Lantern floating (Toronagashi) is a yearly Japanese ritual which takes place all over the country in August. In this ritual, people float lanterns and offerings onto the water to commemorate the souls of loved ones and ancestors.
More than 2,000 lanterns are floated onto the Otakine River running through the downtown area of Funabiki-cho, Tamura City in Fukushima Prefecture. It started in 1949 as a ritual of the Bon season to commemorate the victims of World War II. Since then it became the custom of the town and together with the fireworks display, which started in 1955, it is now the town’s typical summer event.
The lantern contest is held to choose the most beautiful lantern among the ones made by many teams of the town. The syle changes with the times, but lanterns carry away people’s continuing prayers for the souls of the deseased under the brilliant displays of the fireworks.
Masaru is an indispensable lucky charm bow toy for New Year’s celebrations in the Fukushima region. At the top of a bamboo stick is a flag inscribed with the words “Good Fortune”. Attached to a hair-string is an unglazed earthenware bell with white rabbit hari on top. When the bell is released from the top of the string, it comes down swinging and making simple yet delightful sound.
At the end of the year, people place this Masaru toy at their household altar, believing it will bring prosperity in business and a rich harvest. From the end of one year to the beginning of the next, major business streets all over Fukushima Prefecture are filled with music and the accompanying calls of “ kyonen ni masaru, fuku masaru, kawansho, kawansho (this new year will be even better than last year, bringing more prosperity. Why don’t you buy? Why don’t you buy?)”. Masaru is a boy’s name and it also means to excel or to be superior. This is why it is associated with the idea of a better year and more prosperity. Masaru also can mean “drive away evil spirits” when it is written with different kanji or Chinese characters. The rabbit hair is said to be associated with “profits”.
At major ceremonies in main shrines and temples such as a year-end fair at the Fukushima Inari Shrine, Juusan Mairi (visit to celebrate being 13 years old), at Kuroiwakokuzouson Mangan-ji Temple and for Dawn Prayer on New Year’s day at Mt. Shinobu Haguroyama Shrine, visitors flock to buy Masaru toys for New Year’s luck. The streets are filled with the pleasant sound of the Masaru bells.
Bon Dance Festival is held from August 13 to 18 in Higashiyama Hot Springs in the suburbs of Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. Higashiyama is a fine hot spring town with a lot of Japanese style hot spring inns lining along the both sides of the Yukawa River. The history of this hot spring town dates back to about 1,000 years ago, when hot springs were discovered by Priest Gyoki. It thrived as the entertainment center of the area since then and is still favored by many tourists today as the inner sanctum of Aizu.
During the festival period, a large yagura tower is constructed over the Yukawa River. A lot of chochin lanterns are hung all around and illuminate the town. A lot of citizens together with tourists and geisha ladies in yukata join the circle and dance around the yagura tower to the dance songs such as “Aizu Bandaisan” until late at night. The town is filled with up-tempo dance songs and drum beats every night. The quiet hot spring town takes on a cheerful atmosphere during the festival period.
Akihisa Kominato is a Shakuhachi player and the third successor to the head of Japanese folk music Kominato Style. He was born in 1978 in Fukushima and is the eldest son of the head family of the Kominato Style. His father is Mitsuru Kominato, a folk singer, and his elder sister is Miwa Kominato, also a singer. He started learning to sing age 5 with his father and soon began playing regularly on stage. In his teens, he studied the traditional shakuhachi playing style called Kinko and, in 1995, began studying under the late National Living Treasure, Goro Yamaguchi. Age 20, he became the third Kominato preserving the Traditional Folk Kominato Style. After graduating from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music majoring in Shakuhachi, he began performing not only Japanese traditional music but also international music such as fusion and bossa nova.
In 2004, he formed a band called ZAN featuring Japanese traditional instruments and made his debut on the mainstream music scene. With the techniques he learned through his association with folk singing and shakuhachi performance, he is pursuing new avenues of expression for shakuhachi players. Also through his involvement with other bands such as AEKA, Priest and Hannya Teikoku he is further expanding his scope and activities. He also plays overseas regularly.
Tono washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Tono-cho, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture. This paper originates in the writing paper used by samurai, who were working at Edo Yashiki (the daimyo’s residence in Edo).
Taking advantage of the clear streams of the Same River and the Iritono River, paper making had been done in this area for a long time. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Tono paper was known as Iwaki Washi paper at the market in Edo.
This paper is characterized by its softness, durability, and color; it becomes whiter across the ages. Only paper mulberry and Oriental paperbush are used as the materials. It is said that the whole processes, which are all done by hand, take about 80 to 90 hoours. The traditional manufacturing procedures of cooking, beating, forming and drying create this beautiful paper with elegant gloss.
Kami-Kawasaki washi paper is a traditional handicraft in Kami-kawasaki, Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture. It is designated as a prefecture’s Important Intangible Cultural Property.
The making of this paper dates back more than 1,000 years to the era reigned by Emperor Reizei (967-969). During the Heian period (794-1192), the paper from Kami-Kawasaki was highly valued by nobles as “the paper from the Deep North.” It is said that “Mayumi-gami,” which was praised by the famous female writers, Murasaki Shikibu and Seisho Nagon, was made in this town.
In the Edo period, the Niwa clan, the lord of the Nihonmatsu domain, promoted washi making and gave the town a license to produce paper, which led to the development of the present handmade washi paper industry.
Locally grown paper mulberry and tororo-aoi (the forming aid made from the roots of the tororo plant) are used as materials. Kami-Kawasaki washi paper has been made in the same processes and techniques of manufacture as was written in the Kamisuki Chohoki (the handbook of paper making) written in 1798.
Koshio Kagura is a traditional folk performing art handed down since the Edo period (1603-1868) in Koshio in the Ina area, Minamiaizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture. It is designated as an important intangible folk cultural property by the town.
The kagura began in 1827 as the votive performance to Ichinomiya Katori Shrine, a branch shrine of Katori Shrine, which was the highest-ranked shrine in Kazusa province (present Sawara City in Chiba Prefecture).
The repertoire includes the kagura dance, the Hyottoko dance, the Okame dance, the Shoki dance and Watonai. Presently, volunteers of Koshio Kagura Preservation Association are making efforts to hand down the tradition. Visitors can see and lean the kagura dance at the town hall all through the year.
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.