One of the major highlights of summer in Miyajima is the Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival held on August 14 every year in the offing of Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima, one of Japan’s Three Finest Views. More than 100 water fireworks are shot up into the air from the fireworks boats offshore and burst with a bang.
It is famous as a unique fireworks display, and spectators enjoy this fantastic night view from more then 500 boats offshore. Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site, is famous for its Otorii (Grand Gate) standing in the Seto Inland Sea. A lot of photographers, both professionals and amateurs, are eager to take pictures of the vermillion torii gate and shrine buildings fantastically lit up in the night sky.
“Isaribi” is a Japanese term for fishing lights, or fish attraction lights, seen from the shore. In modern Japan, it usually refers to the lights of cuttlefish fishing boats seen during the summer.
During the harvest season, the horizon is lined with brilliant fishing lights. Dozens of lights look like jewels illuminating the dark surface of the sea and create a really fantastic sight.
Many people feel the coming of summer when they see isaribi on the horizon. Isaribi look beautiful on fine evenings of course, but they create an even more mysterious, or dreamy, atmosphere on the misty evenings.
The custom of Sharabune Okuri (Ship Send-Off) has been passed down in the Mita and Urago areas on Oki-Nishinoshima Island in Shimane Prefecture. Sharabune literally means “a boat for the spirit of the dead.” This tradition is unique to Nishinoshima and is the highlight of the Obon festival every year.
Early in the morning on August 16, children load the boats with gifts for the spirits of their deceased ancestors; then tow the boats out to sea, singing the song of Obon to send off the spirits. Local people watch calmly on the piers.
Constructed of straw and bamboo, the boats are colorfully decorated with strips of colored paper, on which prayers such as “Namu Amidabutsu (meaning “Homage to Amida Buddha) are written. The sight of the colorful boats gently floating on the blue sea toward the offing is beautiful but elegical. In time, the boats disappear in the far distance.
In the old times, each family built a small boat of its own, but from the Meiji period (1868-1912) and onward, a larger boat is made by a hamlet in the village. The replica of the boat is displayed at the Municipal Museum of Nature and Folk Culture.
Kouchi Festival takes place at Koza, Kushimoto-cho, Wakayama prefecture on July 24th and 25th each year. It is also known as “Mifune-matsuri”, or Boating Festival, and is held on the banks of the Koza River. The festival is designated as an important intangible folklore cultural asset by the Japanese government.
The festival dates back to the Gempei War in 12th century when the naval forces of Kumano who fought for Genji Clan celebrated their victory at Kouchi Shrine. The festival replicates the triumphal return of the military force.
Three boats decorated with vividly colored battle cloth, mizuhiki paper strings, spears, halberds and lanterns enter the river after the opening ceremony at the Koza Shrine and slowly move up to Seisho Island where Kouch Daimyoujin, the local deity, is enshrined. The boat takes two days to reach the island and therefore all prayers and offerings take place on the 25th.
Shishi dances are demonstrated in the town and an exciting boat race called “Kaitenma Kyousou” is undertaken by junior high school students further enchanting the crowd.
Tenjiku Shrine in Tenjiku Town in Nishio City, Aichi Prefecture, is the only shrine in Japan which enshrines Niihadakami, the god of cotton.
In 799 in the early Heian period, a Tenjiku-jin (Indian) drifted ashore to the beach of Nishio with cotton seeds. He lived in a village, which was later named Tenjiku Village, and gave the villagers the cotton seeds as a token of his appreciation. Unfortunately, the seeds did not grow well due to the climatic conditions, but Tenjiku Village is considered the birthplace of cotton in Japan.
After his death, the village people had worshipped his portrait as Koso-shin (the god of cotton). In 1883 in the Meiji period, when a shrine was to be founded in this village, people created the name “Niihadakami” for the god of cotton and enshrined it as their guardian god.
In Menso-sai held in October every year, local people carry boat-shaped portable shrine called Funa-mikoshi, reenacting the scene of the god’s drifting ashore. Also, the traditional rite of Watauchi (cotton beating) is performed by priests. The shrine is crowded with visitors including people from the cotton industry.
Iwafune Festival is held in order to pray for safety at sea, a bountiful catch and for good business. It is a dynamic festival befitting to the fishery town of Iwafune in Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture. It is designated as a prefecture’s intangible Cultural property.
The festival starts with the beats of Saki-daiko (the leading drum) at midnight on October 19. Then Saki-daiko goes around the route of the parade three times in the early morning to purify the way of the god’s excursion.
The shrine deity is loaded onto the magnificent vermillion multi-lacquered Ofune-sama (boat) at the shrine gate and carried to the Otorii Gate accompanied by Mikoshi, Tamayari and the float carrying a sacred horse. When the parade gets to the torii gate, Ofune-sama is loaded onto “Ofune-yatai (the Ship float),” which is joined by eight other floats called “Shagiri.”
Then the parade led by Ofune-sama Shagiri goes through the town accompanied by ohayashi festival music and the festival folksong, “Kiyari-bushi.” The Shagiri parade continues until late at night when the deity of the shrine finally carried onto the back mountain behind the shrine. The round voices of Kiyari-bushi singers echo through the town filled with autumn colors.
Kawagoe Festival, which takes place every October in Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, is a majestic festival with 350 years of history.
Kawagoe had a prosperous trading relationship with Edo, present day Tokyo having Shinkawagishi River as a vital shipping route, and was once called “Ko-Edo”, or little Edo. Kawagoe Festival is known as an important religious event that carries on the traditional Edo style festival to this day.
Its origin dates back to 1648 when Matsudaira Isunokami Nobutsune, the lord of Kawagoe Clan at the time, presented gifts of a portable shrine, the head of a Shishi lion, and drums amongst other items, to Hyoukawa Shrine, the head shrine of Kawagoe, at the shrine’s festival.
The most popular attraction of the festival is “Hikkawase” in which all twenty-nine portable shrines, made by craftsmen in Edo and Kawagoe, compete performing music and dance when they pass each other parading through the town. It’s an energetic performance with an upbeat tempo, and performers’ lively shouts generate great excitement leading up to the climax. Most of the portable shrines are lacquered black and red colors with some gold in parts. They are decorated with detailed sculptures carved on keyaki trees. Ten of those shrines were made during the Taisho period and are designated as tangible folklore cultural assets by Saitama Prefecture.
Okazaki-juku was the 38th of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). It was in current Okazaki City in Aichi Prefecture. The town of Okazaki was the castle town of the Okazaki domain enfeoffed with 50,000 koku of rice. Located at the point where the Yahagi River and the Otogawa River confluent, the town was also the waterway transportation center in the area.
The town was arranged into the present form by Tanaka Yoshimasa, who was enfeoffed with Okazaki Castle in 1590. He changed the route of the Tokaido Road, which had run in the outskirt of the town, and let it run through the town. Furthermore, he made so many right-angle bends in the road as to be called “27 Bends” to protect the town from enemy attacks. The construction took as long as ten years. Today there is a stone monument showing how this bending road is running through the town.
In the Edo period, the Okazaki domain was specially treated by the Tokugawa Shogunate as the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the successive domain lords were selected from Fudai daimyo (hereditary vassals of the Shogun).