Nishimonai Bon Dancing is a traditional event that has been handed down for a long time in Nishimonai in Ugo-machi, Akita Prefecture. One theory states that it started about 700 years ago, when Mitake Shrine was founded in this village and a dance to pray for rich harvest was dedicated. In 1981, Nishimonai Bon Dancing was designated as a national Important Intangible Cultural Property. It was the first designation for a Bon dancing.
One of the attractions of Nishimonai Bon Dancing is its unique and beautiful fashion. To the music of Japanese flute and drums played atop the yagura (scaffold), both minority women putting on black hood called Hikosa-zukin and adult women putting on elegant straw hat called Torioi-gasa perform elegant dances. It was considered that spirits gathered under the hood and hats. Some adult men dancers wear female dress.
There are two types of dances; “Ondo” with cheerful tempos and “Ganke” with quiet rhythms. Very complicated movements of feet and hands create elegant effects.
The ancestral “Hanui” costumes are also very beautiful. “Hanui” is passed down from mother to daughter and the patterns and designs are differ from family to family. We can see a family history in “Hanui,” which is made of fragments of old clothes collected from generation to generation since the times when dresses were important properties for women.
Hanamaki Festival is held in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture for 3 days centered on the 2nd Saturday in September every year. It originates in the float parade held in 1593 to revere Kita Shosai, the founding father of the town.
The festival features a number of events such as the parade of Furyu-dashi floats, which were originally made of bamboo and represented a whale but later changed its form into a Kyoto-styled Yakata float, and 140 taru-mikoshi (portable shrine made of barrels), and the prefecturally designated intangible cultural property, Deer Dance, which represents the ancient rituals to pray for peace of the town and to get rid of the evils.
The highlight is the Hanamaki-bayashi Dance Parade, in which 1,000 dancers elegantly dance to the Hanamaki-bayashi music, which is modeled on the Gion-bayashi of Kyoto. The pompous mixture of the sounds of large drums, small drums, Japanese flutes and Shamisen enhances the festival mood of the town.
Bunraku is a traditional puppet theater comprising three key elements: puppet performers, a chanter and a shamisen player. During the performance, puppets are manipulated by skilled performers while a chanter recites to the sound of a shamisen guitar. Their performance is enchanting and inexplicably erotic and spectators are captivated by the elegance of the puppets movement. Kiho Bunraku is a Bunraku that has been passed down for generations in the southern part of Ehime prefecture.
In the early Edo period, there were three puppet theater groups considered the best in the land. One of them, dating back more than four hundred years was Awaji Puppet Theater troupe lead by Kamimura Heitayuu. Their performance has been passed down in this region along with the puppets and complete sets of costumes during Meiji period, which have been carefully preserved to this day. Among them, thirty nine of the doll’s heads, which were created by Tenngusa who was considered a master artisan, were especially highly regarded and have been designated as tangible folklore cultural assets by the prefecture. The puppet performers are also designated as intangible cultural assets by the Kihoku Town.
In order to preserve Bunraku and nurture its successors, Kihoku Bunraku Preservation and Kihoku Bunraku Kouenkai were formed and they have been actively involved in performing at schools and senior centers. They also perform with other nearby Bunraku groups every few years.
Yamaage Festival held in July every year in Nasu Karasuyama City, Tochigi Prefecture is a dynamic performance of outdoor kabuki, which is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. The history of this outdoor kabuki dates back to 1560, when Nasu Suketane, the castellan of Karasuyama Castle enshrined Susanoo no Mikoto at Yakumo Shrine and prayed for the country’s stability and a rich harvest. During the Kanbun era (1661-1672), a dance performance was first dedicated to the deity in addition to the sumo wrestling matches and Kagura Loin Dance. In the Horeki era (1716-1763), kabuki dances began to be performed and later it took the form of the outdoor kabuki plays.
On the day of the festival, about 150 young stagehands quickly build a kabuki stage with “yama (backdrops),” which is made of bamboo and traditional Japanese paper produced in the Nasu area. When musicians start playing the Tokiwazu-bushi shamisen, local kabuki players appear on the stage and play kabuki dramas such as “Masakado,” “Modoribashi,” and “Yoshinoyama.” After the performance, the stagehand staff quickly breaks up the set, carries all necessary parts to the next locale and re-builds the stage for the next performance. The performances are held five to six times a day.
