Himatsuri (the fire festival) of Toba Shinmeisha Shrine in Hazu Town in Aichi Prefecture is known as one of the most extraordinary festivals in Japan, which annually takes place on the second Sunday of February (Traditionally held on January 7th on the old calendar). The exact origin of this festival is unknown today; however, it is estimated that it dates back about 1200 years. It was designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 2004.
Two large torches called “Suzumi,” which are about 5 m tall, are built at the centre of the precinct on the eve of the festival. Inside each massive pile are “Shinboku (holy tree)” and 12 ropes representing the 12 months of the year.
At around 3:00 P.M. on the festival day, the two “Shin-Otoko (holy men),” the men at unlucky age of 25, and the two teams of men, consisting of the residents of the local Toba area and divided into the West “Fukuji (the prosperous land)” and the East “Kanji (the dry land)” run into the ocean to purify their body and mind in the ice cold water.
The festival reaches its climax at around 7:30 in the evening, when the two Shin-Otoko light a fire at the top of the two torches with the traditional “Hiuchi-ishi (fire-striking stone)”. When the torches become great bonfires, the Shin-Otoko and the helpers bravely jump into the flame. The men desperately compete against each other until they take the holy tree and the 12 ropes out and offer them at the altar of the shrine. The sheer sight of brave men is simply overwhelming.
The purpose of the festival is to forecast the climate and the harvest of the coming year. It is said that the victory of the “Fukuji” ensures rain and a good harvest in the mountains, while, if the “Kanji” wins, there will be famine and disaster.
The Rebun Waterfall is on the southwestern coast of Rebun Island to the west of Wakkanai City in Hokkaido and Japan’s northernmost island. Not being included in the representative sightseeing routes, the Rebun Waterfall is located in one of the unexplored lands on the island.
The trekking route to the waterfall is wonderful. First you start from the ferry terminal in the southeastern part of the island. Go toward the north along the Rebun Woodland Path and change your direction to the west on your way. The exquisite scenery of clear streams and the flower valley, where alpine flowers first come into bloom on this island, make you stay your steps and you will forget that you are heading for the waterfall. Take a leisurable walk for a while and enjoy viewing flowers in the valley, and you will get to the steep slope. Then go down along the small river until you get to the western coast.
There, you will find the Rebun Waterfall gently flowing down to the ocean. You may be able to see seagulls flying away from the top of this 20 m tall waterfall. The volume of water changes from time to time, but it is always fed by abundant water of this island. Note that the trail along the coast is closed now because of the danger of falling rocks.
Izaki Pole Diving is a Buddhist rite held on the 1st Sunday of August every year at Izaki Temple in Shirao Town in Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture. Izakiji Temple located at the tip of the small peninsula protruding into Lake Biwa is a temple belonging to the Tendai sect. It is said that the temple was founded in the Teikan era (859-877) by Priest Gyoki.
Pole Diving is a Buddhist rite, in which people dive into Lake Biwa from a 13 meter pole that sticks out under a cliff about 7 meters above the water level of the lake. It is said that this rite dates back about 1,100 years ago, when Konryu Daishi of Mt. Hiei trained himself at this temple. He would often threw an empty bowl down to a fishing boat passing below the temple and asked fishermen for charity, and then he dived into the lake to retrieve it.
It is performed to pray for getting rid of bad luck and also testing for participants’ courage, which is a vestige of harsh ascetic training performed by Tendai monks. The spectators on fishing boats on the lake erupt into cheers and applause when gallant young men dive into the lake with splashes of water in the strong sunshine.
Shodoshima Peacock Garden is a bird garden located near Ikeda Harbor on Shodoshima Island in Kagawa Prefecture. As many as about 1,000 peacocks stroll on the ground of the garden. Peacocks, or to say correctly “peafowl,” are the birds in the pheasant family, mainly inhabiting in China and the southeastern Asia. Peafowl are most notable for the male's extravagant display feathers, which are flared out to get the female’s attention.
We rarely see peafowl flying, but in this peacock garden, visitors used to enjoy the Peacock Flying Show, in which a unit of peafowl few away and back in time to the music. It was said that there was no place in the world that could rival in training such a large number of peafowl. However, the show has been discontinued since 2003.
