Yansanma Festival is a big Spring festival that takes place at the Shimomurakamo Shrine in Imizu City, Toyama Prefecture. The festival lasts over 4 hours, starting with Soume-no-gi (Horse Riding), and followed by other ceremonies including Shinkou-shiki, Gyujyou-shiki (cow riding), shishi lion dance and yabusame (horseback archery).
Throughout the festival horses and cows play important roles. The Cow Riding ceremony is rare religious ritual that can be seen only at this festival.
In the Horse Riding ceremony, some riders run through the area on horses and the best horse is chosen and dedicated to the gods to pray for a rich harvest.
In the Cow Riding ceremony, a young man, wearing a red mask with a big nose, appears riding on a cow. He then shoots an arrow made with fresh bamboo towards the roof of the shrine. This is done to pray for peace and a rich harvest in the region. The cow is regarded as an incarnation of the god of farming and it is believed to possess the power to protect people from fires and epidemics. Participants in the ceremony, wishing to make the cow stay in the region, struggle to control the cow and make it kneel down on the ground.
The festival ends with the Horseback Archery ceremony in which a warrior, riding on a horse, shoots an arrow along the shrine’s path.
The Yansanma Festival is designated as an Intangible Folklore Cultural Asset by the Toyama Prefecture.
The Todai-ji Temple Omizutori or Water Drawing Ceremony is one of the rituals that takes place during Shuuni-e religious services at Nigatsu-do, located inside the Todai-ji Temple complex. Because it is regarded as the most significant, the Omizutori ceremony has become almost synonymous with the Shuuni-e services. These are held for two weeks, beginning with the first day of March.
Shuuni-e is formally called “Juuichimen-keka-hou” (which, translated literally, means eleven headed repentance). It is a memorial service in which priests at the Todai-ji temple forgive people’s sins and pray to Juichimen Kannon, the eleven-headed goddess and principal image of Budda at Nigatsu-do for the nation’s peace and prosperity.
Shuuni-e is said to have been started by a Priest named Jichu in Februrary of 752. This is even prior to Daibutsu Kaigen, another well known ceremony at the Todaiji-Temple that was first held in April of the same year. Since then, it has been continued for more than 1,200 years without any interruption.
In the Omizutori ceremony, priests scoop up sacred water from the Wakasai Well at midnight on March 12th and present it to the Kannon. The other famous ceremony is Otaimatsu in which priests carry burning torches and run through the balcony of Nigatsu-do.
Omizutoi is also a ceremony to bring Spring to the people of Nara. By the time the ceremony is finished, the cherry trees have begun to blossom and Spring has arrived.
Masaoka Festival is held in April every year Ichihasama Masaka in Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture, in memory of Lady Masaoka, a wife of Shirakawa Yoshizane and the wet nurse who raised Date Tsunamura, the 4th lord of the Sendai domain. The memorial ceremony is held by the present members of the Shirakawa family at Ryuunji Temple, where the Yatsushika Odori (8 Deer Dance) is dedicated in front of Masaoka’s grave.
After the memorial ceremony, about 500 citizens join the parade and go through the town. Some of them act as warriors in armors to reenact the days when Lady Masaoka lived. The festival floats, the drum and fife band and the dancers of Yatsushika Odori also join the parade.
Lady Masaoka is famous as the model of a Kabuki play “Meiboku Sendaihagi.” This is based on the troubles in the Date family of the Sendai domain in the Edo period. In the story, the wet nurse Masaoka protects her young lord from a party of villains by sacrificing her own son.
Chintoro Festival in Kamihanda is a part of Spring Float Festival held in every district in Handa City, Aichi Prefecture. Two festival floats are pulled all through the town, while two boats called “Chintoro boats” are set afloat on Miyaike Pond in the precinct of Sumiyoshi Shrine.
On the festival eve, 365 paper lanterns, which represent 365 days of the year, are set over the roof of each boat in hemispheric shape, in the midst of which a long pole with 12 paper lanterns representing 12 months of the year is erected. The lights of lanterns reflecting on the surface of the pond are very beautiful.
