One of the cultural assets remaining on Shodoshima Island is the Noson Kabuki, or Farmers’ Kabuki. Each village used to have its own stage or theatre built in the precinct of its shrine. Of these stages, only two remain intact even today; at Rikyu Hachimangu Shrine in Hitoyama and Kasuga Shrine in Nakayama. Both stages are nationally designated as Important Tangible Folk Cultural Properties.
This theatrical tradition dates back some 300 years. In the Edo period (1603-1868), farmers in Hitoyama Village were suffering from drought. The head of the village, Ota Izaemon, spent as many as three years of time and all his own funds to construct an irrigation pond (Kaerugo-ike Pond). When villagers first saw water came flowing into the ditch beside the shrine, they were so glad that they planned to celebrate this feat by putting Kabuki plays on stage. They built a tentative theater in the shrine precinct and invited a Kabuki troupe. This was the beginning of Kabuki plays in Hitoyama.
Later on, the villagers, taking advantage of their accessibility to the Kansai region, began to perform Kabuki plays themselves by taking in some performing arts from Osaka areas, which led to the development of the rural Kabuki on the island, especially from the Meiji through Showa periods.
To the south of the famous 365 stone steps that lead to the Daimon Gate of Kotohira-gu Shrine in Kotohira-cho, Kagawa Prefecture stands the Old Konpira Oshibai Kabuki Theater, which is popularly called “Kanamaruza.” As the oldest existing Kabuki theater in Japan, it was designated as a national Important Cultural Property in 1970 and moved to the present place in 1976, when it was restored to the original form with a large amount of funds including government subsidy.
Since its original construction in the Tenpo era (1830-1843), Konpira Oshibai Kabuki plays at Kanamaruza Theater were enthusiastically seen by pilgrims to the Kotohira-gu Shrine, for entertainment was extremely scarce in those days. The theater was comparable in size to those in big cities such as Edo, Osaka and Kyoto. It is said that all the nationally famous actors were eager to perform at Kanamaruza, which proves that Kotohira was prosperous as a gateway town.
The Shikoku Konpira Oshibai has been performed at Kanamaruza since 1985, and the revival of the Kabuki performance has attracted a great deal of interest from all over the country. When no performances are held, the inside facilities of the theater are open to sightseers.
A long and steep approach way continues from JR Kotohira Station to the Main Sanctuary of Kotohira-gu Shrine halfway up Mt. Zozusan in Kotohira-cho, Kagawa Prefecture.
Since the Edo period (1603-1868) up to the present time, the pilgrimage to Kotohira-gu Shrine, or familiarly called Konpira-san, has been a pleasure for Japanese people as well as that to Ise Shrine. Lined with souvenir shops and eating houses, the approach way to the shrine is always bustling with visitors. To the south of the stone steps stands the Old Konpira Oshibai Kabuki Theater “Kanamaruza,” where pilgrims to the Kotohira-gu Shrine enjoyed kabuki plays in the days when entertainment was extremely scarce.
The approach way has the famous 365 stone steps to the Daimon Gate and further 421 stone steps to the Main Sanctuary. Passing through the Daimon Gate and climbing up further, you will at last get to a grand shrine building. But don’t make haste. It’s not the Main Shrine yet. It is a sub-shrine, Asahi-sha, which is famous for the episode that once Mori no Ishimatsu, a famous yakuza of the Edo period, mistook it for the Main Shrine and dedicated the sword that he was entrusted by his boss. There area many historic buildings including the Main Shrine a little further ahead of it.
Men Buryu is a traditional mask dance handed down in the southwestern part of Saga Prefecture including Kashima City. Although the styles of dances differ from town to town, they are mostly performed at autumn festivals in each area. It is said that the word “Buryu” derives from “Furyu School,” a school of lion dance handed down since the ancient times.
Men Buryu dance is a kind of ritual performing art that is dedicated to pray for abundant harvest and rainfall. Wearing Furyumen, a mask looking like a demon, over the face, an indigo happi-coat with bold patterns and white momohiki-pants and dangling a small drum from the neck, the dancers dance fiercely to the sounds of Japanese flutes, drums, and gongs.
According to one theory, the dance originates in an old story that during the Warring States period (1493-1573), the lord of this area made his soldiers wear masks of a demon or a Chinese lion and Shaguma (a wig of long horse hair usually made of wool or hemp) on the head when they went to war. Then the soldiers made a night attack on the enemy while beating drums and gongs and gained a victory.
However, another theory states that Furyumen mask was contrived to get rid of the evil spirit that damaged the crops and to pray for rich harvest. To be sure, their brave dances are powerful enough to get rid of the evil spirit.
Kashizaki Hoin Kagura is a traditional folk performing art handed down in Kashizaki in Monou Town, Ishinomaki City Miyagi Prefecture. It is designated as a prefecture’s folk cultural property.
Hoin Kagura was a genre of the traditional kagura dances performed by the Shugendo practitioners as a part of their ascetic training. Its artistic charm fascinated village people and it became a popular event at the festivals of local shrines when entertainment was scarce.
After the Meiji period, young village people began to perform the kagura dance themselves. As entertainment was still scarce, the dramatic element of Hoin Kagura attracted attention of villagers and it rapidly spread all over the country.
According to word of mouth, Kashizaki Hoin Kagura originates in the kagura performed at Kashima Shrine in Kami Town during the Horeki era (1751-1763). The repertoire includes mythical stories from Kojiki (the Records of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki (the Chronicles of Japan). The music ensemble is composed only of one drummer and one Japanese flute player. The main feature is Himemai (literally meaning “princess dances”) performed by male dancers acting female roles. The elegant dancing of mythical goddess delights the spectators.
A furo is a bathtub with hot water, or a place with a flow of hot water where you can warm and clean your body.
In ancient Japan, furo were simple bathing places with a flow of water. The origin of furo comes from 'yokudo', which were imported with Buddhism from China. Priests would cleanse their bodies in yokudo.
The present style of hot-water bathtubs began in the Edo period. The introduction of public baths at this time meant that they became popular places where people could meet, too.
In other parts of the world, stream baths and ablution are popular, too, although in Christian countries, taking baths did not become so common until the 19th century.
In the Shinto culture of Japan, washing is an important process to cleanse the person of sin. In addition, for many reasons such as climate and health, people love to bathe. Even today, hot springs and public baths are very popular.
Naoshima-onna-bunraku is a form of traditional puppetry that has been designated as an intangible cultural asset of Kagawa Prefecture.
It dates back to the Edo period from its beginnings on Naoshima island in Kagawa Prefecture. Naoshima island is in the Seto Inland Sea, near Shikoku, the smallest and least populated of Japan's four main islands. Naoshima is close to Okayama Prefecture on the mainland in Honshu.
During the Edo period, the fiefdom of the lord of Naoshima (of the Takahara clan) was confiscated, falling under direct government control. The new Edo government lifted prohibitions on entertainment for the public. Entertainments thrived, including Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater where performers wear elaborate make-up) and Noh (classical Japanese drama). The Naoshima-onna-bunraku originated from a form of puppetry, at this time, called Ningyo-jyoururi, in which dolls performed to shamisen music. However, during the Meiji period, bunraku puppetry on Naoshima lost popularity and eventually died out.
However, during the Showa period, the art of Bunraku here was revived and restored by three women, and since then only women have performed Bunraku.
While playing the shamisen, three women maneuver one doll or puppet and narrate a story. Bunraku is indeed a tradition of great substance in Japanese culture.