Sushikiri (sushi-cutting) Festival is held at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Sazukawa-cho, Moriyama City, Shiga Pref. on May 5 every year. This shrine originates in a small hall built in 715. The deities enshrined here are Toyoki Iribiko no Mikoto and Niikawa Kotatehime no Mikoto. There is a legend that Toyoki Iribiko no Mikoto, the eldest son of Emperor Sujin (97-30 B.C.), crossed Lake Biwa on a raft and landed on this village on his way to conquer the East. The ritual of Sushikiri is said to originate in the salted crucian carp that the villagers offered to the prince. In the Sushikiri ceremony, two young men slice up funazushi (crucian carp sushi) and dedicate them to the god in accordance with ancient ritual. After the ceremony, the dances called “Kanko no Mai” and “Naginata Odori” to the Japanese traditional ohayashi music called “Sanyare” is performed. The ritual of Sushikiri is a nationally selected Intangible Cultural Property.
Kemari is an ancient football game in the Imperial court in Japan. It is said that kemari came from China during the Yamato period about 1,400 years ago. There are no winners or losers in this game because the objective of the game is simply to pass the ball to fellow players.
In Kagawa Prefecture, Hono Kemari (the kemari offering) is held at Konpira-gu Shrine on May 5th and July 7th (Tanabata Kemari) and in the middle of December (Osame Kemari), among which the ones in May and July are open to the public.
The kemari game is played in a sacred court called “Mari-niwa.” When a team consisting of six shrine priests and shrine maidens wearing colorful costumes called Mari-suikan and Mari-bakama appear in the Mari-niwa court, the High Priest performs a ritual to release a ball from a branch of paper mulberry. Then the players start playing the game, shouting “Ariya!” as they control the ball, and “Ari!” as they pass it on to the next player.
During the Tango no Sekku (Boy’s Festival) period in Kochi prefecture, a large flag called “Furafu” is set out with Koinobori (carp streamer) and Nobori (banner). The word “Furafu” is said to have come from a Dutch word “vlag (pronounced as fu-la-fu)” meaning a flag. All the steps in making a Furafu are done by hand. The largest Furafu is about 4 m in length and about 7 m in width, while even a smaller one is about 2 m in length and about 3 m in width. It is a gallant and beautiful decoration. The patterns drawn on Furafu are lively boys that appear in fairly tales like Kintaro or Momotaro, gallant warriors like Toyotomi Hideyoshi or samurai fighting in the Battle of Kawanakajima, and lucky designs like Shichifukujin (Seven Deities of Good Fortune) or Takarabune (treasure ship). Those Furafu are given to a boy as a present from his parents or relatives. Colorful Furafu flying in the clear sky of May give cheerful atmosphere to the towns in Tosa.
Boy's Festival is held each year on 5th May to pray for a boy's growth. It is otherwise known as Tango or Shobu seasonal festival.
On the tango day, on the 5th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar, which was supposed to be the day when spring moved into summer, people in China and Japan prayed for their health and drank sake made of shobu (calamus: a medical herb). This is the origin of Boy's Day.
In the Kamakura period, shobu (calamus) doubled in meaning with the homonym for shobu (respect for samurai). Hence armor and shobu dolls were used as decoration and people prayed for the health of boys and their success as samurai.
Offerings on Boy's Day include rice cakes wrapped in in oak leaves. The significance of this is that oak will not wither until a new bud appears, which is a symbol that the family also will not die out.
Colorful carp banners are set in gardens. This comes from parents' wishes for their son's success. The carp are a symbol of success. In folk belief, carps swam up rivers until they reached a waterfall, where they transformed into dragons. Carp festivals are held in many places and the festival Carp Banners On the River by the Shimanto River in Kochi Prefecture is especially popular with over 500 carp banners flying over the river.
Many kite-flying activities take place during the Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival. The Yokaichi giant kite is designated as an intangible folk cultural asset.
Yokaichi giant kite-flying started 300 years ago in the mid-Edo period. Kites were flown to celebrate the birth of a boy. For this reason, kite-flying is similar to the display of koinobori on Boy's Day, an important event in Japan. Nowadays, over 100 kites are flown, and they are even flown to celebrate a young person's coming of age.
Yokaichi giant kites are designed with 'hanjimon otako', which features pictures of fishes and birds in the upper section with words written in red to illustrate meanings. This kite, in a sense, is rare because it has cut-out sections that help to diminish resistance from wind. Flying these giant kites involves balancing the strength of the strings with the size of the kite.
The Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival is held annually on the 4th Sunday of May in Aichi-gawa.
The Japanese koi carp is native to central Asia and claimed by the Chinese to be the representative of all fish species.
According to the legend of the 'Touryuumon (Climbing Dragon Gate)', of all fish, only the koi was able to swim up the Yellow River to the 'Ryumon (Dragon Gate)', where it would receive divine powers and transform into a dragon. Due to this legend, the koi has always been treated as a joyous fish for celebrations. The decoration of houses with colorful carp banners during the Boys' Festival in May is also due to this legend.
Notes on the breeding of koi as an ornamental fish have been found in the 'Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan)'. They reveal that koi have been raised as ornamental fish throughout the ages.
In addition, koi are vigorous fish and are highly nutritious, best eaten by women who are recovering from childbirth or having trouble producing breast milk, and also by people who have heart or respiratory diseases.
Formerly, koi were said to be of a higher rank than sea-bream and fundamentally necessary for celebratory feasts, but due to the saying that the pelvic fins of the koi have powers to stop childbirth, the fish was deemed taboo for marriages.
There have been theories that Japanese koi were once imported from China, but wild koi have been found in Lake Biwa, proving they are also native to Japan.
Yukio Minamikawa is an Edo Oshie Hagoita craftsman, and was born in 1929 in Sumida-ku, Tokyo.
In 1945, Minamikawa became involved in the production of 'hagoita' (battledores) under the instruction of his father. After that, he began making not only hagoita, but decorative items for himself to be shown at annual fairs held in May and March.
Every year, Minamikawa makes hagoita with a portrait of the symbolic person of each period. He makes hagoita for the Asakusa Hagoita Fair, held from 17th to 19th December, as well as dolls for May and March seasonal festivals.
He says: 'For the customers who are looking forward to my work, I will continue to make joyful hagoitas.'
Minamikawa is a director of the Tokyo Tori-no-Ichi Hagoita Association, a deputy director of the Tokyo Hina-doll Industry Association, and a president of Ayame-kai. In 1997, he was designated as a Tokyo Traditional Craftsman of Katsushika-ku.
Hashimoto Yakichi shouten is a craft studio that has for many years hand made koinobori or carp-shaped streamers. The studio opened in the 14th year of the Meiji period and now, as the third master, Takashi Hashimoto makes the koinobori. Hashimoto Yakichi shouten is the only studio that makes koinobori by hand in the Saitama prefecture Kazo area. Kazo is the foremost area for koinobori production in Japan. There are reasons for making koinobori by hand. The first reason is thata handcrafted koinobori ha an original "feel" that makes it different from a machine-made one. In addition to the special "feel", a hand-made koinobori uses special pigments that do not discolor easily. Moreover, a hand-made koinobori is made of nylon and not cotton because when it is raised, it looks more powerful. On the other hand, the studio's principle is "Changing tradition slightly is one way to maintain tradition". From this belief, the studio has been successfully creating koinobori that fit the demands of present-day society, in addition to the "bushuu" koinobori that have been continuously made since the studio was founded. Animated and powerful koinobori will be seen flying this year again, in many parts of Japan.