Kagura is a traditional theatrical dance in the Shinto religion. Kashiwagino Jindai Kagura is one of these dances that have been passed down to the Kashiwagino region of Hinoharamura, Nishitama-gun,Tokyo. Jindai Kagura is performed once every two years at Chinjyu Nangou Shrine, on the occasion of the fall festival, to pray for rich harvests and the safety and well-being of the family.
Prior to the performance, dancers undertake a purification ceremony in which they clean themselves in the Minamiaki River, chanting “rokkonshoujyou”. Rokkonshoujyou, literally translated, means “six roots purification”. In the context of this Kagura it means to purify the six senses and the consciousness that humans possess. The word, rokkonshoujyou, is said to be at the root of the word “dokkoisho”, which Japanese people often utter to cheer themselves.
The performance starts with the Demon Dance, performed by children. It is then followed by 12 other performances, including Yusaguri in which people try to change the heart of a bad person by putting him into hot water and Daijya Taiji in which an old man asks people to capture a giant snake that has swallowed his daughter. All of the dances are based on local folk tales and they entertain the audience until midnight.
The performers range from elementary school students to adults all of whom decorate themselves with vibrant costumes and Kagura masks. The Jindai Kagura tradition is still alive and well today and it is dearly loved by Japanese people.
Jindai Kagura has been designated as an Intangible Folklore Cultural Asset by Tokyo.
Toyoma Fall Festival is held on the 3rd weekend of September every year in Toyoma Town in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. It has been handed down for over 300 years, serving as the annual festival of Toyoma Shrine, which houses the guardian god of the town.
On the eve of the festival on Saturday, archery rituals such as the Hikime ritual to drive away evils by shooting arrows and the Oomato (big target) ceremony are dedicated to the god. From 5:00 in the evening, Toyoma Takigi-Noh (Noh by the light of torches), a prefecturally designated folk cultural property, is performed at Mori Butai, the Noh theater and museum.
On the main festival day on Sunday, the parade of about 13 festival floats, warriors, the beautiful women Yosakoi dancers and Chigo (young children in ancient costumes) go through the town to the music of Toyoma-bayashi played by children. The floats are handmade and pulled by the members of sub-town associations. About 13 floats participate in the parade every year. Each float is decorated with a huge paper-mache doll such as a fierce tiger, a bubbling crab, or the characters from “Journey to the West.” Everyone in town enjoys this biggest event of the fall.
Akiru Shrine located in Itsukaichi, Akiruno City, Tokyo is a historic shrine, which was atop the list of eight shrines in Tama district of Musashi province in Jinmyocho (the list of deities) of Engishiki (the codes and procedures on national rites and prayers) written in the Heian period (794-1192). It is said that Minamoto no Yoritomo, Ashikaga Takauji and Tokugawa Ieyasu paid a visit to this shrine.
Akiru Festival held from September 28 to 30 every year has a long history dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868). The huge and gorgeous mikoshi (portable shrine) with 1.5 m square body is carried along the Itsukaichi Kaido Road in a gallant manner. The lion dance is traditionally performed to purify the way of the mikoshi before it is carried out of the shrine.
Morioka Autumn Festival serves as the annual festival of Morioka Hachimangu Shrine in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture. It is held for 3 days from September 14 to 16 every year, and the festival eve events are performed on the 13th.
Morioka Hachimangu was founded about 800 years ago by the Nanbu clan as the guardian god of their castle town of Morioka. The festival dates back to 1709, when a parade of floats was performed to celebrate the completion of all the 23 sub-towns of the castle town. It is said that the parade was composed of 23 floats made by each town.
The float parade has been performed since then and it is now designated as a city’s intangible cultural property. In the Hachiman-kudari parade, all the floats start parading from Hachiman Shrine in the afternoon and go through the town. And in the Dashi-Daiemaki parade in the evening, the gorgeously lit up floats parade through the town again. Also, traditional Yabusame (horseback archery) is held in the shrine precinct.
