Yakunin Taue Odori (Yakunin Rice Planting Dance) is open to the public at the summer festival of Johgi Nyorai Saihoji Temple in Okura, Aoba-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, on July 6 on the lunar calendar every year. It is designated as a prefecture’s folk cultural property as a precious traditional folk performing art that has been handed down in a community. It is said that a mountain practitioner named Genso from Kyoto taught this dance to the people in this area in 1833.
The word “yakunin” used for the name of this dance indicates “to play a part.” In the Yakunin Taue Odori dance, the part called Yajuro is supposed to be a half-ogre man, and the head of Yajuro plays a part of the god of rice paddy. He wears a hikitate eboshi cap (a cloth cap pulled upright) with the sun and moon marks and a junbaori jacket with the kanji charcters representing Emperor Jinmu (Japan’s first emperor) on the back and join the rice planting dance danced by women dancers called “Saotome,” exchanging the words of compliment and responses with each other.
The words uttered by Yajuro and the song and movements of Saotome dancers are typical to this rice planting dance, which can’t be seen in any other similar dance in the country.
Hanauma Festival is held on October 3 every year at Itsukinomiya Shrine in Nagiso Town, Nagano Prefecture. It has served as the annual autumn festival to pray for a rich harvest of the year for 400 years. The townspeople walk through the town from Tadachi Station to the shrine, accompanied by the music of drums and Japanese flutes played by local elementary school children. With them are three horses decorated with five-colored paper on long narrow strips of bamboo.
After the parade arrives at the shrine, the people walk around the precincts three times. Then the people in the parade as well as the spectators rush upon the horses and compete with one another to snatch the decorations, which are supposed to be ears of rice and are believed to have the power to get rid of evils and keep insects away. These decorations are then placed in the footpaths between the rice fields or at the entrances of houses.
This festival was designated as the town’s intangible cultural property in 1993 and was introduced at the closing ceremony in Nagano winter Olympic Games in 1998.
The site of the Uheyama rice terraces, located in Mikata, Hyogo Prefecture, was chosen as one of Japan's 100 Top Rice Terrace Sites in 1999 (Heisei 11). A rice terrace is a rice field made in a stair-like pattern on the slope of a hill.
As you come along Route 482, Uheyama rice terraces are on the right, beyond the sign to Yoshitaki Campsite, with the mountain range rising up behind them.
Uheyama rice terraces are most beautiful in autumn, when the golden ears of the ripening rice blow in the wind. In early summer, the water channeled into the rice fields reflects the mountains beautifully, while in high summer, the growing rice creates a green carpet. In this way, you can enjoy scenes of the rice terraces changing from season to season.
Such sights as these represent an original landscape of Japan that helps make people feel in tune with nature.
The Ishibe cherry tree is named for Jibudayuu Ishibe, one of the senior statesmen of the Ashina clan, and the feudal lord of the Aizu clan during the medieval era. The cherry tree used to be Ishibe's favorite tree in the private garden of his residence.
Today, Ishibe's residence is no more, but the tree can be seen from far away among rice fields. The tree has eight different trunks branching from a single base trunk, and blossoms faster than the Somei-yoshino cultivar because it is of the Edo-higan variety.
The trees blossom from mid- through late April and the view of the tree in full blossom is truly a sight to see. The Ishibe cherry tree is one of the five great cherry trees in Aizu, which include the Sugi-no-ito cherry, Oshika cherry, Tora-no-o cherry, and Haku-boku cherry, and is said to be around 600 years old. It has been designated a Natural Treasure by the city of Aizu-wakamatsu, and also has been designated a Green Cultural Treasure by the Fukushima Prefecture.
Ryoai rice terrace was selected as one of Japan’s 100 Fine Rice Terraces in 1999. The total agricultural land with an area of 4 ha consists of 120 pieces of rice terraces. These terraces spread on the steep slopes on the both banks of the Takisada River, which is one of the feeder streams of the Amari River and runs between the villages of Takisada and Kobira in the southeast part of Amari Valley in the southern part of Innai-cho, Usa City, Oita Pref. As the paddies are built on a narrow strip of land and the slope is very steep, terraces are retained with stonework. As it is really painstaking to work on a rice terrace, both villages are facing the problems of depopulation and ageing. The villagers are still practicing the traditional farming method of Kakeboshi (method of drying rice stalks to harvest the grain) and unite efforts to preserve this excellent landscape. The stone-made Ryoai Bridge over the Takisada River provides a nostalgic scene. A lot of tourists and photo manias visit this rice terrace during the rice-planting or harvest seasons.
Shika-no-shima island is located in Higashi-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka Prefecture. It is a tombola island in the northern part of Hakata bay, and features two small islands connected by a bar of land. The island is approximately 11km in circumeference, with some 790 households and a population of about 3000. A tombola-form island such as this is very rare in Japan.
In 1784, two farmers harvesting rice on the island came across the golden seal of the Kan-no-wanona-no-Kokuo. It is thought that the seal was the same one referred to in the Chinese book 'Gokanjo' (the 'Book of the Later Han'), which was said to have been handed to the messenger of Nakoku from Kobutei (Emperor Guangwu).
Not only is the 'Gokanjo' a very important historical artifact, it is also a valuable national treasure. This golden seal reveals the early history of Japan, and is currently preserved and exhibited at the Fukuoka Museum. However, it is still unknown why the golden seal was buried on Shika-no-shima. One thing, however, is understood: that Shika-no-shima was the starting point from mainland Japan for overseas trade by the early rulers of the country. It is an ancient place and site of many historic incidents.
The burial complex at Tsukuriyama Kofun consists of an enormous key-hole shaped tomb mound, the Tsukuriyama burial mound and six small to medium sized burial mounds to the west. It is the largest burial complex in Okayama Prefecture, and the 4th largest in the country with a total length of 350m, a key-hole diameter of 200m, height of 24m, and frontal length of 215m. It is designated as a National Historic Site.
The mound is estimated to have been completed toward the end of the 5th century, and judging from the size and formation of the site, it is probably the royal burial mound of a king who ruled the Kibi region during the first half of the 5th century.
The six small to medium sized mounds next to the main mound are said to be the tombs of the king's trusted vassals. Bearing in mind other enormous burial mounds nearby, such as Sakuyama Kofun (located in Soja City), Ryounomiya Kofun (located in Sanyo City), it can be well said that ancient Kibi was an enormous and powerful kingdom capable of opposing the Yamato Kingdom.
Located in Kiwa, near Kumano in Mie Prefecture, Maruyama Senmaida is a beautiful group of terraced ricefields that have been designated among Japan's 100 most beautiful.
The word 'senmaida' means 'thousand-layered small ricefields'. There are over 1300 terraced fields; some reputed to be so small that farmers are heard to say, 'I found the field I lost, it's here under my bamboo hat'.
A while ago, depopulation had reduced the number of ricefields to nearly 500, but thanks to the local population combining efforts with Kiwa-cho and the adoption of an owner-system, the number of ricefields is back to what it used to be.
The narrowest field is only two tatami-mats wide, and the elevation difference between the lowest and highest terrace is nearly 100m. It is impossible to use machines because of the steep incline of the terraces. Therefore every single blade of rice is reaped by hand.
There are many steep rice terraces in Japan, but Maruyama Senmaida leads in beauty and in its state of preservation. It can be said that these rice terraces literally comprise a scene of peaceful interaction between humans and nature.