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.
Bon Dance Festival is held from August 13 to 18 in Higashiyama Hot Springs in the suburbs of Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. Higashiyama is a fine hot spring town with a lot of Japanese style hot spring inns lining along the both sides of the Yukawa River. The history of this hot spring town dates back to about 1,000 years ago, when hot springs were discovered by Priest Gyoki. It thrived as the entertainment center of the area since then and is still favored by many tourists today as the inner sanctum of Aizu.
During the festival period, a large yagura tower is constructed over the Yukawa River. A lot of chochin lanterns are hung all around and illuminate the town. A lot of citizens together with tourists and geisha ladies in yukata join the circle and dance around the yagura tower to the dance songs such as “Aizu Bandaisan” until late at night. The town is filled with up-tempo dance songs and drum beats every night. The quiet hot spring town takes on a cheerful atmosphere during the festival period.
Numazu Summer Festival held around the last weekend of July every year is the biggest summer festival in Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. A lot of attractive events including the grand parade of Numazu Shiki-saisai Dance, the competitive performances of Shagiri music, the Japanese drum performance and the Mikoshi parade are held during the day.
Each day ends with a gorgeous fireworks display held over the Kano River. Kano River Fireworks Display, which started during the post-war restoration period, is now the biggest fireworks display held in an urban area in the Tokai district. The riverside is bustled with spectators to enjoy this charming sight of the summer. 9,000 fireworks in total are shot up into the night sky during the two-day festival period. The finale of the festival is decorated with the 470 meter long Niagara Falls.
Hanatori Odori is a kind of sword dance handed down in Ehime Prefecture since the Middle Ages. It is a gallant dance performed to pray for good health. Today several towns in the prefecture have handed down their own Hanatori Odori dances, each of which is slightly different from town to town.
In Shirokawa Town in Seiyo City, Hanatori Odori is performed in the precinct of Hachiman Shrine on August 21, the memorial day of Kobodaishi, as a part of the Buddhist ritual held at the Taishi-do Hall next to the shrine.
When straw mats are spread on the ground and the Japanese drums and gongs are placed, Ohayashi music starts at the call of the leader and the dancers carrying bamboo branches decorated with colorful paper strips on their backs stand in two lines. The dancers are local junior and senior high school students. Then at the call of the leader, they perform six kinds of gallant dances by wielding swords or grain sickles. Hanatori Odori is designated as an intangible cultural property by the city.
A tug of war is held in the sea during the Bon season in August every year in Hado Fishery Harbor in Chinzei-cho, Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture. It was originally performed in memory of the souls of warriors who lost their lives in battles when Toyotomi Hideyoshi stayed in this village to dispatch his troops to Korea.
The rope used for this unique festival is made by young men in the town on the day before the festival. It is 40 cm in diameter and 35 m in length. On the day of the festival, men in local fishermen’s traditional clothes called “Donza” dive into the sea at the signal of a drum and hold each end of the huge rope floating in the sea. Then the men play at a tug of war, dynamically splashing water and valiantly shouting encouragement.
It used to be held on July 15 on the lunar calendar but now it is held at high tide on August 15.
Wa-daiko are percussion instruments and a general term used for Japanese stick drums.
They are made from the trunk of a tree such as Keyaki wood which is hollowed out and sealed on both ends of the drum body with animal skin, mostly from cows. The player beats the skin and it vibrates to make sound.
There is another traditional percussion instrument called tsuzumi which has the same construction as wa-taiko but a smaller size. Tzuzumi are played with the hand, as opposed to the taiko drum which is struck with a drumstick or other instrument.
The history of the taiko drum goes back to ancient times - as early as the Joumon period (BC10,000 – BC300) in which a musical instrument with a similar structure is said to have already existed.
In the Middle Ages, when Dengaku - dance performance to celebrate the harvest, was developed, Ohayushi-daiko, smaller stick drums, became popular. In the Sengoku period, taiko drums were used for military purposes (Jin-daiko) and, in the Edo period, they were used inside the Edo Castle to announce the time. Over the ages, taiko drums were used for many occasions and purposes and they have become rooted in people’s everyday life.
The fact that taiko drums have been used as ceremonial tools to communicate with God in temples and shrines has made them very special instruments that resonate deeply in the Japanese people’s hearts.
In the Showa period, contemporary ensemble style drumming called Kumi-daiko became popular. It is made up of various different kinds of taiko drums, and the unique sound has been enchanting people around the world ever since.
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at the annual autumn festival of Ushikoshi Shrine in Ukusu in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, on November 2 and 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). Sanbaso is a genre of the Kabuki and Ningyo-Joruri dancing, which originated in the Noh play. The doll performance is dedicated to pray for a rich harvest and national peace and stability.
There are several theories about the origin of Ningyo-Joruri performance in this area. One theory states that it was introduced by a nobleman from Kyoto, who was exiled to the Izu province. Another theory states that it was introduced in the early Edo period (1603-1868) by Okubo Nagayasu, who came to this province as Magistrate of Izu Gold Mine. In any case, it is clear from the shrine record that the Sanbaso dance was already performed at this shrine by the local young men during the Tenmei era (1781-1788).
Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is operated by three doll handlers. Taking charge of operating different parts of the doll, they handle the doll in a well-balanced manner to the music of Japanese drums, flutes and clappers. The unity created by the dolls and their handlers leads the spectators to the fantastic world.
Hanatori Odori is a kind of sword dance handed down in Kochi Prefecture since the Middle Ages. It is a gallant dance performed to pray for good health. It is said that the dance originates in an episode in the Warring States period (1493-1573).
Once there was an impregnable castle at the top of a mountain. When a troop of warriors made an attack on the castle, the troop leader called villagers together and performed a dance with them by wielding his sword. To see their dancing, the soldiers in the castle relaxed their guard and allowed the enemy to invade into the castle.
In Tokano in Sakawa Town in Kochi Prefecture, the Hanatori Odori dances are dedicated to Shirokura Shrine and Mitsugi Shrine in early November. When the real-size straw horse is set in the shrine precinct in the morning, two Tengu with long sticks in their hands appear. Then about twelve dancers wearing flower hats and blue costumes march into the precinct through the Torii gate, walking to the rhythm of Japanese drums, who are followed by the cheerful parade of the children’s Mikoshi and Ohayashi music band.
The dancers start dancing in a circle, dynamically wielding their swords, while two Tengu walk close to the spectators and play a joke on them. Dance is continued for about 1 hour and ended with the rice throwing ritual.