On top of Mount Torigata in Asuka-mura, Nara, sits Asukaniimasu Shrine.
Asukaniimasu Shrine traces its origins to the mythological age when Ookuninushi-no-kami dedicated the spirit of Kanayaruno-mikoto, a guardian god of the Imperial Family, to Ikazuchinoka mountain. This is considered to be one of the holy mountains to which a god might descend. In 829, as directed by an oracle, the spirit of Kanayaruno-mikoto was transferred to Mount Torigata.
The shrine was burned down in 1725 and its structure was restored to its current state in 1781 by Uemura Ietoshi, the head of the Takatoshi Clan.
On the first Sunday of every February, an event called The Onda Festival takes place at the shrine to pray for a rich harvest and family prosperity. The festival is a religious ritual that represents life and it is one of the “Three Unusual Festivals” in Western Japan.
At the beginning of the performance, two men wearing masks of Tengu, the mythological goblin, and Okina, an old man, both holding a bamboo stick called “sasara”, begin chasing the audience around- adults and children alike, and whacking them on the behind. Once the men come back to the stage in front of the shrine, they perform the ritual of the rice harvest including prowling the rice paddy and planting rice. This is followed by the wedding of Tengu and Otafuku, representing a woman.
Hanatori Odori is a kind of sword dance handed down in Kochi Prefecture since the Middle Ages. It is a gallant dance performed to pray for good health. It is said that the dance originates in an episode in the Warring States period (1493-1573).
Once there was an impregnable castle at the top of a mountain. When a troop of warriors made an attack on the castle, the troop leader called villagers together and performed a dance with them by wielding his sword. To see their dancing, the soldiers in the castle relaxed their guard and allowed the enemy to invade into the castle.
In Tokano in Sakawa Town in Kochi Prefecture, the Hanatori Odori dances are dedicated to Shirokura Shrine and Mitsugi Shrine in early November. When the real-size straw horse is set in the shrine precinct in the morning, two Tengu with long sticks in their hands appear. Then about twelve dancers wearing flower hats and blue costumes march into the precinct through the Torii gate, walking to the rhythm of Japanese drums, who are followed by the cheerful parade of the children’s Mikoshi and Ohayashi music band.
The dancers start dancing in a circle, dynamically wielding their swords, while two Tengu walk close to the spectators and play a joke on them. Dance is continued for about 1 hour and ended with the rice throwing ritual.
Tsunaginosato Daimyo’s Procession is a traditional festival handed down in Towa Town in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. The festival dates back to 1564, when Kasai Minbunosho, the castellan of Hatooka Castle, restored Hachiman Shrine and dedicated Yabusame (horseback archery) on the festival day.
The procession is performed in the middle of September every year. At 11:00 in the morning, when conch-shell horns are blown and fireworks are set off with loud bangs, the procession leaves the shrine for going through the town.
With the leading men in formal Hakama in the lead, about 120 citizens in total join the parade, performing the roles of Yakko (samurai’s servants), the spearhead troop of cavalrymen, the magistrate of transportation, mikoshi carriers, Chigo (young children) and Ohayashi musicians. This Ohayashi music is mainly composed of Japanese gong sounds in Kyoto style, which creates a graceful atmosphere.
Occasionally, Tengu and Chinese Lion get out of line and pretend to bite children on the head, which is a magical rite for protecting children from diseases. When Yakko stop and toss to exchange the 3 meter long keyari (feather-topped lances)” in a valiant manner, which is called “Otorikae (exchanging),” the spectators along the street erupt into cheers and applause.
Osaki Hachiman Shrine in Tajiri in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, is the origin of Hachiman shrines in Hachiman in Sendai City and Furukawa Eai and Iwadeyama in Osaki City. It has an old shrine with a history of 1,000 years.
The hill continuing toward north from the shrine is thought to be the ruins of Nitta no Saku (the fortification) constructed by the central government from the Nara to Heian periods (in around 8th century). In 1057, Minamoto no Yoriyoshi and his son, Yoshiie, transferred the deity from Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in Kyoto to Tengugaoka in the northern part of present Tajiri Yawata in Osaki City and prayed for their victory before they fought with the forces of Abe Yoritoki and Abe no Sadato, which is known as “Zen Kunen no Eki” or Earlier Nine Years’ War (1051-1062). After they defeated the Abe clan, they transferred the deity from Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine and founded the three shrines in Tajiri, Izawa and Kurihara.
