無 is the first character form of 舞 ‘dance.’ When following the classification of the traditional ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters,’ 無 is regarded as a ‘loan character’ which shares the same on-reading with another character. As, however, the classification method if the ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters’ was created to analyze the corrupt forms of the Chinese characters a thousand years after their origination, to think they were invented along these guidelines is a mistaken conclusion.
As the very first stage of Kanji is pictographic, it is obvious that on this stage the meaning ‘nothing’ cannot be expressed. With thought becoming more abstract in later times, therefore, ‘loan characters’ were very useful. Rather than naturally developing, however, ‘loan characters’ are a group of characters that receive their meaning by convention and custom. That 無 is the first character form of 舞 can be known from the tortoise plastron and bone characters. There, it actually is the form of a dancing human being with decorations hanging from both sleeves.
The Lun Yu of Confucius, Chapter 12, has “ … went to the 舞雩 ‘rain altar.’ ”
雩, read ‘u’ in Japanese, means a place for rain dance rituals or sacred music. The meaning ‘nothing, not’ can also be regarded as having its origin in the state of having ‘no rain.’ If understood this way, there is no need anymore to rely on the notion of ‘loan character’ for 無.
Anyway, explanations like “It shows a house burning down thus resulting in the meaning ‘nothing at all’,” which the author once heard in China, are misleading.
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.
Yosakoi Matsuri is a relatively new festival. It was created by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kochi Prefecture to cast off economic recession after the Second World War and was started in 1954. It was created with influence from Awa-odori (Awa Dance Festival) in Tokushima Prefecture.
In the festival, Naruko, a percussion instrument used to scare off birds in crop fields, was introduced during the dance performance and became an essential part of the Yosakoi Festival to this day.
In the beginning, the dance followed the Japanese traditional dancing style, but Eisaku Takemae, who was a noted music composer and supervised the festival music, encouraged a variety of arrangements in music and many different musical styles have started to appear. Nowadays, each team devises their own original piece with influences coming from many different genres including samba, rock, hip hop, Japanese Enka, flamenco and Hula dance, which, along with more traditional performances, greatly entertain the audiences.
The word, Yosakoi, is derived from an archaic word of Yosari Koi (Come in the evening).
Kenketo Festival is held on Sunday near April 23rd every year at Suginoki Shrine in Ryuo-cho and Yasaka Shrine in Gamo-cho both in Higashi Omi City, Shiga Pref. The word “kenketo” comes from the echoic word of the sound of Japanese bells and drums in matsuri-bayashi music, which sounds like “ke-ken-kei, ke-ken-don, ke-ken-kei, ke-ken.” It has been held since the Heian period (794-1192) to pray for rich harvest. Dedicated together is the dance called “Naginata Odori,” in which the eldest sons of shrine parishioner families at the age of 11-12 in matching Yuzen kimonos parade to the shrine, dancing to the music of Japanese bells and drums. It is said that the boys’ costume is modeled after the dress of the local people who joined Oda Nobunaga’s forces as foot soldiers to attack Koga province. The festival is selected as a National Intangible Cultural Property. Kenketo Festival is an elegant festival with a history of 1,000 years.
Taue Odori (the rice planting dance) handed down in Akiu Town in Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a traditional folk performing art that is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. It is said that the dance dates back to the 12th century, when the Heike refugees, who settled in the Nagafukuro area, began the dance to recall the good old days.
This rice planting dance is danced by a large number of dancers. It is said that as many as from 50 to 60 dancers or over 100 at peak time joined the dance in the past. The dances are dedicated to Nagafukuro Myojin Shrine, Baba Otaki Fudo-do Temple and Yumoto Yakushi-do Temple from the middle of April to the beginning of May every year.
Two boys taking a part of “Yajuro” appear on the stage followed by the two young boys taking a part of “Suzufuri (the bell men)” and give the prologue, after which the rice planting dance is performed by 8 to 14 girl dancers called “Saotome” in hope for a rich harvest in the coming fall.
Taue Odori, or the rice planting dances, had been danced in many areas in Kurokawa County in Miyagi Prefecture in the old days. However, it has been handed down until today only in the Hara area in Tomiya Town. It is designated as a prefecture’s important intangible cultural property.
It is said that when Date Masamune set out for Bunroku War under the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1592, villagers performed the rice planting dance before him. He was very pleased with it and allowed the dancing troupe to use the pattern of bamboo leaves, which were part of his family crest “Bamboo Leaves and Sparrows,” on the hem of their costumes. Since then the dance has been handed down in this area as a precious folk performing art for over 400 years.
The dance is performed by four “Saotome (women dancers)” and two “Yajuro (men dancers)” with the players of drums and Japanese flute and singers. The dancing style is similar to those of other rice planting dances in the Tohoku region, but that the hats worn by the dancers are simple and have no decorations and that the pattern of bamboo leaves are used for the costume are peculiar to this dance.
Bamba Dance is a folk dance performed every August during the Matsuri-Nobeoka (Nobeoka Festival) in Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture.
Matsuri-Nobeoka is the largest summer festival in northern Miyazaki. In the Bamba-Sou-Odori (Whole Bamba Dance), more than 5,000 townspeople dance in a huge circle. The festivities also include a display of some 10,000 fireworks. This festival lasts for two exciting days.
The Bamba Dance is accompanied by narrative songs known as Kudokiuta, which feature long lyrics. The Bamba Dance seems to be a derivation of Bon festival dances held in each region of Nobeoka.
The lyrics of the songs for the Bamba Dance include many phrases from Kabuki and Joruri, which were very popular in the late Edo period. Therefore, the Bamba Dance is considered to have been popular in the late Edo period.
Indeed, the Bamba Dance has been enjoyed by people for a very long time.
Genroku Bouze Dance, or Genroku Buddhist Monk Dance, is dedicated to the deity of Itsukushima-jinjya Shrine located in Minashiro Miyanokubi, Shintomi-cho, Yuyu-gun, Miyazaki Prefecture, and is performed annually on August 15th according to the lunar calendar. The dance is designated as an intangible folklore cultural asset by the town.
Genroku Bouze Dance has been passed down since Muromachi Period in four neighboring areas of the town; Miyanokubi, Hiraikura, Yadoko and Oku. During the rule of Takanabe Akizuki Clan, the dance was performed as part of the festival dedicated to the water god mainly at Hiokimizunuma-jinjya Shrine which was associated with the clan.
The dancers consist of more than five groups of three people, a monk, a man and a bride as well as singers, drums and clappers accompanying them.
The dance celebrates a rich harvest, and there is a storytelling element where a man and his bride are dancing together happily, a monk tries to cut in between them and get in the way. It contains the theme of human drama which became popular at the end of Edo Period.
Genroku Bouzu Dance is a folk art that has a long history passed on through the generations.