You can also see flamingoes and many other rare birds collected from all over the world. There is also an aquarium offering a panoramic view of fish next to the bird garden. This is a suitable place for a family vacation.
Fireflies used to be seen everywhere in the country, but now we only have few opportunities to see this delightful insect due to the drastic changes in our environment. Fireflies, which fly around emitting pale light, are beetles of the family Lampyridae in the order Coleoptera. Although the larva may overwinter for two or three seasons before metamorphosing into adults, it lives for only ten days after reaching adulthood.
The activities to protect and preserve firefly habitats have been done in many areas in Kagawa Prefecture. The water ways dedicated to the protection of fireflies are constructed in some area. Therefore, you can see Genji-botaru (Luciola cruciata) and Heike-botaru (Luciola lateralis) in many places. Some of the famous firefly viewing places include Kandani Shrine in Sakaide City and the area around the Koto River in Takamatsu City. Some towns hold Firefly Festival in June.
Fireworks are displayed at Shinoda Shrine on May 4 every year for the shrine’s annual festival. This tradition dates back to the Edo period, when villagers made fireworks using potassium nitrate and dedicated the fireworks display to the deity in token of their gratitude for rain.
The fireworks displayed here are the Japanese traditional gimmick fireworks. Sulfur, potassium nitrate and paulownia ashes are mixed together and applied onto the patterns drawn on the cedar board, which is 15 m tall and 25 m wide. It takes more than 1 month to make these fireworks. The patterns are selected from the topics of the year.
At 7:00 P.M., when the Japanese drums are powerfully beaten, the people carrying a large torch come into the shrine precinct and set it up on the ground. At the moment the fireworks are lit at 9:00 P.M., the precinct is covered with smoke and blaze. Small fireworks are shot up in rapid succession with explosive sounds, while swirling fireworks beautifully illuminate the precinct. When they are burned down, fantastic picture fireworks come up among vanishing smoke.
Shinoda Fireworks Festival, Sagicho Festival and Hachiman Festival are generically called the Fire Festival at Omi Hachiman Shrine, which is selected as a national Important Intangible Cultural Property.
The fire festival is held on the 2nd Saturday of January every year at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Moriyama City in Shiga Prefecture. On the same day, another fire festival is held at Katsube Shrine in the city. Both are prefecturally designated as intangible folk cultural properties.
The festivals are based on the story dating back about 800 years. When Emperor Tsuchimikado fell into a critical condition, it turned out that the illness was caused by a huge centipede living in Mt. Mikami. Then Fujiwara no Hidesato shot three arrows at the same time and they hit the huge centipede. Its head fell into the precinct of Sumiyoshi Shrine, the body into Katsube Shrine and the tail onto the ground near Karahashi Bridge in Seta village. The parts of the body were burned down at the places they fell; hereby the festivals are held at the two shrines.
On the morning of the festival day, the Shinto ritual and the arrow shooting ceremony are held at the shrine. Then the huge straw torch is brought into the precinct by men in loincloth in the evening. The torch is about 6 m long and weighs about 40 kg.
The men set the fire to the torch and dance wildly around the blazing fire with the powerful calls of “Heiyu! Heiyu!” which means “May an illness be cured!”
“Amahage” held in Akaishi area in Konoura, Nikaho City, Akita Prefecture, and Mega area in Fukura, Yuza-machi, Akumi-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, is a traditional folk event that is similar to nationally famous “Namahage” in Oga area in Akita Prefecture.
Amahage in Akaishi area in Akita Prefecture is held on Lunar New Year to pray for the health and well-being of the family. The event has been handed down in this village for over 250 years. The two boys selected from the fifth or sixth grade elementary school pupils play a part of Amahage. They apply black ink on their faces, get dressed in straw coats and visit every house in the village, beating Japanese bells and drums and singing. When they enter the house, they jump 15 times in front of the family altar to purify it. Then they make a request for 5 mon (Japanese old currency) of money or 1 sho of Japanese sake, and tasty rice cake
Amahage in Mega area in Yamagata Prefecture is held on January 3rd every year. A group of men wearing the masks of ogres or old men and the straw coats called “Kendan” visit every house in a village to admonish people not to be lazy and encourage being diligent. Amahage are thought to be the messenger of the god to get rid of the evils and bring happiness. Unlike Namahage in Oga, Amahage masks have gentle expressions. This Amahage is a nationally designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.