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.
The Shiiba Kagura dance is a Shinto ritual handed down in Shiiba Village, Miyazaki Prefecture. It is designated as a National Important Folk Cultural Property.
The worship for mountains has been practiced in Shiiba Village since the times of slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting. The Shiiba Kagura dance has been handed down in 26 sub-villages today as the prayer to the mountain god. It is performed at a private house or a shrine all through the night on one of the days from the middle of November to the end of January. The styles of the dance including the number of dances performed at a time differ from village to village.
One thing that is distinctive to this area is that people put an importance on Shogyo (the words dedicated to the gods). Since many special words to be used for gods have been handed down and used in people’s everyday life in the villages of Shiiba, words play a significant role in the Kagura dance.
Enzu-no-wari is a traditional lunar new year festival held in Miyato, Matsushima of Miyagi Prefecture. The festival includes the 'tori-oi' in the Tsukishima area of Miyato. This is a festival to pray for a good harvest, good catch of fish, family safety and success in business. The Enzu-no-wari is designated as an important intangible cultural folk asset of Japan, since it is a valuable example of an historical festival held today.
Every year, for seven days from 11-16 January, boys from 2nd grade in elementary schools and 2nd grade in junior high schools of the Tsukishima area stay at a grotto under the Isuzu Shrine. The boys eat, sleep and go to school together, and live by themselves during this period.
On the night of the 14th, all the boys visit every house in the Tsukishima area. As they walk, they strike their pine staffs against the ground chanting 'enzu-no-wari, touryouba, kasurawatte, suotsukete, enzogashimasanagase' ('When you go after the vicious bird, crush its head, and send it away to the island of Ezo').
On the next day, they wake up early and make a fire from gathered wood, then chase the birds by calling 'Ho-i, Ho-i'. The boys roast their bellies with the smoke and pray for their good health that year.
By respectfully following tradition, these children will hand down a tradition to future generations.
Mifune Festival takes place every October at Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine, one of the Three Kumano Grand Shrines, located by the estuary of Kumano River, Wakayama Prefecture. Mifune Festival, or Boating Festival, dates back an amazing 1,800 years. It is designated as intangible folklore cultural asset by Wakayama Prefecture.
The festival’s inspiration is said to come from the pirate ships of Kumano in the mythological age, and was also influenced later from the fact that technologies of shipbuilding and navigation were developed in Udonomura, a neighboring village of Mie Prefecture.
The festival is to dedicate a dance called “Hari Hari Dance” to the local deity. It starts by transporting the spirit of the deity on the portable shrine to Shinkousen Boat at the riverbed of the Kumano River , then nine speed boats leading the Shikousen Boat and Morotobune, race each other around an island three times. On the Morotobune rides the parishioner of Toritono Shrine at Udomura dressed as a seaman who swings a red painted oar and demonstrates a dance along with the rhythm of oarsmen. As he chants “Hari, Harise”, the dance became known as the “Hari Hari Dance” and the ritual has been handed down over the centuries.
The Mifune Festival is an ancient ritual that bring scroll paintings of the age of the gods alive today.
Jangara Nenbutsu-odori is a traditional performing art, which has been handed down in Iwaki City, Fukushima Pref. It is performed during the Kyu Bon period in August (Bon of the lunar calendar). The dance is designated as a city’s Intangible Folk Cultural Property. It is said that the dance originated in Yuten Shonin’s idea during the Edo period. Yuten Shonin (1637-1718), who was born in Iwaki Yotsukura and became a great Buddhist priest, made efforts to find an easy way to teach Buddhist invocation to unbelieving people of this area and guided them into reciting Namu Amida Butsu to the tune of a song. Young men in yukata (informal summer kimonos) with tucked-up sleeves dance and parade through the city chanting a Buddhist invocation to the unique rhythms of Japanese bells and drums. They visit each of the families who go through Niibon (the first Bon following the death of a family member) and pray for the dead person’s soul and console the bereaved. There are about 100 groups of such young men in the city and participate in the activities rooted in the local community. The dance movements are basically the same, but somewhat different in details. Jangara Nenbutsu-odori is a reminder of the summer in Iwaki.
Awa Dance originates in Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku, but is now performed in many locations throughout the country. Some local businessmen, who were from Tokushima Prefecture and lived in Minami-koshigaya Town, proposed to hold Awa Dance Festival in their town in the late Showa period. The 1st Minami-koshigaya Awa Dance Festival was then held in 1985 with 1,000 dancers and 3,000 spectators.
It is held for three days in August every year. Now 5,000 dancers including the dancing troupes from Tokushima Prefectures join the parade. And the town receives as many as 500,000 spectators. It became the biggest summer event of the town and is now counted as one of Japan’s three largest Awa Dance festivals, together with the one in Tokushima and another in Koenji in Tokyo.
There are many types of dances including Nagashi (dance parade) to the music of up-tempo Ohayashi, Kumi-odori (pair dance) and Butai-odori (stage dance). You can fully enjoy yourself by only spectating the parade of dancers dancing with cheerful calls of “Ya-to-se!” However, you may find yourself swinging your body to the rhythms as the song goes “You're a fool to dance and a fool to watch, so you may as well dance, ha ha!”
Oyamasankei is a festival held at Iwakiyama Shrine in Hyakuzawa, Hirosaki City, Aomori Pref. Iwakiyama Shrine was established as a Bettoji (attached temple) of Oriinomiya Shrine (detached shrine) in 1628. The enshrined are five deities including Utsushikunitama no Kami, which are collectively called Iwakiyama Oogami (Great god of Mt. Iwakiyama). There are two big festivals held at this shrine; one in spring and the other, Oyamasankei Festival, in fall. From July 29 to August 1 on lunar calendar every year, people from the same village form a group and visit the back shrine at the top of Mt. Iwakiyama to thank and pray for rich harvest. The groups of people, all dressed in white and with white Tekko (wrist coverings) and Kyahan (leggings) on, head for the top of the mountain chanting “Saigi, Saigi, Rokkon Shojo,” with the musical accompaniment of Japanese flute and drums. After praying, they spend a night at the mountain top, worship the rising sun, and climb down the mountain chanting “Batara, Batara, Batarayo, Iiyama-Kaketa.” It is said that a person who come down the mountain safely will have the good fortune.
Kito is a Japanese word meaning to dedicate a ceremony and make a prayer for the protection of gods or Buddha. In Mikkyo Buddhism (esoteric Buddhism), the Goma Fire Ritual is performed while the sacred sutras are being chanted to make a prayer to Buddha for various benefits in the present world such as recovery from illness or driving away the ill luck. In Shinto a priest invokes to a god by reciting norito prayers. Ritual forms are different according to religious sects, purposes, or what is asked for, but it is common in all rituals that they are performed in pursuit of protection, which may be true of all the religions in the world. In Japan prayers are made not only to gods or Buddha but also to one’s ancestors. It can be said that visiting temples or shrines on New Year’s Day, buying a talisman, bon-dancing, and seasonal festivals are also the act of making a prayer in the broad sense of the term. It may be very natural to the Japanese people, who grow up in the heart of nature's bounty, to make these various prayers to Shinto and Buddhist deities that coexist in their lives.