Nishinomiya Shrine stands in the middle of Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, in the part of the city known to produce one of the highest-quality sake brands - Nadagogou. Nishinomiya Shrine is the head Ebisu shrine that presides over more than 3,500 Ebisu shrines. It is also commonly known as “Nishinomiya no Ebe-ssan”.
It is not known when the shrine was first founded, however, it appeared in a document from 1172, suggesting it already existed at that time. It was during the Muromachi Period, when the Seven Lucky Gods became widely popular and songs and plays related to them were broadly shown nationally. At that time, Ebisu, who was a deity of wealth and one of the Seven Lucky Gods, came to be known and worshiped all over the country. The Ebisu dance performed in front of the Nishinomiya Shrine is said to be the foundation of the Oosaka Bunraku and Awaji Puppet Theaters.
The Toyotomi Family and the Tokugawa Family, the subsequent leaders of Japan, also embraced and protected the shrine and Ebisu worship and, as local commerce developed, Ebisu became deeply rooted and honored as the deity of prosperity in business.
The shrine was destroyed by fire during the Second World War and restored fully in 1961. The Ooneribei wall, built during the Muromachi Period and the Omote Daimon gate in the Momoyama architectural style are designated as National Important Cultural Assets.
For three days at the beginning of each year, from January 9th through 11th, a big festival called “Touka Ebisu” is held and the shrine becomes filled with more than 1 million visitors.
Sugihara Paper is a traditional handicraft handed down for over 1,000 years in Kami-ku, Taka-cho, Hyogo Pref. Cold and clear water that springs out of the deep mountain and the severe climate with heavy snow have grown fine mulberry that is made into this paper. This craft dates back to the Nara period (701-794). Its further advanced techniques have made it possible to produce fine paper for copying mantras and thin paper. It was once listed as the most excellent paper in quality as well as in quantity in production. However, with the change of times, it was replaced by western-styled paper, and the paper making in Sugihara valley came to a period in 1925. It was in 1966 when the townspeople started to work on the preservation of this craft. They put up the stone monument at the birthplace of Sugihara Paper, and then in 1968, established Sugihara Handmade Paper Factory, where annually 700 kg of washi paper is produced with the traditional paper filtering techniques. They had revived the craft so far as to be designated as a prefectural Important Intangible Cultural Property and in 1983.
Raikoji Temple, also known as “Ajisai-dera (the hydrangea temple),” was established in around 1,000 by the priest Genken at the request of his mother and Minamoto no Mitsunaka’s wife, Honyo-ni. The priest Genken was a great grandson of Emperor Seiwa. There are 500 various stocks of hydrangea blooming all over the precinct during the rainy season. Originally 100 stocks of hydrangea were donated by Kawanishi City in 1974, when the main hall was reconstructed. Sine then the temple has been called the Hydrangea Temple and visited by many hydrangea viewers. Blue, pink, white and other brightly-hued flowers in the rain ease up the visitors mind.
Chizenji Temple worshipping Benzaiten is located on Awajishima Island. Benzaiten is the Japanese name of the goddess Saraswati, who is the goddess of wisdom and performing art and one of Shichifukujin (Sevn Gods of Fortune) in Japan. The temple belongs to Shingon Sect and the Sango (the name of the mountain in which it is located) is Daiko-zan. The time of its establishment is unknown, but its history is as long as its earliest record can be found in a copied sutra “Dainehan-kyo” written during the Nanboku-cho period (1336-1392). The main hall was built in the middle of the Edo period, where the statues of Dainyorai and Benzaiten are located. The temple is one of the Awaji Shichifukujin Pilgrimage temples and visited by as many as a hundred thousand pilgrims during the year. Especially during the winter there is a day when more than 2,000 pilgrims visit the temple. On the first prayer day to Benzaiten on January 7 and at the ritual of Sentai Jizo Nagashi (the floating of the talisman representing Jizo) held on August 23, a lot of pious visitors come to dedicate their prayers.
The annual festival of Oshio Tenmangu Shrine in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture is held on October 14 and 15 every year. It is known for the Oshio Lion Dance, which has been handed down since the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). Six lions representing each of the six districts of the town perform powerful and elegant dances, which are respectively different from one another. This traditional Shinto ritual is designated as a prefecture’s important intangible folk cultural property.
On October 14th, the float parade goes through the town in the afternoon. Then in the evening, the six lions, each of which is operated by several men and covered with black and brown long bear hair, gather together in front of the torii gate of the shrine. Their jumping and dancing draw cheers from the spectators. The highlight of the festival is the parade of lion dancers on the 15th. The six lions appear in front of the shrine and start marching through the precinct to the oratory hall. They raise their heads high and jump into the air to the ohayashi music of Japanese drums and flutes. Their dynamic dance is really impressive.
Tanba Pottery Festival is held in October every year in Konda Town in Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture. Tanba ware, handed down for over 800 years in this area, is thought to be one of the Six Old Kilns in Japan. It is designated as a Traditional Craft Product by the national government.
At the pottery festival, a great number of valuable works that are rarely placed on the market are exhibited and the festival ground is crowded with tourists. A lot of bargains are found at about 60 galleries of potters. It is a rare chance to see such a large number of pottery works at the same time. Tourists are excited to look around the array of large and small pieces of pottery.
The fair of many other specialty products of the Tanba area is also held during the festival. There are more than 100,000 tourists come to enjoy this festival both from inside and outside of the prefecture.
The autumn festival at Usuki Hachiman Shrine in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture, is one of the largest festivals in the prefecture. As it is popularly called “Chochin Festival,” the most attractive feature is the lantern parade and “Chochin-neri.”
On the first day of the two-day festival, more than 1,000 lantern-carriers gather and head for the shrine. Each holds a lantern hung from a 3-meter long bamboo pole and walk slowly along the front approach, guarding the mikoshi (portable shrine) procession. When they get to the Sakura-mon Gate, they suddenly bump into each other to try to tear down the others’ lanterns. The spectators are excited by the violent atmosphere created by the clanging sounds of bamboo poles beaten hard against one another, the lantern-carriers’ vigorous shouts and the sights of lanterns burning and falling to the ground. By the time the mikoshi enters the precinct, it is said, all the lanterns are burned down and only the poles remain.
On the second day, the parade of 18 mikoshi-floats goes through the city, during which the float carriers raise the float high up into the air, at the sign of the powerful call, “Chosa!” In the shrine precinct, various performing arts such as Lion Dance are dedicated to the deities.
Dekansho Festival is a Bon dance festival held in the middle of August in Sasayama City, Hyogo Pref. With the hope of preserving and passing down various local Dekansho-bushi songs in the Tanba Sasayama area, the festival was first held in 1952 on the riverbed of the Sasayama River. Dekansho-bushi song, to which Dekansho Dance is danced, is said to have originated in “Mitsu-bushi,” which was sung around the end of the Edo period by the people from Sasayama, thinking of their hometown. In the later periods, it was sung with various lyrics and spread all over the country. At the present time, the festival is held in the field of the Sannomaru (the third castle) ruin, where people dance in multiple circles around a large yagura tower at the center. The highlight of the festival is the vigorous “Yagura So-Odori,” in which even the people coming from outside the prefecture join the circle dancing to the ohayashi music and the refrain of “Yoi-Yoi-De-Kansho!” If you want to have one more summertime memory, why don’t you join it?