The front approach of the shrine is lined with night stalls including “yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles),” which is a must for a Japanese “omatsuri.” Listening to Nanbu’s distinctive “Ondo” music played by children on the floats and eating yakisoba; it’s a fantastic way to spend your holiday.
Yagoro-don Festival held on November 3 every year serves as an annual autumn festival of Iwagawa Hachiman Shrine in Oshumi Town in Soo City, Kagoshima Prefecture. It is a gallant festival that represents the southern part of Kyushu and counted as one of the three largest festivals in Kagoshima Prefecture.
The highlight of the festival is the Hamakudari parade of Yagoro-don, a 4.85 meter tall giant with goggle eyes and strong eyebrows. Wearying long and short swords on his waist, the giant goes through the town in hope of a rich harvest. There are many theories about its origin. Some say that he is modeled after Takenouchi Sukune, a legendary hero who served six generations of the emperors. Others say that he was the head of the Hayato clan, who ruled the ancient Kyushu. It is believed that if you touch things pertaining to Yagoro-don, you will be in sound health for one year.
Ohitsuwari, or also called Ohachiwari, held on the 3rd Sunday of October at Muro Shinmei-sha Shrine in Nishio City, Aichi Prefecture, is a Shinto ritual to pray for a rich harvest and household safety. It has been passed down since the late Edo period (1603-1868) and is designated as a Nishio City’s Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Ohitsuwari (the rice container breaking) is a very rough and spectacular Shinto ceremony. Right after the 15 men who are at an unlucky age, called yaku-otoko, are given ohitsu, which contains Sekihan (“red rice” made of glutinous rice and red beans), by a Shinto priest, they start struggling with each other to get the ohitsu pushing and shoving.
Then the men beat broken the cover of the ohitsu with their bare hands, and visitors also join and scramble to grab the red rice. It is said that if you eat this red rice, you can live in good health through the year. The scene of the yaku-otoko and visitors struggling for red rice in confusion is worth seeing.
The Nyuta Kagura Dance is performed at Nyuta Shrine in Shintomi Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, in February every year as a Shinto ritual to pray for a rich harvest.
Although the shrine was destroyed by a battle fire in 1578, it was reconstructed in 30 years and has been worshipped as the guardian god of the town until today. The enshrined deity is Hikohohodemi no Mikoto. The origin of the Kagura dance is unknown because the old documents are lost.
The Kagura dances are dedicated as “Tata Kagura” at the spring grand festival of Nyuta Shrine and at every shrine in town during the autumn festival season. At the grand festival, a 5-meter square stage is set up in the precinct, where 33 dances are performed. The most attractive scene is the “Hebi-kiri (snake cutting),”in which Tajikarao no Mikoto cuts a straw snake down to the ground with a sword.
Zuiki (Taro Stalk) Festival is held at Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine in Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto from October 1 to 4 every year in appreciation for the year's grain harvest. It is said that the name comes from the Mikoshi (portable shrine), whose roof is thatched with a taro stalk. The original form of the festival was first held in the middle of the Heian period (794-1192) and Zuiki Mikoshi festival held by the shrine parishioners already started in as early as the Muromachi period (1336-1573). Both at Shinko-sai Festival on the 1st, when the portable shrine is carried from the main shrine to Otabisho (temporary shrine) and at Kanko-sai Festival on the 4th, when it returns to the main shrine, a gland parade of 150 shrine parishioners dressed in Imperial costumes of the Heian period including Chigo (boy acolytes) and various floats such as Gohoren (phoenix floats) march through the city. During the festival period, various events such as Chakugo-sai (arriving ceremony), Kencha-sai (tea dedicating ceremony) and Kabuto no Gokuhou-sen (ceremony to offer a helmet) are carried out. Zuiki Festival, which has a history of over 1,000 years, is one of the representative autumn festivals in Kyoto.