Obake no Kinta or Kinta the Ghost is a folk toy that originated in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture.
The toy consists of a head with a string in the back of it. When the string is pulled, Kinta rolls his big round eyeballs and sticks out his tongue. A bamboo spring is concealed in his head which, when pulled, triggers the eyes and the tongue to move at the same time. Kinta with his red face and a black conical hat makes a striking impression on small children and he often scares them a little. He is a popular toy among adults, however. The most important process in making this toy is the making of the bamboo spring. The quality of this spring determines the quality of the toy.
When Kato Kiyomasa built the Kumamoto Castle, there was a popular foot soldier named Kinta who had a funny face and who was good at making people laugh. He was affectionately called “Clown Kinta”. The Kinta the Ghost toy was said to have been created during the Kanei era (1848 ~ 1853) by a doll maker, Hikoshichi Nishijinya, who started making mechanical toys based on stories about Kinta. Because of his unique action, Kinta the Ghost was also known as the Goggle-eyed Doll.
Hassaku Festival is a historic festival handed down in the Yabe area in Yamato Town in Kumamoto Prefecture since the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868). Hassaku means the first day of August‚ according to the lunar calendar. This festival is to thank the god of rice paddy and to offer a prayer for rich harvest. This is also the day when farmers make out a schedule for harvesting.
The main event of the festival is the parade of huge creations made by neighborhood teams. Each team works out an elaborate plan and makes the object mainly using natural materials such as bamboo, cedar, pampas grass and palm bark. Collecting materials is a hard job, but everyone is eager to join the making in hope of obtaining the first prize in the contest. A lot of tourists come to see this spectacular display of the creations.
Temari is a traditional Japanese thread ball that was used as a toy ball for children. While playing with the ball, children used to sing a temari song. The most loved of these temari songs was “Antagata dokosa” which came from Higo Temari, traditionally from Kumamoto Prefecture.
Higo Temari, whose beauty is characterized by bright colors and biometric patterns, was first made by the court ladies working in their clan’s palace in Edo, Tokyo, as a pastime. This skill was eventually passed down to their local regions.
Higo Temari, which was traditionally made by local women in Higo region, began disappearing as rubber balls took over the market in the middle of Meiji period. In 1968, Higo Temari Club was founded and began formally preserving the temari making method.
The core of a temari ball is formed with dried sponge cucumber which was cut at an angle. Thin yarn is wrapped over the core, and then thread is randomly wrapped around the outside of the ball which produces a cushioned surface and helps create a perfect spherical shape. French Embroidery threads are applied to decorate the surface which creates superb color schemes and a rich variety in designs.
The Higo Temari song mentions a place called “senba”, which is on the bank of Tsuboi River that was once abundant with small shrimps. Mt. Senba nearby was once inhabited by raccoon dogs and the surrounding area was said to be a dense grove and bamboo thicket.
Unsun Karuta is a card game, based on the western deck of playing cards, that was first brought to Japan by a Portuguese sailor.
During the Tenshou Era (1573 ~1591), the very first copy of western-style playing cards was made in Japan. These cards, made in Mitsuike, Oomuta City, Fukuoka, came to be known as Tenshou Karuta. In the Edo period, they were developed further and Unsui Karuta was born.
While Tenshou Karuta had 48 cards, Unsun Karuta has 75 cards and more complicated rules. The name, Unsun, is said to have derived from the Portuguese words for the number one – “un” and the best – “sun”.
As Unsun Karuta gained popularity, the gambling potential of the game became so popular that, in the middle of the Edo period, it was banned. Unsun Karuta was believed to have entirely disappeared until it was discovered that the people of the Hitoyoshi region in Kumamoto had been enjoying the game all along.
The annual festival held at Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine in Kumamoto City is one of the largest festivals in Kumamoto Prefecture. As the shrine of war gods, it was worshipped by warriors since its foundation in 935.
The festival is held for 5 days from the 2nd Thursday in September every year. It is said that the festival originates in a Buddhist ritual of Hojoe, a ceremony in which captive fish and birds are set free to gain religious merit. The climax is the Zuibyo (Retinue Soldiers) Parade held on the last day. Zuibyo Parade originates in the parade of soldiers when Kato Kiyomasa paid a visit to this shrine to attend the rituals of the annual festival that he resumed.
Together with the mikoshi (a portable shrine) parade, more than 60 groups of local people dressed in festival cloths march and chant valiantly “Dokai! Dokai!” while following their elaborately decorated robust horses through the streets of the city.
Myoken Festival is held on November 22 to 23 at Yatsushiro Shrine in Yatsushiro City, Kumamoto Prefecture. Together with Kunchi Festival at Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki and Hojoya at Hakozakigu Shrine in Fukuoka, it is counted as one of the three greatest festivals in Kyushu.
Since founded in 1186, Yatsushiro Shrine has been popularly called Myokengu as it enshrines Myoken Bosatsu or Amenonakanushi no Kami as a Shinto deity; thereby the festival is named Myoken Festival. Legend has it that the deity Myoken traveled on Kida (a fabulous animal with a serpent's head and a turtle's body) and landed on Yatsushiro about 1,300 years ago. The first festival was held in the early Edo period (the early 17th century) by Hosokawa Tadaoki, the lord of the Kumamoto domain according to this legend.
The parade of mikoshi (portable shrine) followed by the colorful floats decorated with hooded halberds, gigantic Kidas, the lion dancers, men in the costumes of samurai’s male-servants, a gun troop and spirited divine horses, all make this festival pompous and splendor. The divine horse valiantly gallops on the riverbank, while Kidas perform humorous dances. It is a very amusing festival.
Souun Takeda, a calligrapher, was born in 1975 in Kumamoto. He started calligraphy when he was three years old, studying with his mother, Souyou Takeda, also a calligrapher.
After graduating from Tokyo University of Science majoring in Science and Technology, he worked at NTT for three years before he became a calligrapher. Since then, he has established himself through a series of unique and original pieces, often collaborating with other artists in various fields including Noh and Kyougen actors, sculptors and musicians, and unconventional one-man exhibitions. He also runs a calligraphy school where many of his students study. “Calligraphy is the same as a conversation. I just use calligraphy to communicate with people”, says the gentle but passionate Mr. Takeda, who is hailed as the new generation of calligraphy.
In 2003, Mr. Takeda received the Longhuacui Art Award from Shanghai Art Museum in China and the Constanza de Medici Award in Firenze, Italy. His work includes title letterings for many movies such as Spring Snow and Year One in the North. He also published three books; Tanoshika, Shoyudou and Sho o kaku tanoshimi.
Hinokuni (Land of Fire) Festival is held in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture from August 11 to 13 every year. Being nicknamed “Land of Fire,” Kumamoto Prefecture has a lot of history and folklore pertaining to “fire” including the Shiranui (Unknown Fire) legend concerning Emperor Keiko, the legendary hero Hinokimi (King of Fire Country) in the Kofun period (3rd to 6th centuries) and the fire mountain Mt, Aso. Hinokuni Festival was first held in 1978 as an event to cerebrate this land of fire.
On the first day of the festival, the fire ignition ceremony is held at Kinpo-zan Youth Outdoor Learning Center. The fire is then brought to the torch at the symbol tower placed in the Kumamoto Castle ruins site. It is called “Fire of Hope” and keeps on burning during the festival.
The main event is the colorful rhythmic Otemoyan Grand Dance, in which as many as 6,000 citizens wind through the streets of the downtown area, dancing to a famous and happy folksong “Otemoyan (Did you get married?)” and the lilt music of “Samba Otemoyan.”