Shinmeisha Shrine in the Naka area in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, is an old shrine, which was relocated to the present place in 1600.
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at this shrine on the evening of November 2 and on the morning of November 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). It is said that this is one of the Ningyo-Joruri performances that were introduced to this area during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The doll performance is dedicated to give thanks to nature and to pray for a rich harvest, family safety, national peace and prevention of diseases. The dedicated play “Okina” is a drama in Kabuki style, which is originally a repertoire of the Noh play. Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is about 1 meter tall and operated by two local young men. Taking charge of operating different parts of the doll, the two doll handlers skillfully operate the doll and make it dance and perform the drama, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The movements of the dolls are so elaborate that you will feel as if a real man is acting as a doll.
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.
Mt. Nonodake in Wakuya Town in Miyagi Prefecture has been known as the holy mountain since the ancient times. Nonodake Hakusan Festival with a history of more than 1,000 years is performed gracefully with the traditional ritual at Konpoji Temple at the top of the mountain. The festival is continued for about 1 month from New Year’s Day to the end of January.
The most attractive event during the festival period is the Oyumi (the sacred archery) ritual performed on the 4th Sunday of January. After the prayer for a rich harvest is offered, the rice cake called “Oshitogiage” is dedicated to Hakusan Gongen. Then, assisted by the priests, two Chigo (young boy acolytes) wearing Eboshi hats and Hitatare garments shoot twelve arrows that represent twelve months of the year. This is an augury for the climate and harvest of the year. If an arrow hits the mark, they will have a good weather, and if an arrow misses the mark, they will have a strong wind. The archery augury by the cute boys gets a favorable reputation that it is accurate.
Mikami Shrine is at the foot of Mt. Mikamiyama in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. The enshrined deity is Amenomikage no Kami, the god of Mt. Mikamiyama. Historic buildings including the Romon gate, Honden (the main hall) and Haiden (the oratory) stand quietly in the deep forest. Honden is designated as a National Treasure for its unique architectural style called “Mikami-zukuri,” which is the combination of the architectural styles used for a shrine, a temple and a nobleman’s residence.
Zuiki Festival is held at this shrine on the 2nd Monday of October every year. The word “zuiki” means the stem of a taro potato. Every year five Mikoshi (portable shrine), which are made of zuiki and decorated with vegetables and persimmon leaves, are dedicated to the shrine to express gratitude for the year’s crop. It has been held for over 400 years and was designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the national government in 2005.
Saisen is a money offering to a god and is usually offered to express gratitude when a wish is fulfilled or in general when visitors pray.
In the old days, crops such as rice were mainly offered and, in some cases, items other than food such as clothing or weapons were presented.
Later, as the monetary system was developed, other types of offerings were gradually replaced by money. In the Muromachi Period the money offertory box started to be placed in front of shrines and temples.
The oldest record of such an offertory box is one that was called sansenbitsu and placed at Tsuruoka Hachiman-guu Shrine in 1540.
Visitors usually first throw money in the box and clap hands together a few times, or if in a temple setting, join hands to pray and make a wish or express gratitude for an achievement.
There is no rule governing how much a visitor should offer. In some cases the amounts to be offered is decided by a word play. For matchmaking (“go-en” in Japanese), 5 Yen (also pronounced “go-en”) is offered, and in case of a merchant, it is 2951 Yen as it is pronounced “fukukoi” which means “brings good fortune”.
People’s wishes made to the gods seem to never change, no matter in what moment of time they live.
Mikami Shrine enshrines Mt. Mikami or popularly called Omi-Fiji, a 432 m conical mountain in Shiga Prefecture, and Amenomikage no Kami, the guardian deity of old Omi province and the deity of blacksmith and blade smith.
The main hall constructed in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) is a very unique building in the style called Mikami-zukuri, in which the architectural styles for shrines, temples and residences are combined together. The Buddhism architectural style can be seen in its 3-bay structure, the Irimoya-zukuri roof, white walls and lattice windows. As one of the oldest shrine building in the Irimoya-zukuri style, it was designated as a National Treasure in 1952. The Haiden Hall (oratory), the main gate, the main hall of an attached shrine, Wakamiya Shrine, and the wooden Chinese dog are nationally designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Zuiki Festival is held at this shrine in the middle of October every year. The word “zuiki” means the stem of a taro potato. Every year five Mikoshi (portable shrine), which are made of zuiki and decorated with vegetables, persimmon leaves and chestnuts, are dedicated to the shrine to express gratitude for the year’s crop.
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.
Matsuage Torch Lighting Ritual is a fire festival held in August in Hirogawara, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto to pray for commemoration of the souls of ancestors as well as for fire prevention and rich harvest. It originates in the tradition of bonfires offered to the deity of fire on Mt. Atago in the western part of Kyoto. Later it was introduced to the nearby villages by mountain practitioners.
In Matsuage (hurling up) ritual, 1,200 torches are set on fire one after another. The flames of the torches spreading in the darkness are overwhelming. Then at the sign of a drum and gong, men began to hurl up burning torches at mass of dry grass called “Ogasa” fixed atop the 20 m tall pole called “Torogi” made of Japanese cypress wood. As they hurl them up, they twirl them many times to give momentum and leave multiple of circular trails of fire, which is very fantastic. The climax is when Ogasa is set on fire and the Torogi is pulled down to the ground. Numerous fire sparks beautifully soar up into the dark sky.