The Kensen Ritual is performed on September 9 to 10 every year at Kashima Shrine in the Yonekura area in Osaki City, the rice producing center of Miyagi Prefecture, where famous rice brands such as Sasanishiki and Hitomebore were born.
Kensen is a Shinto ritual of offering food to the god. It is performed before a shrine priest offers a prayer. As the oldest and most historic shrine in Osaki City, this ritual had been performed by the descendants of the vassals of the Osaki clan (a branch of the Ashikaga clan, who were descended from Seiwa Genji) until the end of World War II. Today it is performed by the hands of local people.
On the first day, the first rice ear of the season is offered to the god in appreciation for a rich harvest. Then, it is followed by other rites and ends with Naorai (banquet), in which holy sake wine and votive offerings are served to the participants. The finale of the festival is the parade of Mikoshi performed on the second day. This solemn ritual is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property (manners and customs).
Hanamachi Kagura used to be dedicated to the deities at Kashima Shrine in Iinozaka in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, and it was originally called Kashima Kagura. Since Kashima Shrine was integrated with Tatekoshi Shrine in the city in 1909, this kagura dance was renamed Hanamachi Kagura. It is now performed by a private dancing group, which does not belong to any shrine.
The name Hanamachi is derived from the town name. In the old times, when the domain lord passed by the town of Iinozaka, he took in the beautiful scenery of peach blossoms along the road. The town was called Hana-machi (Flower Town) since then, and the kagura dance at Iinozaka was also called Hanamachi Kagura.
Hanamachi Kagura is a kind of pantomime to offer a prayer to deities. After the Shinto purification prayer is addressed at the beginning, the dances are performed solemnly in silence.
Chochin Lantern Festival is an annual festival held at Kashima Shrine, the headquarters of all the shrines in the Shirakawa region. The festival is held once every two years; only in the odd number year in the Heisei period (1989-present). Together with Yahiko Lantern Festival at Yahiko Shrine in Niigata Prefecture and Isshiki Grand Chochin Festival at Suwa Shrine in Aichi Prefecture, it is counted as one of the three largest chochin lantern festivals in Japan.
The present form of the festival was established in the Edo period, when Honda Tadayoshi, the lord of the Shirakawa domain, dedicated a portable shrine. The festival includes the parade of mikoshi and floats accompanied by people carrying big chochin lanterns. As is called “the ceremonial festival,” it hands down formal procedures of the Edo-period warrior class.
However, there is more than ceremony of course. The parade of thousands of chochin lanterns, which looks like a long brilliant light belt, creates a magnificent atmosphere. When the huge chochin lantern, which leads each of the 23 arrays carrying its own mikoshi, is raised high and pulled down repeatedly, a big applause is evoked among the spectators. As the festival with a history of 400 years, it is the pride of people living in the Shirakawa region.
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.
Eidai Kagura in the Sakaki Style is a traditional folk performing art handed down in the Ogame area in Tomiya Town, Miyagi Prefecture. This kagura has its origin in Aoso Kagura in the Sakaki Style handed down at Aoso Shrine in present-day Miyagino-ku in Sendai City. It is said that it was introduced to this area in 1848. Since then it has been dedicated to the deities at Kashima Atariwake Shrine, or popularly called Ogame Shrine, on the 3rd Sunday of April every year.
In this kagura dance, neither dialogues nor words are employed and everything is expressed only by movements. Dancers wear the Heian-period court dresses and hats and dance elegantly in Kyoto style. The repertoire includes 14 dances about sacred myths in Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) such as “Yamata no Orochi Taiji (Susanoo’s slayer of the eight-headed serpent)” and “Umisachihiko and Yamasachihiko.” The music ensemble is simply composed of Odaiko (a big drum), Kodaiko (a small drum) and a seven-holed Japanese flute.
There is a tradition that only the people living in the Ogame area are allowed to dance. Keeping up this tradition, the dance has been handed down to only 23 families in the area for 200 years until today. It really is a secret dance.
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.
Kashima Castle was located in Shiroyama, Kashima City, Ibaraki Pref. It was built by Kashima Masamiki in the Kamakura period (1192-1333). The Kashima clan was appointed as Sodaigyoji-shoku (general director of rituals) in 1368. Since then the family was called by this title and gained prosperity. In 1590, when the Kashima clan was destroyed by the Satake clan’s attack, the castle was abolished.
The castle ruin is located to the west of Kashima Jingu Shrine. The site of Honmaru is arranged into a large park and a high school stands on the site of Ninomaru (the second castle) now. The moat surrounding Honmaru ruins is as deep and wide as those built in the early modern periods. Many other ruins including water moats and earth works remain in the former castle area and create a dignifying atmosphere.
Kifune Festival held in Manazuru-cho, Ashigara-shimo-gun, Kanagawa pref. is counted as one of Japan’s three largest marine festivals and a designated National Significant Intangible Folk Cultural Asset. The origin of the festival is dated back to the middle of the 17th century, when people began to put Mikoshi (portable shrine) on a ship to pray for purification of fishing boats and stone carrying boats in the harbor and then carried it around the village. This old, traditional and pious festival is held on July 27th to 28th, filling the whole town of Manazuru with air of excitement. As the festival is composed of a lot of exciting spectacles such as the colorfully carved Kobaya-bune boat, Manazuru-bayashi (traditional band playing music) livelily cheering up the town, reverent Kashima-odori dance, and flower floats and Kaidenma (the towing boat) for which masculine strength is fully expressed, a lot of tourists from all over the country visit the town of Manazuru, longing for a glance at the festival. On these two days, the citizens of Manazuru all pull together to make this festival a great success.