The Shinjo Festival has been handed down in the city of Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture since 1756, when Tozawa Masanobu, the 5th lord of the Dewa Shinjo domain, carried out a festival at the Tenmangu shrine located in the castle area to pray for rich harvest. It is said that the people in the domain, who had suffered from famine and epidemics, were revitalized by this festival and able to have a hope again.
Today, the festival is held for three days in August. On the eve of the festival, the parade of floats depicting famous scenes from Kabuki plays and historical picture scrolls create a magical atmosphere of light and shadow when the lights are lit at night. Another feature of the festival is the Mikoshi Togyo Parade on the main festival day. There is also a floats parade on this day. On the 3rd day, floats are displayed in the central part of the town.
The Deer Dance is dedicated to Tozawa Shrine and Gokoku Shrine in the castle ruins site on the 3rd day to pray for rich harvest of the year. It is designated as an intangible folk cultural property of the prefecture as a dance mocking an antelope, which is rarely seen in the country.
In the middle of the Heian period, Minamotono Yoriyoshi visited Yamagata region in order to resolve the Battle of Abe Sadatou and Munetou. Foundry craftsmen accompanying Yoriyoshi discovered that the sand in the Mamigasaki River running through Yamagata City and the soil around Chitose Park were suitable for the iron casting process, and some of these people stayed and started production. This was the beginning of Yamagata iron casting.
It is reported that in 1356 when Shibano Kaneyori came to Yamagata and built Kasumiga Castle, nine local foundry men were ordered to make iron castings and offer their work to him.
In 1615, Seikichi Shouji, one of the nine most recognized craftsmen in Dou-machi, after visiting Kyoto to research the casting business there, invented “tatara”, a fan device that could be operated by foot. With this revolutionary device, the technology of Yamagata iron casting was established.
Around 1938, Dou-machi had forty production houses with about eight hundred workers. Both sides of the main street were mostly occupied by these manufacturers, continuously producing practical goods such as hibachi, tea kettles and Buddhist alter fittings.
In 1974, with continued prosperity, Do-machi, which had been the center of the casting industry for a long time, became too small to accommodate the flourishing businesses, and they were transferred to a new industrial complex called Yamagata Casting Industry Danchi in Imono-cho. The following year, Yamagata iron casting was recognized as a traditional art by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
“Amahage” held in Akaishi area in Konoura, Nikaho City, Akita Prefecture, and Mega area in Fukura, Yuza-machi, Akumi-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, is a traditional folk event that is similar to nationally famous “Namahage” in Oga area in Akita Prefecture.
Amahage in Akaishi area in Akita Prefecture is held on Lunar New Year to pray for the health and well-being of the family. The event has been handed down in this village for over 250 years. The two boys selected from the fifth or sixth grade elementary school pupils play a part of Amahage. They apply black ink on their faces, get dressed in straw coats and visit every house in the village, beating Japanese bells and drums and singing. When they enter the house, they jump 15 times in front of the family altar to purify it. Then they make a request for 5 mon (Japanese old currency) of money or 1 sho of Japanese sake, and tasty rice cake
Amahage in Mega area in Yamagata Prefecture is held on January 3rd every year. A group of men wearing the masks of ogres or old men and the straw coats called “Kendan” visit every house in a village to admonish people not to be lazy and encourage being diligent. Amahage are thought to be the messenger of the god to get rid of the evils and bring happiness. Unlike Namahage in Oga, Amahage masks have gentle expressions. This Amahage is a nationally designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Chanoyugama, or tea kettle, is a traditional artwork and occupies an important position in the world of the tea ceremony. Its significance is evident as people say “put a kettle on” to mean to hold a tea ceremony.
80% of the tea kettles are said to be produced in Yamagata Prefecture and this traditional iron casting was designated as a traditional art by the Ministry of Economic Affair in 1975.
Casting and tea kettle making in Yamagata dates back to Heian period when Minamotono Yoriyoshi visited Yamagata during Zen Kunen no Eki Battle (1058~1064). He accompanied foundry craftsmen who discovered that the soil around Mamigasaki River running through the Yamagata City was suitable for the casting process. Some of these people stayed and started production.
