Fire Festival held at Matsuzawayama Komyoin Temple in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture, is a festival that brings the tradition of Shugendo to the present day. Marumori Town is located in the southernmost part of Miyagi Prefecture. The town is surrounded by the Abukuma mountains and blessed with bountiful nature. This quiet town boasts a lot of historical and cultural heritage.
The fire festival held at Komyoin Temple on April 29 every year is a Shugendo ritual, in which mountain practitioners and worshippers walk through the burning fire to purify their sins, evil deeds, diseases and bad luck. The ritual is said to have been introduced by the mountain practitioners in Mt. Chokai.
When the sun set in the evening, the Goma fire stage built at the center of the purified zone is set on fire and glowing flames blaze up into the night sky. The Goma fire is surrounded by mountain practitioners, who sit still and chant mantras.
When the fire burns down and ashes are flattened, the mountain practitioners start to walk on the burning ashes. After that, general worshippers walk on the ashes. As it is dangerous, they walk in complete seriousness.
Manzai is a comical performing art handed down since the Heian period (794-1192). It is said that Mikawa Manzai originates in a funny dance performed by the priest Genkai about 500 years ago. During the Warring States period (1493-1573), when common people were suffering from exhausted conditions of the country, Genkai performed a funny dance to encourage people.
Later, when Genkai moved to Hasebe Village in Mikawa province (present-day Aichi Prefecture), the local lord, Matsudaira Chikatada asked the priest to perform the prayers to prevent soldiers from being shot by an arrow and Manzai Shugen (cerebration dances). Receiving the protection from the lord, Chikatada, Genkai was given premise in the village, which was named Basso Village. Genkai taught many people how to perform Manzai and produced many good Manzai performers.
Protected by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Manzai performance of Mikawa spread all over the Kanto region, bringing the words of cerebration and laughter to people. Mikawa Manzai of Anjo was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property in 1995 by the national government.
Ankoku-ji is a generic name for temples which were built by Ashikaga Takauji under his grand plan of creating one temple in each provincial state following the earlier example of Emperor Shoumu who built Kokubun-ji temples.
Most of Ankoku-ji still remains today and this Ankoku-ji in Oozaki City, Miyagi, is also one of sixty six Ankoku-ji temples build under the plan.
While Kokubun-ji were built to pray for each state’s achievements in culture and education, though having the similar basic concept, Ankoku-ji differs slightly as they honor the fallen soldiers since Genko War and pray for the peace and security of the nation.
Ankoku comes from word “Ankokurijyou” meaning to make the nation peaceful and safe, and save all mankind and create prosperity. With this vision and its respect for all dead soldiers, Ankoku-ji are temples designed to unify Japan.
Miyagi Ankoku-ji was destroyed several times by fire during military conflict but since then it was rebuilt by Date Tadamune, the lord of Sendai Clan, in 1760. It remains intact to this day.
The principal image of Buddha in the temple is a wooden Amidanyorai statue, which is designated as a Miyagi’s cultural asset. Along with the other sixty five temples scattered in the nation, Miyagi Ankoku-ji watches over worldly life.
Flower Festival at Shiogama Shrine in Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture, is an annual festival of the shrine held on the 4th Sunday of April every year. As the festival is held during the cherry blooming season in the Tohoku region, it began to be called “Flower Festival.”
The origin of the festival dates back to the Anei era (1772-1780), when a severe flood attacked the region and farmers suffered from a bad harvest. It is said that when the villagers offered a prayer to the deity at Shiogama Shrine for a good harvest, they had good weathers and a rich harvest in the next year. To express their appreciation, they held a festival and the mikoshi (portable shrine) parade in 1788.
On the festival day, 16 shrine laymen called “Yocho” in white costume carry the mikoshi and walk through the city. During the procession, the carriers do not utter a single word and just walk in a solemn manner exposed to quiet Gagaku music (Japanese court music) and flattering cherry petals.
The travel of deity has been handed down to the modern generations for over 200 years without impairing its magnificence.
