a young man at Kagiyanotsuji in Iga province, which is counted as one of Japan’s three most famous vengeances.
Traditionally, it is considered to be particularly good luck to dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant. One theory suggests that an eggplant was included because the calyx of an eggplant feels prickly (“iga-iga” in Japanese), which is a pun of Iga, the place of the vengeance, and thus means the attainment of one’s desires.
In the precinct of the temple is a history museum, where Mataemon’s mementoes including the sword and chain armor actually used in the vengeance are displayed. In kuri (the priest’s quarters), a fine painting on a fusuma (sliding doors) “Rakan fusuma-painting” by Byakusetsu Takagi, a Japanese painter from Kurayoshi City in the prefecture.
Futarasan Shrine located on Mount Nikko in Nikko City, Tochigi Pref. is Japan’s one of the largest shrines with a huge precinct, in which the eight peaks of Nikko mountain range, the Kegon Waterfall and Iroha Slopes are included. The enshrined deities are Omunachi no Mikoto, Tagorihime no Mikoto and Ajisuki Takahikone no Mikoto, who are generically named Futarasan Okami (great God of Mount Futara). To distinguish it from the shrine in nearby Utsunomiya, it is also called Nikko Futarasan Shrine.
The shrine dates back to 767, when Priest Shodo from Shimotsuke province trained himself in Nikko mountains and built a shrine to worship Mt. Futara (present-day Mt. Nantai). Until the Meiji Restoration, it was part of Nikko Sanja Gongen, but according to the law in the Meiji period that separated Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, it became independent as Futarasan Shrine.
The shrine possesses a lot of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties such as a large sword made in the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392). The copper lantern called “Bake-doro (Ghost Lantern)” and Daikoku Hall in Sacred Garden are also famous.
Tachinomiya is a historic shrine dated back to the Edo period. In Genna era (1615-1623) of the Edo period, Miyazaki Sadanao of the Miyazaki clan was on his way to Miyahara Village, his hometown, after the Summer War of Osaka. He was attacked by some enemy warriors in front of this shrine while asleep at night. However, his sword moved swiftly all by itself and saved him, to which he was very grateful and dedicated the sword to the shrine. Since then, it has been the custom for people who pray for recovery from illness or driving away the ill luck to dedicate a wooden sword to the shrine. At the present time, Tachinomiya is enshrined together in Miyahara Shrine and receives a lot of prayers from all over the nation. It is believed to have the healing power especially in asthma and cancer.