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.
Hayashiya Kikuou, a rakugo storyteller, was born in 1937, Tokyo. Kikuzou first studied under Katsura Mikisuke III, an established rakugo storyteller. However, when Mikisuke passed away in 1961, Kikuzou went on to become a pupil of Hayashiya Shouzou X III and named himself Hayashiya Kikuzou. In 1972, he was promoted to become “shin’uchi” and made his official debut as an independent storytelling performer. In 1965, he became a regular star on “Shouten”, a popular television program. He is also the chairman of the National Ramen Noodle Party and a member of trustees of the Rakugo Association. In 2007, he handed his name to his eldest son and gave himself a different name, Kikuou.
Hayashiya Kikuzou was born in 1975, Tokyo. He graduated from the Department of Performing Arts at Tamagawa University. He studied under his father, Hayashiya Kikuzou. In 1996, he became “zenza”, meaning he was allowed to perform on the stage for the first time, and named himself Hayashiya Kikuo. In 2007, he was promoted to “shin’uchi” and became Hayashiya Kikuzou II.
Together Hayashiya Kikuou and Kikuzou launched a performing tour to celebrate their double name-taking ceremony starting at Suzuki Performing Center at Ueno, Tokyo, in 2007. It was an unprecedented occurrence for a pupil to take on his master’s name while the master was still alive.
“Even for rakugo which is a rather gentle performing art, it is essential to be assertive and think outside of the box, and not just maintain the tradition”, says both Hayashi. It is evident that they thrive on developing rakugo, finding new ways of working while keeping its tradition alive.
One of the cultural assets remaining on Shodoshima Island is the Noson Kabuki, or Farmers’ Kabuki. Each village used to have its own stage or theatre built in the precinct of its shrine. Of these stages, only two remain intact even today; at Rikyu Hachimangu Shrine in Hitoyama and Kasuga Shrine in Nakayama. Both stages are nationally designated as Important Tangible Folk Cultural Properties.
This theatrical tradition dates back some 300 years. In the Edo period (1603-1868), farmers in Hitoyama Village were suffering from drought. The head of the village, Ota Izaemon, spent as many as three years of time and all his own funds to construct an irrigation pond (Kaerugo-ike Pond). When villagers first saw water came flowing into the ditch beside the shrine, they were so glad that they planned to celebrate this feat by putting Kabuki plays on stage. They built a tentative theater in the shrine precinct and invited a Kabuki troupe. This was the beginning of Kabuki plays in Hitoyama.
Later on, the villagers, taking advantage of their accessibility to the Kansai region, began to perform Kabuki plays themselves by taking in some performing arts from Osaka areas, which led to the development of the rural Kabuki on the island, especially from the Meiji through Showa periods.
To the south of the famous 365 stone steps that lead to the Daimon Gate of Kotohira-gu Shrine in Kotohira-cho, Kagawa Prefecture stands the Old Konpira Oshibai Kabuki Theater, which is popularly called “Kanamaruza.” As the oldest existing Kabuki theater in Japan, it was designated as a national Important Cultural Property in 1970 and moved to the present place in 1976, when it was restored to the original form with a large amount of funds including government subsidy.
Since its original construction in the Tenpo era (1830-1843), Konpira Oshibai Kabuki plays at Kanamaruza Theater were enthusiastically seen by pilgrims to the Kotohira-gu Shrine, for entertainment was extremely scarce in those days. The theater was comparable in size to those in big cities such as Edo, Osaka and Kyoto. It is said that all the nationally famous actors were eager to perform at Kanamaruza, which proves that Kotohira was prosperous as a gateway town.
The Shikoku Konpira Oshibai has been performed at Kanamaruza since 1985, and the revival of the Kabuki performance has attracted a great deal of interest from all over the country. When no performances are held, the inside facilities of the theater are open to sightseers.
Bunraku is a traditional puppet theater comprising three key elements: puppet performers, a chanter and a shamisen player. During the performance, puppets are manipulated by skilled performers while a chanter recites to the sound of a shamisen guitar. Their performance is enchanting and inexplicably erotic and spectators are captivated by the elegance of the puppets movement. Kiho Bunraku is a Bunraku that has been passed down for generations in the southern part of Ehime prefecture.
In the early Edo period, there were three puppet theater groups considered the best in the land. One of them, dating back more than four hundred years was Awaji Puppet Theater troupe lead by Kamimura Heitayuu. Their performance has been passed down in this region along with the puppets and complete sets of costumes during Meiji period, which have been carefully preserved to this day. Among them, thirty nine of the doll’s heads, which were created by Tenngusa who was considered a master artisan, were especially highly regarded and have been designated as tangible folklore cultural assets by the prefecture. The puppet performers are also designated as intangible cultural assets by the Kihoku Town.
In order to preserve Bunraku and nurture its successors, Kihoku Bunraku Preservation and Kihoku Bunraku Kouenkai were formed and they have been actively involved in performing at schools and senior centers. They also perform with other nearby Bunraku groups every few years.
Kanmachi Houin Kagura is a music and dance performance held on the second Sunday of October each year. The performance takes place during the Mamekarasan Festival at the Inari Shrine in Toyosato-cho, Tometo, Miyagi Prefecture. The performance has been designated as an important cultural entertainment of the prefecture.
Houin, who trained in Tometo, established a kagura group and performed kagura as prayers for good harvest in the Edo period. The performance was adopted by the shrine devotees in the mid-Meiji period.
During the Mamekara Festival, Kanmachi Houin Kagura, such as Iwadohiraki, Douso, Maou and Ubuya, are performed over 8 hours as part of the shrine ablutions. A shrine ritual then takes place. Many visitors approve of the traditional splendor of kagura. The local people call it 'Mamekara Myoujin', and it is a familiar event for them.
A year was divided into 24 solar terms on the traditional Japanese calendar.
Usui is (雨水) literally meannig “rain water” is the 2nd term. It usually begins around February 19, the time when the rain changes to snow and when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 330°. In the Koyomi Binran (the Handbook of Japanese Calendar) published in the Edo period, it is written that the air gets warm and snow melts into rain water on this day.
Usui falls on the latter half of the month of tiger on the Junishi (zodiac animals) calendar. As the character representing tiger in old writing system was 寅, and it resembles 演 meaning “performing,” Usui is considered to be the time to perform something to express one’s own assertion, which arose in the previous month of Risshun.
In some parts of the country, the first strong south wind of the year blows and Japanese nightingales begin to sing. Farmers start preparing for their agricultural work around this day.
The Kitakogane shell midden is a national Historic Site located in Kitakogane Kaizuka Park in Kitakogane-cho, Date City, Hokkaido. It is presumed that this shell midden is a part of the ruins of the colony centered on the spring water in a lowland area in the early Jomon period (about 6,000-5,000 years ago).
A large number of human bones, stone implements, earthenware and tools made of bones and horns have been excavated from 5 shell mounds, the ruins of dwellings and graves. The ruin of the water place, which also functioned as the place to perform rituals, is considered to be especially precious as the only existing ruin of this kind in Hokkaido.
The shell middens and pit dwellings are reproduced and open to the public in the park. At Jomon Festival held in the early September, the park bustles with people coming to enjoy the experiences in the Jomon world.