Yanaizu Kokuzoson is a temple in Tsuyama-cho Yanaizu, Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. Together with Fukuman Kokuzoson at Enzoji Temple in Yanaizu-machi, Fukushima Prefecture and the one at Shokoan Temple in Yanai City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, this Kukuzoson is counted as one of Japan’s Three Finest Kokuzoson.
Yanaizu Kokuzoson was founded in 726, when Priest Gyoki, who had been traveling all over the country preaching and carrying out civil engineering works, visited this place and carved out the image of Kokuzo Bosatsu, praying for peace and stability of the country. The temple is widely known as one of the few most historic temples in the Tohoku region.
The Grand Festival held from 12th to 13th in April and October every year is visited by a lot of worshipper from inside and outside the prefecture. It features the meal serving ritual called Kenzen Procession and the Goma fire ritual.
At noon, a procession of the priests and the temple laymen carrying trays with delicacies from sea and mountains leaves the Kuri (priests’ quarters) for the main hall to dedicate a meal to the principal object of worship, Kokuzo Bosatsu. After the procession, the Goma fire ritual is performed, in which a lot of Gomagi (prayer sticks) with people’s written prayers for family safety, traffic safety and passing entrance examinations and so on, are burned with holy fire. All the attendants quietly offer their prayers to Bosatsu.
Enmei Kaja is a kind of the Okina (a holy old man) masks. It expresses a rich laughter with like other Okina masks but has no separate jaw part. It looks more like a male mask with young impression created by thinly drawn beard and big dimples.
As “Enmei” means “to prolong life” and “Kaja” means “an adult male,” Enmei Kaja is a man with a virtue of prolonging life. This mask is used for tsure (the companion of shite) in “Junitsuki Orai” scene of the play “Okina,” while the Chichi-no-jo mask is used for shite (the main role). The role with this mask is considered as a son of Chichi-no-jo. Enmei Kaja is sometimes used for shite in the play “Sagi.”
Like other Okina masks, it has the remnant of the Heian and Kamakura periods, when Noh had not yet been established in the present form. Enmei Kaja is a mask with people’s prayer for long life and family ever-lasting prosperity.
The Hashihime mask is used in the play “Uji no Hashihime (Bridge Princess).” In the story, a woman, whose husband had abandoned her and married to another woman, gets enraged by jealousy and goes to the Kibune Shrine, where she petitions the gods to turn her into a demon so that she can have revenge. She is told by the shrine priest that if she wears a red kimono, paints her face red, puts on an iron ring with burning candles on her head and has the flame of rage in her mind, she will be able to become a demon. She does as she is told, and then her ex-husband begins to suffer from a nightmare. When he consults an Onmyoji about his dream, he is told that he will be killed by the woman’s deep grudge on this night. Astonished with this oracle, he asks the Onmyoji to offer a prayer, when the living spirit of the jealous woman taking on the form of the demon appears and tries to take him away. The mask used in this scene is the Hashihime mask. Expressing the jealous mind and worldly karma that a woman bears, the mask has the pale forehead with lines of bursting veins, the clenched teeth, and the eyes slanting upward. It has a furious but somewhat sorrowful countenance.
The Yoshihara Family Residence is one of the historic residences in the region. It served as a residence for successive wealthy farmer family, the Yoshiharas, who were the descendants of Fujiwara no Kamatari and moved from Kyoto. It is designated as a National Important Cultural Property in 1991.
From the talisman preserved in the family, the main house was supposedly built in 1635. It is the oldest farmhouse in Yosemunezukuri-style (a square building) with a thatched roof. The large main house includes six rooms and the doma (the earth floor space). The large doma space is supported by the double beam system without using any pillars.
The interior of the house is provided with every luxury imaginable for a farmhouse of the time. The velar-cut figure of the thatched kirizuma (gabled) roof remains in the original beautiful form. The nure-en (a shallow veranda) at the back of the house gives a touch of old Japan. The Yoshihara Family Residence is reminiscent of good old days in Japan.