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.
Yosakoi Matsuri is a relatively new festival. It was created by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kochi Prefecture to cast off economic recession after the Second World War and was started in 1954. It was created with influence from Awa-odori (Awa Dance Festival) in Tokushima Prefecture.
In the festival, Naruko, a percussion instrument used to scare off birds in crop fields, was introduced during the dance performance and became an essential part of the Yosakoi Festival to this day.
In the beginning, the dance followed the Japanese traditional dancing style, but Eisaku Takemae, who was a noted music composer and supervised the festival music, encouraged a variety of arrangements in music and many different musical styles have started to appear. Nowadays, each team devises their own original piece with influences coming from many different genres including samba, rock, hip hop, Japanese Enka, flamenco and Hula dance, which, along with more traditional performances, greatly entertain the audiences.
The word, Yosakoi, is derived from an archaic word of Yosari Koi (Come in the evening).
Tosa Tengujo-shi, the thinnest paper in the world, is hand-made paper produced in Ino Town, Kochi Prefecture. This paper making technique is designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the national government.
Tosa Tengujo-shi was first produced in 1880 under the guidance of Genta Yoshii, the restorer of hand-filtered paper in Ino Town. The hand-made paper of Ino Town was known as “Tosa Stencil Paper” in the U.S., France and England and all the products were exported to these countries during the prewar period.
Tosa-Tengujo-shi is made from excellent quality paper mulberry from Kochi Prefecture. After cooking the material with hydrated lime, the boiled fiber is washed to remove dirt and other unwanted bodies. Then, the fiber is beaten and separated with a stick and given the process called “koburi,” in which beaten fiber is stirred and separated in a basket filled with water. Finally, the pulp is put in a vat, where a well-kneaded formation agent made from tororo-aoi (the beaten root of Hibiscus manihot L.) is added, and then it is filtered using a highly elaborate technique called Nagashi-suki (the tossing method) to distribute long fibers evenly.
The filtered paper is so thin as to be called “Mayfly’s Wing,” in which fibers area evenly entwined with one another to create beautiful and strong surface. Paper coloring techniques have been established recently, which scored a great success.
There are a lot of autumn festivals to pray for bumper catch and a rich harvest held at many shrines in Muroto City, Kochi Prefecture in October. Some unique festivals include Niwaka Drama Play at Sakihama Hachimangu Shrine, Lion Dance at Hane Hachimangu Shrine, Hanadai Float at Onda Hachimangu Shrine and Abare-Mikoshi (Mikoshi Rampage) at Muroto Ojigu Shrine.
The autumn festival at Shiina Hachiojigu Shrine is a very dynamic festival befitting to the town of gallant fishermen. This festival is known for the unique ritual of Mikoshi-Arai (Mikoshi Washing). The Shinko (the god’s travel) procession of the main mikoshi (portable shrine) and the accompanying mikoshi starts the main shrine located in Shiina Town at Cape Muroto. It parades through the town and heads for Shiinazaki Coast, where the men carrying the accompanying mikoshi go into the sea and go forward in defiance of the raging waves of the Pacific Ocean. Their struggle to hold up the mikoshi overwhelms the spectators.
After the mikoshi procession returns to the shrine, the Shiina Tachi-odori Dance is dedicated to the deity at the stage set in the oratory hall of the shrine. The dancers perform Kabuki-like dancing to the sounds of clappers beaten against the floor. They also take the gesture of “mie (holding a pose)” during the dance.
Shinane Festival is held on August 24 and 25 at Shinane Shrine, or popularly called Shinane-sama, in Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture. It is counted as one of the three largest festivals in Kochi Prefecture. Shinane Shrine enshrines Ajisuki Takanehiko no Mikoto (a son of Okuninushi no Mikoto) and Hitokotonushi no Mikoto. Since its foundation in the latter half of the 5th century, many people have prayed here for prosperity in industry, safety at sea and in traffic, curing illness and family safety.
The festival begins with the dedication of the drum and kagura dance performance on the evening of 24th. The 300 m long front approach is lined with night stalls and crowded with thousands of visitors. On the 25th, an old ritual of transferring the sacred body from the shrine hall to mikoshi (the portable shrine) is carried out in the solemn music of Shinto flute, Japanese flute and drums. After the ceremony, the mikoshi makes its sacred procession to a temporary resting spot.
As it is said that when Shinane-sama is over, the summer is over, too, the festival has become the event that tells people the turn of the seasons.
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.
Akiba Shrine Festival dates back over 200 years and is counted as one of the Tosa Tree Greatest Festivals. The festival takes place every February 11th, on New Year’s Day according to the lunar calendar.
The deity of the shrine, Hobosuna-no-mikoto, is worshiped to prevent fire. People in traditional costumes depart from three different areas; Honmura, Kirinokubo and Sawado, and finally come together at the Iwaya Shrine. The parade now consisting of more than 200 people marches toward the Akiba Shrine. The parade makes several stops on the way, performing music and sword dance routines. The portable shrine is also shaken up and down in an exciting display.
The biggest attraction of the festival is an event called “Torike-hineri” in which young men all dressed as fire fighters throw an 8kg, 7m pole with bird feathers on top to their partner over 10m away, who must leap to catch it.
At the end of the festival, the portable shrine has to be returned to the main shrine, however, permission to enter is not easily obtained and carriers have to keep shaking the portable shrine until, after several attempts, they are finally allowed to enter. During this period, street comedians liven up audiences with comical dance routines. The festival is designated as an intangible folklore cultural asset by Kochi prefecture.
Ryuga-do is a cave on the mountainside of Mt. Sanpo in Kochi Prefecture. Together with Akiyoshi-do and Ryusen-do, it is counted as one of Japan’s three largest limestone caves. 24 sub-caves including the West Main Cave, the Central Cave and the East Main Cave are intricately connected with one another. 1,000 m of the cave, which is 4,000 m in total length is open to sightseers.
At the entrance of the cave is Ryuo Shrine. Legend has it that retired Emperor Tsuchimikado, walked into the cave one day after Jokyu Disturbance in 1221, a small gold snake appeared. To see this, the retired emperor built a shrine to enshrine the spirit of the snake.
The stream that springs out of Mt. Sanpo and flows down 60 m height in the cave creates 20 large and small waterfalls inside the cave. Beautifully lit up in the dark, the waterfalls create really fantastic atmosphere.
The ruins of the Yayoi dwellings were excavated in the cave. The earthen ware “Kami-notsubo (God’s Vase)” supposedly made about 2,000 years ago is also famous.