The shrine was faithfully revered by the Osaki clan in the later period and the shrine building was constructed in 1361, when it was renamed Osaki Hachiman Shrine. Later, at the beginning of the 17th century, Date Masamune relocated it to Iwadeyama and then to his castle town, Sendai, where he constructed a gorgeous shrine in the Gongen-zukuri style. The shrine was relocated to this place again in the later period by the Date clan.
Atago Shrine was originally found in Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture. With the relocation of the residence of Date Masamune, the founder of the Sendai domain, the shrine was also relocated from Yonezawa to Iwateyama, and finally to the top of Mt. Atagoyama in Sendai in 1591 to serve as the head guardian shrine of Sendai.
As Mt. Atagoyama used to be called Tenguyama (Tengu Mountain), the sitting statues of Otengu (Great Tengu) and Karasu-tengu (Tengu with a crow face) are placed on both sides of the main gate. They are said to be the largest Tengu statues in Japan.
The present shrine pavilions were built in 1603 by Date Masamune. Honden (the main hall) and Haide (the oratory) were designated as cultural properties of Sendai City. The enshrined deity is Kagutsuchi no Kami, the god of fire. It is said that the fire prevention festival of the shrine was held as the grand event of the castle town.
From the observatory deck set in the precinct, visitors can command a panoramic view of the Hirose River and “the City of Trees” just as Masamune did about 400 years ago.
Nen-neko Matsuri is a festival held at Konoha Shrine in Kushimoto Town, Higashimuro-gun, Wakayama Prefecture, on the first Sunday in December. The festival is designated as an intangible folklore cultural asset by Wakayama Prefecture.
Konoha Shrine is known to enshrine the deity that protects infants and the festival is based on historical anecdotes of Empress Jinguu who loved and nurtured her son. The religious ritual begins at 6 AM and visitors pray at dawn. It is followed by ceremonies related to nurturing infants and the festival ends with planting rice seeds to pray for a good harvest.
The whole ceremony unfolds at an unhurried pace. It begins with a ritual of bowing towards the sun at the sacred area which is placed on top of a stone alter and enclosed with straw festoon, which invokes an ancient festival.
Following the festival there is a demonstration of shishi-mai (a legendary lion-like creature performs a dance) which is accompanied by a fantastic acrobatic routine by children who dress as Tengu, a long-nosed goblin. The shishi-mai is very unique to the region and attracts a large audience who applaud the enchanting performance and even throw loose change.
Nen-neko Matsuri is a solemn and tranquil religious ritual.
The Grand Festival held in September every year at Kure Hachimangu Shrine in Nakatosa Town is one of the three largest festivals in Kochi Prefecture. It’s a traditional Shinto event, in which Japanese sake and rice cake made of newly harvested rice plant are dedicated to the Hachiman god in appreciation for the rich harvest in fall.
The festival dates back to the Warring States period (1493-1573), when the villagers in this area, who had been suffering from famine, had a thanksgiving festival because their prayer for a good harvest was answered by the god.
This is a festival of valiant fishermen. At 2:00 AM on the festival day, the parade of people carrying the big straw torch called “Omikoku-san” with a length of 6 meter and weight of about 1 ton starts from the festival leader’s house called “Toya” and go through the town to the shrine, where it is set on fire. The accompanying drums are hit against each other on the way, which is called “Kenka-Daiko (Drums’ Fight).” In the afternoon, the “Onabare” dance is danced to entertain the god, who has taken a short excursion to the beach.
On the first day of the festival, the front approach is lined with a lot of night stalls and the fireworks display is held at night. The precinct is crowded with townspeople and tourists including those from outside the prefecture.
Myogi Shrine is located in Myogi-machi, Tomioka City, Gunma Prefecture. The enshrined deities are Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, Toyouke no Okami and Sugawara no Michizane. It was founded in 537 at the foot of Mt. Hakuun, one of the peaks composing Mt. Myogi. The shrine had been worshipped by warriors as well as by the common people in the area. It was also deeply respected by the successive generations of the Shogun during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The present black-lacquered main hall in Irimoya-zukuri style with a copper roof and the Karamon and Somon gates with copper roofs were built in 1758. These structures are designated as national Important Cultural Properties. The elaborate carvings of dragons and Chinese phoenixes given to the buildings are said to have been done by the sculptor that worked for Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
The annual festivals are held on April 15th and October 15th. The over 200-year-old weeping cherry trees are in full bloom around the spring festival and the precinct is covered with red leaves around the autumn festival. As it was believed that Tengu lived in Mt. Myogi, visitors can get Tengu talismans at the shrine.