Ichihasama Shishi-Odori is a traditional performing art handed down for over 530 years in Ichihasama-Masaka, Kurihara City, Miyagi Pref. This dance is performed as a ritual to keep evil spirits away and pray for the repose of ancestors’ souls. Every July, the dancers wearing deer masks dance widely to act out male and female deer confirming each others’ affection. Legend has it that once upon a time when Date Masamune ruled this province, a local hunter went hunting in Mt. Iwakura and saw a herd of deer dancing in a very amusing way while beating on their bellies. It looked so amusing that he was inspired to create his own deer dance later. This traditional dance performance is a designated intangible folk cultural property of Miyagi Pref.
Okera-mairi is an annual event to celebrate the New Year at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. It begins on New Year's Eve and ends on the morning of New Year's Day.
The practise of Okera-mairi comes from the belief that, by bringing the holy fire of Yasaka home in the New Year and cooking a 'zoni' (vegetable soup with rice cakes in it) from that fire, one will have perfect health for the next year.
'Okera' is an asteraceous perennial, and its root was traditionally used as a gastrointestinal medicine in Chinese traditional medicine. It was also used as a charm to ward off evil spirits by feeding it into the flames. These beliefs and practices turned out to become today's Okera-mairi.
After the ceremony of the watch night on New Year's Eve, the holy fire is divided into five Okera lanterns by the hands of the Shinto priest. Each lantern comes with an 'Okera-gi', a piece of wood with a wish written on it. People bring the holy fire with the wishes back home by lighting a rope of twisted-bamboo.
The sight of the visitors returning home from Yasaka Shrine, spinning their rope to keep the fire alive is also a specialty of the Okera-mairi. Such a tradition today let's us see the continuation of ancient Japanese beliefs in the power of fire.
Ainu is an ethnic group on the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Its culture uses a very distinctive pattern called Ainu-monyou or Ainu pattern for their clothes, furniture and ceremonial instruments.
Ainu have many differing designs largely based on two basic patterns: one is a swirl pattern called Moreu in Ainu language and the other is a parenthesis pattern called Aiuushi which means things with thorns. The patterns are designed not only for decoration, but also have some symbolic effect of warding off evil spirits. They are commonly embroidered in cuffs, collars and the hem of clothes. By looking at the pattern one can tell which region it comes from. There are many theories as to the origin of the patterns, but there is no definite explanation.
To express their fondness for the opposite sex, Ainu women used to give an embroidered tekunpe (a cloth to cover the back of the hand and wrist) and hoshi (a cloth to cover the shin) with Ainu pattern while men used to give menokomakiri (small sword) curved with Ainu pattern. Ainu people believed they imparted part of the soul to their handmade crafts and valued them accordingly.
Nowadays, Ainu patterns have more design varieties and have wider applications such as for skirts and blouses.
A hishaku is a utensil traditionally used to scoop water. Hishaku used to be made from bamboo with the handle fashioned from a branch of a tree. These days, they are mostly made of metal or plastic.
The size and use of hishaku vary. Although the wooden magarimono hishaku can only be seen at Temizusha (purification buildings where water is drawn) of shrines and temples, and sometimes at houses that admire Japanese elegance, it used to be a part of everyday life.
The origins of hishaku come from a hisago (gourd), which was broken in half. The word 'hisago' was pronounced in a different accent, becoming 'hisaku', which was then changed again into 'hishaku'.
It was traditionally thought that divine spirits dwell in places that are dented, or caved in, thus the hishaku was treated as a holy container.
Before wakamizumukae (meeting of the first water) on new year's day, people have prepared new hishaku for the drawing of water from a well or spring. The water that is drawn is then placed before the new year's deity, and used to rinse out the mouth, as well as to make ozoni (vegetable soup with rice cakes in it).
Since the hishaku is thought to have special powers, the water that it scoops is used in other ways, for example as holy water to be sprinkled in front of one's house as a talisman against evil and sickness. A hishaku hung from a pot hook acts as a charm to prevent fires.
The hagoita originated in China and was brought over to Japan during the Muromachi period. At first, it was only used as a toy, or as equipment to play hanetsuki (a badminton-like game), but it gradually became an article to drive away evil spirits, and later became a charm given to women on oshogatsu (new year's day).
During the Edo period, hagoita decorated with pictures of Kabuki actors were very popular. Today, the hagoita has been designated as a traditional Tokyo handicraft.
Since the Edo period, a famous fair called Hagoitaichi takes place at Asakusa Temple over three days from December 17th. Many visitors come each year. The decorated hagoita sold at this event are famous for being made in Kasukabe, or Iwatsuki-ku in Saitama Prefecture.
Additionally, at the Hagoitaichi, hagoita with pictures of the people who received the most attention during the year, are notable and are often taken up by the media.
Takashiba Deko House is a village in Takashiba, Nishida Town, Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture.
Deko house is a general name for five houses that have kept making Miharu dolls and spinning tops for many generations. The word 'deko' comes from 'deku', another word for a doll.
Takashiba Deko House makes Miharu spinning tops and red cattle dolls (one of Fukushima's symbols), as well as many talismans and good-luck charms like long-nosed goblins, droll fellows and stone-carved shrine dogs.
In the studio of Takashiba Deko House, visitors can observe working craftsmen who have inherited this 300-year-old tradition. Moreover, visitors can try painting, too.
Takashiba Deko House is a small village that preserves Fukushima's doll culture, and is a place that we should continue to preserve.
Furin is a small hanging bell that rings in the breeze. A tongue dangling in the center of the bell strikes the sides of the bell and creates a pleasant sound. Furin originates in “Sen-futaku,” which was suspended in the bamboo grove and used to tell fortunes in ancient China. It was introduced to Japan with Buddhism and called “Futaku,” whose sound was believed to get rid of evil. During the Kyoho era (1716-1735) of the Edo period, a glass furin was first made and became very popular among townspeople. Today there are many types of furin being made of a variety of materials and taking a variety of shapes, including glass-made Edo furin with lovely pictures, rugged Nanbu iron furin, Hibachi-furin (taking a shape of a traditional Japanese heater), unglazed clay bell, Sumi-furin made of combined pieces of charcoal. The cool sound of furin is one of the things that provide us with a feeling of summer.
Red beko is a famous local folk toy made in Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima prefecture.
In the dialect of the Tohoku region, 'beko' means a cow, so 'red beko' is a red cow. The red is said to be effective as a talisman and red bekos are popular as bringers of good luck.
About 1200 years ago, in 807, Tokuichi Taishi built Fukuman-Kozoson in Enzoji Temple. At that time, much wood was brought from the village near the upper Tadami. But the Tadami River was so fast-flowing that the conveyance was difficult. Then, a herd of cattle came from somewhere and helped to carry the wood.
Conveying the wood was very hard, many cows could not make the journey, and only a red cow survived and kept working. The story spread and red beko became a popular gift to encourage the growth of a child and as a charm to ward off plagues.