Ise Ookagura is a theatrical dance in the Shinto religion. The dance troupes traveled around remote areas for those who could not visit and worship at the Ise Shrine. The history of Ise Ookagura dates back more than 600 years.
The performance is composed of two elements: “dance” from shishi-mai dance and “music” called houkagei, which later became known as Daidougei or street performance.
Ise Ookagura starts with a slow and elegant bell dance, followed by the Shiguruma Dance and the humorous Leap Dance, in which Sarutahiko (a monkey boy) jumps around a sleeping shishi lion.
The houkagei music performance has a wide repertory, including the Music of Ayatori (“cat’s cradle”) in which performers manipulate wooden poles freely and the Music of Plates, in which performers do dish-spinning tricks with long poles, to pray for a rich harvest. Between the performances, houkagei performers and a clown act comically together. The performance then finishes with Rankyoku music.
Ise Ookagura was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Asset by the Japanese government in 1983. Ise Ookagura, which originally started with 12 troupes, is still preserved by a handful of troupes that travel around Japan to pass down their historical culture to future generations.
Owase wappa is a traditional handicraft in Owase City, Mie Prefecture. It was widely used as a lunchbox by common people in the Edo period (1603-1868). Located in a part of ancient Kii province, which was called “Country of Tree,” Owase was known as a production center of high quality lumber. Owase wappa is made of wood from locally grown Japanese cypress trees. This lunchbox has been and is still favored not just because it is beautiful but because it is so durable as to be used for scores of years and its lacquer coat has bactericidal effect. As it is contrived to vent the air inside, it keeps food warm in winter and prevents rot in summer. In the making of Owase wappa, it is impossible to mechanize any one of the processes, so the manufacturing processes of as many as 45 different stages are all done by hand even today.
Kameyama-juku was the 46th of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1686). It was in the eastern part of current Kameyama City in Mie Prefecture. The town thrived as a post town and a castle town as well. There are a lot of historic sites such as the ruins of Kameyama Castle including the ruins of Edoguchi-mon Gate and Kyoguchi-mon Gate and the site where the Ishii brothers gained revenge.
In Ando Hiroshige’s “Kameyama” of his “The 53 Post Stations of the Tokaido Road,” he depicted a procession of a feudal lord ascending a steep hillside, under deep snow among the trees, to the entrance to Kameyama Castle. The brightness of snow is wonderfully expressed in this monochromatic ink painting, but at the same time we can’t help realizing keenly how hard it was to make a journey in those days.
Presently, there are many historic constructions remaining in the town. These remnants of an ancient castle town include a temple, which used to be a part of the castle compound, old samurai houses, and the right-angled streets.
Tsu fireworks display is held in Akogiura Beach in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture in late July every year. First held in the Edo period, it has changed its form with the times. Although it was discontinued during World War II, it was revived from 1950 onwards.
Taking advantage of the location, distinctive methods of shooting up fireworks are employed here. Numerous starmines are shot up one after another in a very short time from the boats, which float right in front of the spectators’ seats, keeping the safe distance. They are not only gorgeous but overwhelming itself.
The most spectacular display is “Kaijo-jibaku Hanabi (the offshore self-burst fireworks), in which ball-shaped fireworks are thrown into the sea one after another from the boat running at full speed and they bloom into large circular shapes and spread colorful petals all over the sea surface. You will never forget the beauty of their rich colors like peacocks spreading their tails.
Ise-katagami is a Japanese traditional handicraft handed down for about 1.000 years in Mie Prefecture. Kkatagami is Japanese paper stencil patterns for kimono. Kimono stencil has been called Ise-Katagami because it was made primarily in Ise province (present-day Mie Prefecture) and the stencil paper making was protected by the Kishu domain in the Edo period (1603-1868) as the industry of the domain’s outland territory. They were sold all over Japan by itinerant traders called Ise Merchants.
Ise kimono stencil is made of Japanese washi paper with a persimmon stringent liquid, onto which elaborate and elegant kimono patterns are hand-carved. They are mainly used for dyeing kimono such as Yuzen, yukata and Komon. Today they are also used for drawing patterns on pottery ware, glass ware, and goza-mats as well as for the background mon-gara patterns for newspaper names.
Itoire (literally meaning “thread insertion”) is a technique employed in the making of Ise-katagami (paper stencil patterns), which is a traditional handicraft handed down in Mie Prefecture. Ise kimono stencil is made of Japanese washi paper with a persimmon stringent liquid, onto which elaborate and elegant kimono patterns are hand-carved.
In the case of patterns such as stripes, where there are substantial spaces between the uncut areas of the stencil, threads are fixed to the stencils to strengthen them and prevent movement during use, which technique is called “itoire.”
As itoire is an elaborate technique to require a long period of training and painstaking efforts, successors of this technique are decreasing in number and the technique using silk gauze (called “sha-bari”) are now replacing it. The itoire craftsperson Mie Jonokuchi was designated as a Living National Treasure together with 5 other Ise-katagami craftspeople in 1955; regrettably all have passed away now.
Shono-juku was the 45th of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1686). It was in current Suzuka City in Mie Prefecture. It was in 1601 when Tokugawa Ieyasu embarked on the improvement of the existing inland trail from Edo to Kyoto as the Tokaido Road; however Shono-juku was designated as a post station in 1624, the year when the improvement was completed. As it was less than 4 km to the next Ishiyakushi-juku and people usually took other routes from the forked point in Hinaga in the east and Seki in the west, the town was rather deserted. Furthermore, most of the travelers who passed by this town only took a rest and did not stay here. For these reasons, the management of the post town was in a slump and the Shogunate decreased the number of workers and horses for official use from 100 to 50 respectively. Contrary to its unprofitable operation, the painting “Shono” by Ando Hiroshige is one of the most popular paintings in his “The 53 Post Stations of the Tokaido Road.”
Sakashita-juku was the 47th of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). It was located in the western part of present Kameyama City in Mie Prefecture and at the eastern foot of Suzuka Pass, which was in the border of present Mie and Shiga Prefectures and was a famous choke point of the Tokaido Road, being ranked with Hakone Pass.
The post town was originally located near Katayama Shrine right at the foot of the pass. However, as the town was destroyed by the avalanche of rocks and earth caused by the flood of 1650, it was moved to the present place. With a large inns including the honjin (exclusive to daimyo and nobilities) and the sub-honjin lining along the road, the town was so thriving as to be sung in a magouta (packhorse driver’s song), which meant “Otakeya, the honjin, is too prestigious for us, commoners, but I wish I could stay at Kotakeya, the sub-honjin, at least.”
Once, Ando Hiroshige, a famous Ukiyoe painter in the Edo period, painted a picture of the town after the relocation. In this picture, Hiroshige successfully expressed the steepness of Mt. Fudesuteyama (literally meaning “giving up a paint brush mountain”), which had been named after the episode that a master painter of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), Kano Motonobu, threw away his painting brush because he could not express the beauty of the mountain.