Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades, an open cluster in the constellation of Taurus dominated by beautifully shining blue stars. The word “Subaru” is derived from an ancient Japanese word “sumaru,” which meant “to assemble.” It is said that “sumaru” became “subaru,” which meant “to unify” in the later periods. The kanji for Subaru (昴) was borrowed from the Hairy Head mansion (昴宿, pinyin), one of the twenty-eight mansions of the Chinese constellations.
The oldest writing that referred to Subaru in Japan is Wamyoruijusho, a 10th-century dictionary edited according to Chinese categories, compiled by Minamoto no Shitago by the order of Isoko Naishinno (Imperial Princess).
In Section 254 of The Pillow Book written by the famous authoress Sei Shonagon around the early 11th century, the following passage can be seen: “The Pleiades, Altair, Venus, the stars most admirable. If only there were no shooting stars to come visiting us at night.” This is the most famous passage in the Pillow Book for those who are involved in astronomy. Admiration for Subaru remains unchanged by time.
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).
Kebesu Festival is a fire festival held at Iwakura Hachiman Shrine in Kunimi-machi, Kunisaki City, Oita Pref. on October 14. The origin of the word “kebesu” is not clear; some say it comes from a phrase in a norito (Shinto prayer) referring to “a boy who kicks fire.” On the festival night, the “Kebesu,” who is wearing a grotesque mask, walks around the precinct, hitting the stick called “Samasuta” with a fan and dashes toward the holy bonfire. Then some men called “Toba” in white costume try to guard the fire and repeatedly fight with Kebesu for fire. Toba run after the spectators with burning fern in their hands. It is said that if the sparks fall on you, you will be good in health throughout the year. The festival is designated as a prefecture’s Intangible Folk Cultural Property. This is one of the few unique festivals in Japan.
“Isaribi” is a Japanese term for fishing lights, or fish attraction lights, seen from the shore. In modern Japan, it usually refers to the lights of cuttlefish fishing boats seen during the summer.
During the harvest season, the horizon is lined with brilliant fishing lights. Dozens of lights look like jewels illuminating the dark surface of the sea and create a really fantastic sight.
Many people feel the coming of summer when they see isaribi on the horizon. Isaribi look beautiful on fine evenings of course, but they create an even more mysterious, or dreamy, atmosphere on the misty evenings.
Kagi Manto in Kaifuku in Nishio City, Aichi Prefecture, is the O-Bon festival on August 14, in which giant bonfires are lit on mountainside. It is a historic festival, dating back 890 years and is designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property of the city.
The festival originates in the memorial service, in which 108 torches were burned in dedication to the repose of the warrior monks who lost their lives in the battles between the Shingon and the Tendai sects of Buddhism from the Otoku to the Kanji eras (1084-1094) in the late Heian period.
108 torches called “Suzumi” are set on fire, forming a 200 meter line on the western side of Mt. Manto, where it is believed that the souls of warrior monks are enshrined. Seen from the foot of the mountain, the burning torches look a huge hook (“kagi” in Japanese); thereby it is called Kagi Manto, which literally means “the 10,000 torches in the shape of a hook.” The fire brightly burning against dark sky will lure you into the world of fantasy.
Katakai Festival serves as the autumn festival of Asahara Shrine in Katakai Town in Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture. It is a historic festival handed down for 400 years. Held for two days from September 9 to 10 every year, the festival is famous for its impressive fireworks, which are considered contributions to the shrine as offerings to the deities.
During the festival, the shrine performs the rituals such as Tama-okuri, at which a firework's explosive device is presented as an offering to the shrine, and Tsutsu-hiki, at which a tube for launching fireworks is offered to pray for the successful shooting of fireworks.
As the town of Katakai is the birthplace of 3-shaku dama (round fireworks with a circumference of about 90 cm), numerous 3-shaku dama fireworks are gorgeously shot up into the sky during the festival. The 4-shaku dama (120 cm in circumference) fireworks, which create an illumination of 800 meters in diameter in the sky, have also been successfully set off and recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest fireworks in the world.
As many as 15,000 fireworks in total number are displayed during the 2-day festival period. The giant fireworks blooming in the night sky above the town symbolize the pride of pyrotechnists in Katakai.
Sairi Genya (Fantastic Night) is a night festival held at Sairi residence in Marumori Town in Miyagi Prefecture only for three hours during the Bon period in August every year.
Sairi Residence, which is open to the public as a history museum, was a residence of the Saito family, a wealthy merchant family counting seven generations from the Edo to Showa periods. As every generation of patriarch took the name of Saito Risuke, people called the residence “Sairi Residence.”
The residence and the surrounding area are decorated with nostalgic items such as over 1,000 pictured lantern boxes that transport visitors to the “Showa Modern” period (1920s-1930s), when the Saito family was at the height of their prosperity. Visitors can rent clothes in the “Showa Modern” style and enjoy transforming themselves into “modern” people.
Various attractions such as old-timely entertainments from traditional folk performing arts to a standard jazz concert are held in nostalgic atmosphere. Classic-styled night stalls lining the main street outside the residence are bustled with people. You can see a scene of a gentleman in a classic suit enjoying a glass of beer in front of a night stall bar. The town of Marumori is wrapped in fantasy once every year.
Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival is held annually in Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture. 300 lanterns and 2000 bonbori lanterns, all of which are made of snow, are lined across Matsugasaki Park on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday of February.
The sight of the candles flickering in the wind creates a magical beauty, inviting visitors into a surreal fairytale-like world. An immense snow monument built for soothing the souls of those who were never able to return to their hometown alive during the World War II, stands on top of the Hill Of Requiem located in the center of the park. Throughout the night, citizens come to light candles in memory of the dead.
A snow-viewing party is held at the neighboring Uesugi Kinenkan hall, where the local cuisine can be enjoyed. It is a great luxury to toast and feast on the local sake and cuisine while quietly viewing the flickering snow lanterns outside.