The vessel is characterized by its coarse, rough surface. The traditional techniques that create a rough surface such as Monyoou-oshi, Hadauchi and Kinkidome have been handed down, and the tea kettle which has a simple appearance yet exhibits an imposing presence, is still produced in large numbers.
Hidetoshi Matsubara is considered the last falconer in Japan who hunts with Mountain Hawk-eagles and Golden Eagles, the largest raptors in Japan.
Matsubara was born in Aomori Prefecture, 1950. After graduating from Keio University with a major in Oriental History, he was compelled to live in nature and become a falconer. Later he became an apprentice to the late Asaji Kutsuzawa who was a noted falconer and lived in Mamurogawa Town, Yamagata Prefecture. Mr. Matsubara became independent after one year and moved to a hut in a mountainous region of Mamurogawa. He shared his life with falcons and led a self-sufficient existence for eight years until he moved to Asahi-mura and lived there for the following six years. In 1996, he came down from the mountain with his family and moved to Tamugimata in Tsuruoka City. Still today, he continues hunting with Mountain Hawk-eagles and Golden Eagles. Falconry is allowed only during winter (from the end of December to the middle of March) so Mr. Matsubara works as a mountain guide to Gassan Mountain, Asahi Mountain Range and Iide Mountain Range from Spring through Fall. He is also an active educator giving regular lectures and talks on falconry as well as working as a teacher at a nature school.
There are many legends about Yoshitsune and Benkei in Mogami district. The 'Yoshitsune Story', supposedly written in the Muromachi period, relates that when Yoshitsune was being hunted by his brother Minamotono-no-Yoritomo and was heading for Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture, he passed through Mogami district in the third year of the Bunji period (1187).
The district around Semi hot springs has many legends and traces about Yoshitsune's masters and servants. For example, the Koyasu-Kannon deity is supposed to have overseen the birth of Kamewakamaru, Yoshitsune's child.
The name 'Semi' has several possible origins: one is that it derives from 'Semi-maru', Benkei's long-handled sword; another is that it derives from 'no-crying semi (cicada)', the nickname of Kamewakamaru, who was reputed to have never cried, even when he knew that he was a son of a fleeing warrior. A third possible source is that it is named for a wounded cicada that was resting on a tree and curing itself in the steam from a nearby hot spring.
There are many tourist attractions in Semi, Mogami, that relate to Yoshitsune and Benkei, such as Yagen Hot Water and Benkei's Inkstone that Beinkei was supposed to have used.
Sakata Matsuri is an annual festival that takes place at both Kamihie and Shimohie shrines in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, from May 19 to 21.
The festival has taken place every year for close to 400 years, since the 14th year of the Keicho era. Formerly, the festival was called Sanno Matsuri, but in Showa 54 it was renamed Sakata Matsuri as a festival for all citizens.
On the night before the festival, a traditional dance called Shikidai-no-Gi is performed. The symbol of Sakata, shishito (lion heads), appears in both male and female form during this festival. In addition, local citizens carry floats around the city. Many stalls line the roads and the city takes on a festive mood that recalls its former glory as a port city. Sakata Matsuri is an event brimming with local color.
Uesugu Festival is held annually in the castle town of Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture. This large-scale spring festival is sponsored by Uesugi Shrine, which enshrines the founder of the Uesugi clan, Kenshin Uesugi, and Matsugasaki Shrine, which enshrines the 2nd generation Kagekatsu Uesugi and 10th generation Youzan Uesugi.
Each year from April 29 to May 3, Matsugasaki Park, the site of the festival, is lined with stalls and overflows with visitors. Wives from every household work diligently yet cheerfully in the kitchen preparing a feast, gathering aralia nuts and cooking sea bream according to traditional custom. A group of dancers numbering no less than one thousand dressed in an array of colorful costumes dance the Hanagasa-odori across the city.
On the final day the famous Battle of Kawanakajima is reenacted with more than 700 men and horses participating in the fight between the Uesugi and Takeda armies, acting as if it is a real battle.