The Tiger Dance performed on April 29 every year in old Nakaniida Town (present Kami Town) in Miyagi Prefecture is a traditional fire prevention event. It is designated as a prefecture’s folk cultural property.
Old Nakaniida Town had suffered fires from early spring through early summer, when strong winds blew through the town. To pray for fire prevention, the Osaki clan, who ruled in this area about 600 years ago, ordered the firefighters of the town to dedicate a tiger dances at the First Horse Day Festival of Inari Myojin Shrine. Following an old saying, “Clouds bow down to a dragon and winds to a tiger,” the lord intended to use the tiger's influence to stop the winds and protect the town from fire. The tiger dancers and the festival floats paraded through the town to enhance the awareness of fire prevention among townspeople as well as to promote business prosperity of the shops.
Today, several festival floats make their way through the streets followed by 3 to 6 young boys dressed in tiger costumes. The boys in tiger costumes dance on roofs of merchants’ houses to the feverish music of Japanese flutes and drums.
Takengei is a traditional folk performance handed down for 250 years in Irabayashi Town in Nagasaki City. It is a series of acrobatic performance on bamboo poles given at the annual autumn festival of Wakamiya Inari Shrine in October.
Accompanied by the festival music of the drums and Japanese flutes, young men wearing white male and female fox costumes climb 10 meter tall bamboo poles and perform acrobatic dances. They do a headstand by putting their legs around the pole, sprawl atop the pole with arms and legs outstretched, or give other fantastic performances one after another. This is the reenactment of foxes, the messenger of the Inari god, becoming lighthearted by the rhythms of the festival music and playing merrily.
The foxes throw down pieces of red and white rice cake and living chickens as the bringers of good luck, at which the spectators rush to pick them up. At the climax scene, one of the male foxes slips off the pole with his head down. As there are no nets or any other protection underneath, all the spectators watch it breathlessly. There are day and night performances given five times for two days in total. Tourists are fascinated by the mystic atmosphere of the night performance.
The Kawazu mask suggests a frog, from which it gets its name. Representing a ghost of a man who was drowned, it expresses a human obsession. Its small but widely spaced eyes are casting a downward look, both eyebrows are united to protrude over the eyes like an eave, and the cheeks are hollowed, all of which impart a haggard and miserable expression. The wet-looking hair painted on the forehead, which suggests recent emersion from water, emphasizes the misery. Classified in the same category as the Yase-otoko mask, the Kawazu mask expresses an even stronger feeling of grudge. This mask has several versions. The Kawazu mask is used for such plays as “Akogi” and “Fujito.”
Hanging ornaments such as these are known as 'tsurushi (hanging) kazari' or 'tsurushi hina'. These ornaments have been part of traditional culture since the Edo period, and the custom is rooted in the Izu-Inatori Onsen region. During the Hina (Girls) Festival, parents prayed for their daughter's happiness through a thread taken from a piece of old clothing. It is this hina hanging ornament that swings from both sides of the tiered stand used for the presentation of the hina dolls.
This custom is called 'sagemon' in Yanagawa, Kyushu, 'kasafuku' in Sakata, Yamagata, and 'hanging hina' in Izu-Inatori. Only these three districts have inherited this historical patrimony, documents and photos.
People entrust their wishes to the ornament. Some 110 ornaments have separate meanings. For example, the red eyes of a rabbit are supposed to have the power of causing and curing diseases. A rabbit is said to be the servant of a deity.
It is lots of fun to decorate with ornaments that suit each season. Your favorite small objects will colour your life and enrichen your heart.
Ushigoe Festival held at Sugawara Shrine in Nishi-Kawakita, Ebino City, Miyazaki Pref. on July 28 every year is a unique festival, in which cows join in a competition. The festival is designated as an Intangible Cultural Property by the prefecture. As Sugawara Shrine was established by Sugawara Michimasa, the youngest son of Sugawara no Michizane, it is also called Ebino-shi Tenmangu.
Dozens of cows with collars on their necks, red blanket around their bodies and gohei (a ritual wand) made straw and white cloth on their back are encouraged to leap over a 4 m long log that is raised 50 cm above the ground. With the owner’s call, if a cow successfully jumps over the log, it will stay in a good health during the year. Ushigoe festival is a humorous and peaceful rite to express gratitude for the health of the livestock.
Saru Mawashi in Japanese means 'monkey show' and is a street performance using a monkey.
The history of Saru Mawashi in Japan is long and dates back to its introduction from India via China. A monkey was supposed to be a guardian of a horse, which was important for samurai. Monkeys were kept in a stable and a monkey showman served generals.
'Monkey' is pronounced 'saru', which means 'leave' in Japanese. So, a monkey was believed to be able to remove your misfortune which is why they performed on New Year or at festivals all over Japan.
There are many different kinds of monkey performances because monkeys can imitate human actions like 'folding your legs under yourself', 'standing at attention' and 'reflection'. Monkeys can also do tightrope walking, pass through a ring and walk on stilts.
In 1963, the monkey show died out when the last monkey showman retired. But in 1977, the Suo Monkey Showa Association was revived and they continue to spread the show as an Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Right before your eyes is the Pacific. On either side, runs the continuous line of the horizon.This is the view from the cliff of Erimo Cape, located to the south of the Hidaka Mountains in Hokkaido. Rock reefs spread for 2km off the coast.Erimo cape is said to be where the wind is strongest in Japan. Cold and hot currents in the sea converge at this point, and the temperature difference often causes fog. In winter, it is extremely cold.Here, 400 Zanigata seals have adaptedto the harsh natural environment, making this one of the most famous breeding places for the seals. The seals are called Zenigata seals, because of the patterns on their fur that look like zeni (coins with a hole). Hakusan-chidori, a plant which is tough enough to survive the extreme cold, blossoms during the short spring and heals us.In the sea, kelp grows abundantly, offering fish a place to lay their eggs .Such an environment as this, in fact, is a harbor for life forms that have adjusted to the harsh natural conditions. This area is known as the Hidaka Mountains Erimo National Park
Yukio Okuyama is a traditional craftsman who makes Ainu carvings of animal figures from wood: horses, deer and salmon, for example. Okuyama is a brilliant craftsman and a member of the Hokkaido Utari Association. He also has won first prize in competitions such as the Hokkaido Ainu Crafts Competition (Hokkaido Governor Award). His outstanding abilities can be seen not only in his carvings, but also in his studies and research into Ainu Culture. Now he is working on the restoration of a traditional Ainu boat called ‘Itaomachippu’, which was used for fishing and transport . For the restoration, delicate and sophisticated skill is needed. Firstly, it is because the boards for the boat need to be bent to the correct shape by careful burning and secondly, the boat is constructed entirely without nails. Okuyama praises the skills of the Ainu culture, and he is making great efforts to preserve them. Yukio Okuyama, being a traditional craftsman, also takes orders for woodcarvings like tables and alcove posts.