Megi-jima Island, which is a part of Setonaikai National Park and about 20 minutes ferry ride from Takamatsu Harbor, is often called by its nickname of Onigashima (Ogres' Island), which derives from a long cave located in the hillside on the island. Since it was discovered in 1930, it has been associated with the ogres’ den in the story of Momotaro.
From the platform above the cave, you can command a panoramic view of the Seto islands including Oshima, Kabuto-jima and Yoroi-jima as well as the attractive fishing village at the foot of the hill, where houses have high stone walls called “ote” to provide protection from cold wind called “Otoshi” in winter.
In Takamatsu City Onigashima Oninoyakata Museum at Megi port, many objects concerning ogres are exhibited.
Numata Castle was located in Numata City, Gunma Pref. It is said to have been built by Bankisai Akiyasu, the 12th generation head of the Numata clan. The castle was called Kurauchi Castle in those days. As it stands at the strategic spot on the way to Kanto region, a lot of battles to capture this castle were fought among warring lords such as the Uesugi clan of Echigo region (present-day Niigata Pref.), the Hojo clan of Odawara, and the Takeda clan of Kai province (present-day Yamanashi Pref.). In the Edo period, this area came under control of the Sanada clan. Sanada Yukinobu started its modification work in 1597, and in several years it was modified into an early modern-styled castle with the five-story donjon, Ninomaru (the second castle), Sannomaru (the third castle), and the stone walls, which were rear for Kanto region. At the present time, only a part of stone walls and moats remains, which remind us of the ancient times. In spring, a 400-year-old cherry tree called “Goten-zakura (palace cherry tree)” is in full bloom. It looks as if it were talking of rise and fall of the castle.
Men Buryu is a traditional mask dance handed down in the southwestern part of Saga Prefecture including Kashima City. Although the styles of dances differ from town to town, they are mostly performed at autumn festivals in each area. It is said that the word “Buryu” derives from “Furyu School,” a school of lion dance handed down since the ancient times.
Men Buryu dance is a kind of ritual performing art that is dedicated to pray for abundant harvest and rainfall. Wearing Furyumen, a mask looking like a demon, over the face, an indigo happi-coat with bold patterns and white momohiki-pants and dangling a small drum from the neck, the dancers dance fiercely to the sounds of Japanese flutes, drums, and gongs.
According to one theory, the dance originates in an old story that during the Warring States period (1493-1573), the lord of this area made his soldiers wear masks of a demon or a Chinese lion and Shaguma (a wig of long horse hair usually made of wool or hemp) on the head when they went to war. Then the soldiers made a night attack on the enemy while beating drums and gongs and gained a victory.
However, another theory states that Furyumen mask was contrived to get rid of the evil spirit that damaged the crops and to pray for rich harvest. To be sure, their brave dances are powerful enough to get rid of the evil spirit.
Furukawa Taiko is a dynamic drum performance handed down in the Furukawa area in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. A lot of drum performing groups join and play at Furukawa Festival held in early August every year.
This drum performance has its origin in a legend pertaining to Sakanoue Tamuramaro’s expedition to the north land. Furukawa Taiko drumming style is unique in that the six drummers take turns beating one drum. Praying for a rich harvest of the year, the drummers valiantly beat the drum by turns to drive the demons away from their farming land. The stage reaches its climax when their brilliant drum-stick techniques and dynamic rhythm is greeted with thunderous applause from the audience.
During the festival period, about 200 Tanabata-kazari streamers are displayed in the town and the Furukawa Taiko mikoshi parade is held. The colorful Tanabata streamers and roaring sounds of drums put the whole town in a festival mood. Furukawa Festival is the biggest summer event of the city.
Betcha Festival held for three days from November 1 to 3 every year in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture is a bizarre festival. This festival is said to have its origin in an attempt to ward off the plague during the Edo Era (1603-1868). Three men wearing masks of Betcha (demon gods), respectively named Shoki, Soba and Beta, walked through the town with another man in a lion costume and drove the plague out of town, which became established as a festival in the later eras.
Today, the three demons and the lion run through the city, dancing to the beat of drums and bells. They chase the children on the streets and Shoki hit them on the head with a bamboo whisk, while Soba and Beta poke them on the body with sticks called “Iwaibo (celebration sticks).” The beaten children are said to be in sound health for the coming year. Toddlers are held by their parents and subjected to a “thrashing,” even though they are frightened.
As it is said that being hit by Betcha makes people bright and a person poked by Soba and Beta will be blessed with children, grown-ups also crowd around the demons. Be it blessing or not, it’s a hard time for the children in town.
As the word “manbi” literally means “ten thousand coquetries,” the Manbi mask expresses coquetry of a young woman. This mask creates different impressions according to light and shade. When seen from the front, its long-slitted eyes and small projecting under jaw give an impression of a beautiful woman. But when it is tilted upward, it looks smiling prettily. And downward, it looks like a woman smiling fearlessly.
In the play “Momijigari,” the Manbi mask is used for a beautiful woman, who is actually the demon taking on the form of a woman. In the plot, Taira no Koremochi joins the feast held by young women in the mountain. Drunk by sake and the woman’s dance, Koremochi fell asleep. In his dream, he receives a message from the deity and slew the demon. The Manbi mask is also used for a demon taking on the form of a beautiful young woman in such plays as “Yuya” and “Sessho-seki.” The Manbi mask has a mysterious charm with both coquetry of an adult woman and prettiness of an innocent girl.
It is said that the Tenjin mask represents the furious countenance of Sugawara no Michizane, before he was deified. It is used for various heavenly gods including Michizane.
In the play “Raiden,” Michizane lost his position as Minister of the Right and was banished to Kyushu on account of an intrigue by a jealous Minister of the Left. Dying in rage, he transforms himself to Raijin, the god of lightening and thunder, and brings calamities to the court and capital, but was defeated by the Priest Hossho-bo from Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei. As the emperor decided to deify him as Tenjin, the god of study, Michizane’s spirit is finally appeased.
The reddish coloring, the hair around the lips, the eyebrows, and the gold metal eyes give the mask an air of heightened emotions and movement. However, the mask's unassuming nose, thin lips, and open mouth exposing upper and lower teeth are simple and human-like.
The mask is also used to portray Idaten, who is a swift-footed deity, in the play “Shari,” and Amatsu Futodama, a deity who defeats the devil by using the golden tablet and the bow and arrow, in the play “Kinsatsu.”
Kitakami-Michinoku Performing Arts Festival is held for three days from the 1st Saturday in August every year in Kitakami City, Iwate Prefecture. It is counted as one of the six biggest festivals in the Tohoku region. Kitakami City is called the treasure trove of folk performing arts and there are a lot of performing art groups in the city.
During the festival days, more than 100 kinds of folk performing arts including Deer Dance and Kagura Dance are performed day and night at many places in the city. The most attractive is Oni-kenbai (the ogres’ sword dance), in which the dancer wearing a dreadful mask of an ogre, which is actually the transformed Buddha, shows valiant dancing.
The festival is culminated with the lantern float called “Torokko Nagashi” and the fireworks display held on the riverbank of the Kitakami River, where a lot of citizens and tourists come to enjoy the finale of the largest summer festival of the city.