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.
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.
Suwa Shrine is located in Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture, and it is also commonly known as Chinzeitaisha. This shrine is the main shrine in Nagasaki that honors the Suwa, Morisaki and Sumiyoshi Deities.
During the Koji Period (1555~1557), a part of the holy spirit of the deity at Suwa Shrine in the Shino region was transferred to a newly-built Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki. Oomura Sumitada, the local lord, who had been converted to Christianity, however, had donated the City of Nagasaki to the Society of Jesus and so he destroyed almost all the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in the city. In 624, due to the efforts of Aoki Kensei, the chief priest of a shrine in the Hizen Karatsu region, the Suwa, Morisaki and Sumiyoshi Shrines were all combined into one shrine. It was in 1648 that this shrine was built at its current location. It was destroyed by fire in 1857, but it then restored in 1869 after 10 years of rebuilding. The shrine became as we see it today in 1984, when major repairs were done to commemorate its 360th anniversary.
The Suwa shrine was affectionately called “Osuwa-sama” by the locals and every autumn it holds the Nagasaki Kunchi Festival, one of the Three Greatest Festivals in Japan.
Namura Shrine in Ayado in Ryuo Town, Shiga Prefecture, is a historic shrine and a treasure trove of cultural properties since most of the structures of the shrine are nationally designated as either a National Treasure (NT) or an Important Cultural Property (ICP). The origin of the shrine is not clear, but, as many Kofun (ancient Imperial tombs) have been discovered in the area, it is considered that this shrine was originally founded to enshrine the spirits of ancestors.
The Romon gate (ICP) has the impressively huge thatched roof. The wooden statue of Fudo Myoo (ICP) is enshrined in the Fudo Hall in the precinct, which is the reminder of Shinbutsu Shugo (the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) practiced until the end of the Edo period (1868).
The main hall, Nishi-Honden (NT), was constructed in 969 to enshrine the deity Kunisazuchi no Mikoto, who had resided in Mt. Kongo in Yoshino in Yamato province (present-day Nara Prefecture). The old shrine located on the opposite side of the road is the east shrine, Higashi Honden (ICP), which enshrines Okuninushi no Mikoto and Susanoo no Mikoto.
Namura Shrine is the head shrine of all the branch shrines in 33 adjacent villages; hereby the Grand Autumn Festival is held once every 33 years.
Tono Festival held in the middle of September every year is an annual autumn festival of Tonogo Hachimangu Shrine in Tono City, Iwate Prefecture. During the festival, visitors can enjoy various local performing arts that have been handed down in the Tohoku region, which is said to be the treasure trove of Japanese folk performing arts.
On the first day, the parade of performing artists such as the troupes of deer dancing and the Nanbu-bayashi musicians march through the town. The collaborative stage of various local performing arts including a kagura-dance is held in town.
On the second day, the Yabusame (horseback archery) in the Tono Nanbu style is dedicated to the deities. It is said that Yabusame in Tono was first dedicated about 400 years ago by the Nanbu clan, who were descended from the Seiwa Genji branch of the Minamoto clan. The scenes of valliant warriors having their horses run around the 220-meter long riding ground erupt into cheers and applause from the spectators.
Toyoma Fall Festival is held on the 3rd weekend of September every year in Toyoma Town in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. It has been handed down for over 300 years, serving as the annual festival of Toyoma Shrine, which houses the guardian god of the town.
On the eve of the festival on Saturday, archery rituals such as the Hikime ritual to drive away evils by shooting arrows and the Oomato (big target) ceremony are dedicated to the god. From 5:00 in the evening, Toyoma Takigi-Noh (Noh by the light of torches), a prefecturally designated folk cultural property, is performed at Mori Butai, the Noh theater and museum.
On the main festival day on Sunday, the parade of about 13 festival floats, warriors, the beautiful women Yosakoi dancers and Chigo (young children in ancient costumes) go through the town to the music of Toyoma-bayashi played by children. The floats are handmade and pulled by the members of sub-town associations. About 13 floats participate in the parade every year. Each float is decorated with a huge paper-mache doll such as a fierce tiger, a bubbling crab, or the characters from “Journey to the West.” Everyone in town enjoys this biggest event of the fall.
Ome Taisai, or Ome Grand Festival, is held in Ome City, Tokyo on May 2 and 3 every year. It is one of the largest traditional festivals in the Kanto region. After the Shinto ritual performed at Sumiyoshi Shrine in the city on April 28, twelve festival floats go along the Ome Kaido Avenue on parade. In the Edo period (1603-1868), mikoshi (portable shrines) were carried through the town, but later in the Meiji period (1868-1912), some local communities that organized the festival bought the floats, which had been used for the famous Tenka Festival in Chiyoda City, Tokyo.
The highlight of the festival is “seriai,” an aggressive performance shown by floats as they go by each other on a parade. The excitement comes to its peak as characteristic “kenka-bayashi,” in which ohayashi musicians on the floats compete with each other by beating Japanese drums and bells passionately. During the festival period, the entire city is filled with a festival atmosphere.
Hie Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Nagatacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. The enshrined deoty is Oyamakui-no-kami, the god of Mount Hie in Shiga prefecture. It is said that when Ota Dokan constructed Edo Castle in 1478, he erected a Sanno-Hie Shrine in the compound for a guardian deity of the castle. When Tokugawa Ieyasu was enfeoffed with Edo (present-day Tokyo), he relocated it to the grounds of Edo Castle, and worshipped the deity as the protector of Edo. The citizens of Edo also had strong faith in Hie Shrine as the founding god of their town. In 1607, when Ieyasu’s son, Tokugawa Hidetada, planned to make improvement on the castle, he moved the shrine out, so the people of Edo could worship there.
Sanno Festival held in June every year is one of the three great festivals of Edo; the others are Kanda Festival at Kanda Shrine in Chuo-ku and Fukagawa Hachiman Festival at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in Fukagawa in Koto-ku. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Sanno Festival and Kanda Festival were also called “Tenka Matsuri,” which means the Shogun’s Festival, because the festivals were protected by the Tokugawa Shogunate and the festival processions were allowed to enter the grounds of Edo Castle for the Shogun to view them.
The high-spiritted Edokko (natives to Edo) would have said, “Sanno Festival is too refined, isn’t it?” Any way, why don’t you try experiencing one of these great festivals of Edo, if you have time?