Kanazawa still feels like a castle town. It is the site of a castle as well as many samurai houses. In addition, the romantic teahouse streets have not changed at all.
Nishi Teahouse Street is to the south of the Sai River, and is synonymous with Kanazawa. In the third year of the Bunsei period, the Kaga Domain had the street built along with Higashi Teahouse Street.
Even today, Japanese-style restaurants and geisha-girl delivery stores produce items of great elegance. After dark, the sounds of the shamisen can be heard, lending the streets further charm.
In olden times, most teahouses used to refuse first-time customers. This was the case with Higashi Street, but now there are Japanese-style hotels, souvenir shops and cafes lining its sides. It is most enjoyable to walk down the street.
Nishi Teahouse Museum is located in the building where Seijiro Shimada, a writer born in Mikawa, Ishikawa prefecture, lived when young and there are items exhibited here describing his early life.
The root of the sangen, which is generally called shamisen, is a three-string musical instrument from Yuan (China) called jabisen. About 400 years ago, the instrument came to Japan through Ryukyu (now Okinawa). In Ishikawa Prefecture, chaya-machi (geisha districts) such as Higashi, Nishi and Kazue- machi, and also hot-spring resorts helped increase the demands for the instrument. As the 3rd lord of the Kaga domain, Maeda Toshitsune encouraged cultural activities, Kabuku stages were frequently promoted and sangen gained popularity as accompanying musical instrument. Japanese traditional music including nagauta and folk songs became popular among the public, the instrument is indispensable in this place of Ishikawa, where performing art is especially flourishing.
Fukushima Sangen Shop in Kanazawa is the only specialty shop, which has a history of 100 years, and exclusively accepted orders for geisha ladies in Chaya-machi in the old days. They are still producing Sangen with the traditional handiwork.
Hayama Festival is held at Hayama Shrine in Mimata-cho, Kita-Morokata-gun, Miyazaki Pref. on April 29 every year. It is said to be one of the two largest festivals in the area including Miyakonojo City and Kitamorokata County. In 1870, when Michitsune Mishima, a Home Ministry bureaucrat, consolidated Katsuoka village and Kajiyama village into Mitsumata village, he promoted this local event into a large festival, where a lot of spectators gathered together to see the dance performance.
In the precinct of the shrine, Jankan Horse Dance is dedicated. Horses beautifully decorated with colorful cloth and artificial flowers dance to the rhythm of Japanese drums and shamisen. Also the folk performing art of Bo-Odori (the stick dance) and Yakko-Odori (the samurai’s male-servants’ dance) are dedicated. After the dances are finished in the precinct, the dancers go out to every village and show the dances again, which is called “Niwa-modoshi.” Several groups from local areas give music performances and dances on the stage in the precinct. The tournaments of Japanese archery, Kendo, Judo and Shihanmato archery are held at other venues in the town. Folk performing art and marshal arts are finely combined in this traditional festival.
Awaji Puppet Theater is a form of Ningyou Jyoururi, or traditional puppet theater, in which puppeteers manipulate dolls accompanied by joururi, a traditional narrative ballad played with shamisen, a three stringed instrument. Awaji Puppet Theater is a tradition that has been passed down over the years on Awaji-shima Island, Hyogo Prefecture.
According to historical records, Awaji is where Japanese puppet theater originated and this area is said to have produced many puppeteers who traveled to other parts of Japan practicing the craft.
Awaji Puppet Theater is characterized by the use of large puppets performing compelling period dramas with exaggerated movements. This is a vestige from the days when the performances took place in small huts called nogake which lacked adequate lighting.
Awaji Puppet Theater flourished during Edo period. However, today there remains only two puppet theater groups; Awaji Ningyo-za which plays at the Great Naruto Memorial Museum and Ichimura Rokunojyou-za which performs and is preserved at Awaji Ningyou Jyoururi Shiryoukan.