Yakurai Jinja Miwaryu Kagura is a traditional folk performing art handed down at Yakurai Shrine in Kami Town, Miyagi Prefecture. It is a kind of the Hoin-styled kagura dances that were performed by mountain practitioners. Its dancing style, Miwaryu (the Miwa school of dancing), dates back to the period reigned by Empress Suiko (the 7th century).
This kagura had been danced by shrine priests since the period when this area was ruled by the Osaki clan, who served as the Oshu Tandai (the responsible head of the shogun’s executive office in the Tohoku region), during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). It is now danced by volunteers among the shrine’s worshippers and managed by the Omiya family, the hereditary shrine priest family.
In 1683, the 4th lord of the Sendai domain, Date Tsunamura ordered Miwaryu Kagura be transferred to Kameoka Hachiman Shrine, the family god of the Date clan in present Sendai City, from which Kameoka Shrine Kagura derived. Miwaryu Kagura was also dedicated at Kamo Shrine in present Sendai City later by the order of the domain lord.
As there is no similar-styled kagura dance existing in the prefecture, the prefectural government acknowledged its cultural preciousness and designated it as an intangible folk cultural property in 1978. Since then it has been formally named “Yakurai Jinja Miwaryu Kagura.” At present, it is performed at the spring and autumn annual festivals and hands down the religious faith peculiar to this mountain area centered around Mt. Yakurai.
Nagao Shrine in Nagao, Katsuragi City, Nara Pref. is a shrine that is rich in legend. The enshrined deities are Mihikarihime no Mikoto and Shirakumowake no Mikoto. It is said that this shrine was a guardian god of the Nagao clan, who ruled the area along the ancient Taima Road.
According to a legend, Ryuosha Shrine in Yamato Takada represents the head of a dragon and Nagao Shrine represents its tail. Another legend says Miwa Myojin Shrine the head and the Nagao Shrine the tail of a large snake. The shrine is located in the woods of Nagao, which is the cross point of the Takeuchi Road, Japan’s oldest official road connecting Asukakyo (present-day Nara) and Naniwa (present-day Osaka), the Ise-Hase Road and the Nagao Road.
Dense forest covers most of its 1.3 ha precinct, where visitors will be impressed with the solemn atmosphere. This is the ancient sacred place filled with air of mystery.
A couple of stone statue of Buddha is placed in a storehouse in the village of Kanaya at the southern foot of Mt. Miwayama in Sakurai City, Nara Pref. It is said that these statues were sculpted some time between the late Heian period (794-1192) and the Kamakura period (1192-1333). The statues are glyphs carved in the pieces of shale, both of which are 2.1 m tall, 83 cm wide, and 21 cm thick. The shale boards are thought to have been the lids of stone coffins. The statues were originally placed at Byodoji Temple in the vicinity and were going to be destroyed according to Haibutsu Kishaku (literally meaning abolishing Buddhism and dismissing Buddha’s teachings) by the Meiji government. However, they were protected by villagers and moved to the present small hall. On the left is Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya) and Shaka Nyorai (Siddhartha Buddha) is on the right. Well-rounded bodies expressed with flowing lines in relief are very impressive, by which, it is said, Shiko Munakata was deeply moved.
Omiwa Shrine is at the foot of Mt. Miwa in Sakurai City, Nara Pref. It is popularly called Miwa Myojin. The shrine is said to have been established to enshrine Omononushi no Okami during the reign of Emperor Sujin (B.C. 97-30) and to be the oldest shrine in Japan. The shrine has no Honden, which contains the Goshintai (the sacred body of the god). This is because Omononushi no Okami is believed to live in Mt. Miwa and Mt. Miwa itself is considered to be the Goshintai. There are a lot of huge stones remaining in Mt. Miwa, which indicates the mountain was the holy place where ritual rites were held in the ancient times. No visitors had been allowed to enter further than the Mitsudorii-Gate behind the Haiden (worship hall) until the Meiji period. At the present time, it is possible to go into the mountain by permission of Sai Shrine, which is one of the Sessha shrines (attached shrines). However, there are several strict rules to observe including the prohibition of eating, drinking and photography. A lot of people come to worship this god, who created the country and is believed to have divine power over every industry and every aspect of people’s daily life.
Hibara Shrine located at the foot of Mt. Miwa in Sakurai City, Nara Pref. is one of sessha shrines (attached shrines) to Omiwa Shrine. This shrine is also called “Moto-Ise” because the place in which the shrine is located is considered to be a village named “Yamato no Kasanui-mura” of Wa (a name of ancient Japan), where Toyosuki Irihime no Mikoto, a daughter of Emperor Sujin, enshrined Yata no Kagami, which is the sacred mirror presumably housed at Ise Shrine and is considered to be Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) itself. After the shrine was attached to Omiwa Shrine, Amaterasu Omikami is still enshrined as its main saishin (the enshrined deity). As is the case with Omiwa Shrine, the shrine has no Honden, which contains the Goshintai (the sacred body of the god) because Mt. Miwa itself is considered to be the Goshintai, which visitors worship from Mitsu-dorii Gate. The ancient-styled Torii-gate at the entrance to the precinct is made of straw-rope tied up to the two pillars. Taken up in many poems of Manyoshu, this place is filled with deep and mysterious atmosphere of the ancient times.
Hase Temple is the headquarters of the Shingon-Buzan sect and is located in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture. The name of the mountain on which it is located is Buzan-Kagurain (or Hatsuse or Buzan). The temple is the 8th of Saikoku's 33 Kannon spiritual spots.
In the 1st year of the Shucho period (686), Domyo Shonin built a three-storied tower to pray for the recovery of the Shomu Emperor. In the 4th year of the Jinki period (727), Tokudo Shonin set an 11-faced Kannon statue at the east and founded this temple.
The main statue is the wooden 11-faced Kannon-bosatsu statue. It was made in the 7th year of the Tenbun period (1538). At about 10m tall, it is the biggest wooden Buddha statue in Japan. The butai-style main building is tile-roofed and half-hipped roofed and was built in the 3rd year of the Keian period (1650).
The temple has many Buddhist scriptures and statues such as the Bronze Plaque of the Hokke Sesso-zu, and a 'makie' box for scriptures, which are national treasures. They give a sense of sincere faith.
Nara Hase Temple is also well known as a flower spot, which please visitors through each of the four seasons.