The name “Chintoro” is said to be derived from the name of lanterns used for the boats, or some say it is because the Ohayashi music sounds “CHINTORO, CHINTORO.” The highlight of the festival is the cute Sanbaso Dance performed by young children on the temporary stage built in the bow of the boat.
Hana-no-tou (Flower Augury) is a spring event held on the second weekend every year at Seiganji Temple in Yahagi Town in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, with an assistance of the local merchant association. It was originally an augury to read good omens or bad in agricultural production held in Mikawa province (present-day Aich Prefecture) in the old days and it has been handed down as an augury named “Otameshi” at this temple for 400 years.
Today, the main part of the festival has changed into a kind of Flower Festival that is held all over the country on Buddha’s birthday in April. Visitors pour ama-zake (sweet sake wine) to the small statue of Buddha housed in Hanami-do Hall placed in front of the principal object inside the main hall. Visitors are also treated with ama-zake in the precinct. The local people together with the members of the local merchants association and junior and senior high school students cooperate with each other to make the festival successful.
Seiganji Temple is famous in the legend of Joruri-hime, who fell in love with Minamoto no Yoshitsune and died a tragic death. The Japanese flute inscribed with its name “Usu-zumi” and the mirror that were left to Joruri-hime by Yoshitsune as personal tokens are treasured at the temple.
Kumanodo Bugaku is a folk performing art performed at the annual spring festival of Kumano Shrine in Takadate Kumanodo, Natori city, Yamagata Prefecture. Bugaku is a repertoire of dances of the Japanese Imperial court, derived from traditional dance forms imported from China, Korea, and India.
It is said that the Bugaku dance was introduced to the Kumanodo area by the Hayashi family in Risshakuji Temple in Yamadera, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture, but there is no precise records concerning its origin. The Hayashi family was the hereditary musician family serving the Japanese Imperial Court. As the Hayashi family moved to present Yamagata Prefecture before Bugaku was japanized in the mid-Heian period, the old dancing style of the imported dance has been precisely handed down in the Kumanodo Bugaku dance. It is designated as a prefecture’s folk cultural property.
In the Kumanodo Bugaku dance, neither dialog nor words are employed in the dances and songs. It is a kind of pantomime in dedication to the god. Although it has an origin in the Shinto dance, it also has several features of the dances performed by Shugendo practitioners.
The 3.6 m square temporary stage is built over the pond in the precinct. In back of the stage, the ensemble composed of one drum, one pair of large clappers and one Japanese flute play the music.
Koryuji Temple in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a temple of the Soto sect and is an historic temple pertaining to the Date clan. It was founded in 1467 by Date Mochimune, the 11th head of the clan. His fifth son, who had learned Buddhism at Kounji Temple in present Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture, returned to his hometown and served as the founding priest.
The temple is known for its stately main gate. It used to have been one of the gates of Shiraishi Castle, which was resided by the Katakura family, who served as the head retainer of the Date clan. It was moved to this place as the main gate of the temple at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912). It is made of zelkova wood and has a tiled-roof in Kirizuma-style (the gabled roof). Its building style looks like the Yakui-mon style.
Two five-story pagodas to commemorate Mochimune and his wife are erected in the precinct and create tranquil atmosphere. Three peach trees produce cute white and pink flowers in spring.
Tatara-numa is a pond in the border of Tatebayashi City and Ora-machi in Gunma Prefecture. Located at 20 m above sea level, it is a small pond with an area of about 80 ha and a circumference of 7 km. However, the pond is famous as the only place in the prefecture where swans can be seen flying. From November every year, swans come flying to this pond and reflect their elegant figures on the surface of the water.
Standing on the lakeside with a gentle wind blown from the nearby pine grove, visitors can forget the bustle of a big city. The pond aglow with the setting sun is especially beautiful. Lucky visitors can see Mt. Fiji in the sunglow.
The pier protruding over the water is crowded with angers for Japanese crucian carp and bass. In spring, wisteria on the 130 m wisteria trellis and 120 cherry trees bloom in Tatara-numa Park beside the pond.
Ukishima Benzaiten Temple, which was referred to in the Taiheiki, stands on the land protruding into the pond.