Matsuage Torch Lighting Ritual is a fire festival held in August in Hirogawara, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto to pray for commemoration of the souls of ancestors as well as for fire prevention and rich harvest. It originates in the tradition of bonfires offered to the deity of fire on Mt. Atago in the western part of Kyoto. Later it was introduced to the nearby villages by mountain practitioners.
In Matsuage (hurling up) ritual, 1,200 torches are set on fire one after another. The flames of the torches spreading in the darkness are overwhelming. Then at the sign of a drum and gong, men began to hurl up burning torches at mass of dry grass called “Ogasa” fixed atop the 20 m tall pole called “Torogi” made of Japanese cypress wood. As they hurl them up, they twirl them many times to give momentum and leave multiple of circular trails of fire, which is very fantastic. The climax is when Ogasa is set on fire and the Torogi is pulled down to the ground. Numerous fire sparks beautifully soar up into the dark sky.
The city of Chiryu in Aichi Prefecture was the 39th of 53 post stations on the Old Tokaido Road from 1601 to the end of the Edo period. In 1604, the Tokugawa Shogunate ordered to plant pine trees on both sides of the Tokaido Road except the zones in the settlements. The row of pine trees protected travelers from the sunlight in summer and cold wind and snow in winter.
Today, as many as 170 pine trees continuing about 500 meters remain in Chiryu City. Byways built on both sides of the row were used for resting horses that were brought to a horse market. The prosperity of the horse market can be inferred from the stone monument erected in the market ruins site to the south of the road and Ando Hiroshige’s “The Fifty-three Post Stations of the Tokaido Road; Chiryu.” The row of pine trees was designated as a city’s cultural property in 1969.
Kunimigaoka located in Takachiho Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, is a hill, the summit of which is at 513 meters above sea level. It commands a panoramic view of Mt. Sobo in the north, Mt. Amanokaguyama, Takamagahara, Mt. Shikojimine and Takachiho Basin in the east, Mt. Aso in the west and the Gokase River below.
The name of the hill derives from a mythology. When Tateiwatatsu no Mikoto, a grandson of Emperor Jinmu, pacified Kyushu, he stood at the top of this hill at the sunrise and the sunset and performed the Kunimi ritual, which is an early Japanese ritual of “gazing down upon the land” performed by emperors or chieftains to pray for a rich harvest in autumn.
On cold autumn mornings from late October to early November, the villages in the basin below are folded in dense fog and the dramatic “cloud ocean” can be seen.
There are seven waterfalls in a 300 meter stream of the Nohara River, which is located a little ahead from a village of Hodono in the eastern end of Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture. From the Ichi-notaki (the 1st waterfall) to the Nana-no-taki (the 7th waterfall), each waterfall is about 3 to 5 meters tall. The largest and widest one is the Nana-no-taki located down the Takimi Bridge. It flows down in two lines and has the largest basin.
Visitors are fascinated by the diversified flows of falls together with the surrounding magnificent views. The seven falls look differently according to the surrounding landscape that changes from season to season, each of which has its own beauty. The landscape of the Ni-no-taki (the 2nd waterfall) seen from the bridge in the foliage season is the most exquisite.
The Takanabe Kagura dance has been handed down in the towns of Takanabe, Kijo, Kawaminami and Shintomi in Miyazaki Prefecture. It is designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the prefecture. The origin of the dance is not clear, but it is presumed from the stone monument and old shrine documents that it was already danced in the Heian period (794-1192). Takanabe Kagura is a simple and elegant form of dances classified as one of the Iwato Kagura dances that have been passed down in the Aso area.
It was originally dedicated to a shrine in every village in the area. In the Edo period (1603-1868), it came to be performed mainly at Hiki Shrine, which is an old and established shrine with a history of several hundreds years and was given protection by the Takanabe domain.
Since the Meiji period (1868-1912), the dedication of the Takanabe Kagura dance has been called “Daishinji (Grand Ritual).” Presently, 33 plays have been handed down and performed at the six shrines in the old domain area, which take the responsibility of the performance by rotation once every six years. At the dedication ritual, the dancers perform 33 dances quietly and elegantly throughout the night.
Yamamae Ruins spreading on the south slopes of the terraced land located between the Naruse River and the Eai River in Misato Town, Miyagi Prefecture, are the complex of the colony ruins built from the early to mid-Jomon period and from the Kofun to Heian periods. The ruins site is nationally designated as a Historic Site.
From the Jomon ruins, pit dwellings and shell mounds were found. The colony of the Kofun period and the large moat surrounding the colony were also found. Wooden fork heads, wooden blocks for beating cloth, thrusting sticks, bamboo baskets were excavated from the moat. Other ruins of colonies and relics in the Nara through Heian periods were also excavated. It is considered to be an academically important historic site, which had been used for thousands of years.
The ruins site has been converted into a history park and is open to the public.
The word “chise” in the Ainu means “a house,” which could be seen in the Ainu Kotan (village). It was normally built in Yosemune-zukuri style（a square or rectangular building.）The building materials of an Ainu house varied according to geographical and climatic conditions. Bamboo leaves, wild grasses, thatch, reed grass and tree bark were used for roofs and walls, which were tied with grapevine or tree bark. The wood of chestnut, Japanese Judas tree and Amur maackia were used for supporting pillars, which were directly set up without foundation stones. A chise has three windows; the one in the back is a rorun-puyar (god’s window), through which the gods entered, the one on the right is for letting in light, and the one near the entrance is for cooking ventilation. The orientation of the houses in a kotan (village) is identical; in most of the cases, a house is oriented from east to west with the god’s window facing the east. A chise was 33 to 99 square meters in area. It was a warm and comfortable home of the Ainu in the old days.
Porotokotan located on Lake Poroto in Shiraoi Town in the western part of Hokkaido is the restored ancient village of the Ainu people. “Porotokotan” means “a village on a large pond” in the Ainu language. There are four houses called chise with thatched roofs in the traditional Ainu architectural style. The village was restored in 1965 and was open to the public for the preservation of Ainu culture. Later the Ainu Museum was established in the village.
Inside a chise, explanations on Ainu history and culture are given. Also, the performance of the mukkuri, an Ainu musical instrument, and traditional Ainu dances, which are nationally designated Important Intangible Cultural Properties, are given all the time for the visitors. Why don’t you sit down for a while to enjoy their fascinating music and dancing? It will allow you to be a part of Ainu’s cultural history.