The Shinjo Festival has been handed down in the city of Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture since 1756, when Tozawa Masanobu, the 5th lord of the Dewa Shinjo domain, carried out a festival at the Tenmangu shrine located in the castle area to pray for rich harvest. It is said that the people in the domain, who had suffered from famine and epidemics, were revitalized by this festival and able to have a hope again.
Today, the festival is held for three days in August. On the eve of the festival, the parade of floats depicting famous scenes from Kabuki plays and historical picture scrolls create a magical atmosphere of light and shadow when the lights are lit at night. Another feature of the festival is the Mikoshi Togyo Parade on the main festival day. There is also a floats parade on this day. On the 3rd day, floats are displayed in the central part of the town.
The Deer Dance is dedicated to Tozawa Shrine and Gokoku Shrine in the castle ruins site on the 3rd day to pray for rich harvest of the year. It is designated as an intangible folk cultural property of the prefecture as a dance mocking an antelope, which is rarely seen in the country.
Popularly called “Chiryu Daimyojin,” Chiryu Shrine in Chiryu City, Aichi Prefecture, was one of the three distinctive shrines on the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). The shrine possesses a lot of precious cultural properties including the Tahoto pagoda, which is thought to have been built in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and masks for Maigaku (court music), Noh plays and Shishi-mai (lion dance).
Among the renowned festivals held at this shrine, Akiba (Autumn Leaf) Festival in September every year serves as the annual festival of Akiba Shrine, a sub-shrine located in the precinct of Chiryu Shrine. According to the shrine festival record written in 1758, the kagura dance and ningyo-joruri (doll plays) were dedicated as the autumn festival in conformity to the Grand Festival of the main shrine in spring,
The main feature of Akiba Festival today is the display of tube fireworks, which started to be dedicated in 1907. During the day, young men of six towns of the city shoulder the box called “Tama-bako (ball case),” in which the stone representing a firework ball is placed, and valiantly parade through the city, singing “Nagamochi-uta.” When they return to the shrine in the evening, they stand in circle and display dynamic tube fireworks.
Ryokan was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk in the late Edo period (1603-1868). He is also known as a calligrapher and poet, who wrote both Japanese waka poems and Chinese classic poems.
He was born in in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in 1758. He was much influenced by his father, who was a Nanushi (village officer) and poet. Ryokan studied under Omori Shiyo, a scholar of Chinese classics and became his father’s assistant.
Later he visited and stayed at Entsuji Temple (in present-day Okayama Prefecture), where he was ordained priest by the Zen master Kokusen. It was around this time that Ryokan also took interested in writing poems and deepened exchanges with many poets of the time.
Ryokan attained enlightment and was presented with an Inka (a formal acknowledgement of a student’s completion of Zen training) by Kokusen at the age of 33. He left Entsuji Temple to set for a long pilgrimage and necer returned to the monastery life. He lived the rest of his life as a hermit and taught Buddhism to common people in easy words instead of difficult sermons.
He disclosed his own humble life, for which people felt sympathy, and placed their confidence in him. A lot of artists and scholars also visited his small hut, Gogo-an, where he talked with them over a drink of Hannya-yu (enlightening hot water, namely Japanese hot sake). He died in 1831. His only disciple, Teishin-ni published a collection of Ryokan’s poems titled “Hasu no Tsuyu (Dewdrops on a lotus leaf).”
Isesaki Shrine is a historic shrine located in Honcho, Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture. The enshrined deities are Ukemochi no Kami and Yachimatahiko no Mikoto. It is said that the shrine was founded by Miura Yoshizumi in 1213 under the name of Iifuku Shrine. Since then, being called “Iifuku-sama,” it has been worshipped by local people.
The shrine was relocated to the present place by Nitta Yoshisada in 1329, when he was governor of this province. Yoshisada ordered to repair the shrine building and enshrined Yasaka no Kami (the deity of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto), Inari no Kami and Sugawara no Kami (Sugawara no Michizane) together.
In 1759, the shrine building was destroyed by fire. The present Honden (main hall) was constructed in 1848. Elaborate and gorgeous carvings are given to every part of the building.
In 1926, several shrines in the town were united together into this shrine and it was renamed Isesaki Shrine. It is visited by a lot of people on many occasions all through the year including New Year’s visit, the Seven-Five-Three Festival, and protection from evils.
Okiku Inari Shrine in Shinmachi, Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture is a shrine with legends associated with a fox. In the battle of Kannagawa in 1582, the Hojo clan won a victory after a white fox appeared, which they appreciated and founded an Inari shrine at this place.
Another legend has it that, during the Horeki era (1751-1763), a girl named Okiku was working in Daikoku-ya, an inn in Ochiai-shinmachi-juku post town. She was a very beautiful and amiable girl but fell ill and was confined to her bed in a small hut behind the shrine for three years. One night, the spirit of Inari stood at the head of her bed. After this, Okiku got over form her illness by a miracle, which she appreciated and devoted herself to the service of the shrine. Thereby people began to call the shrine Okiku Inari.
Mukaiyama Lion Kagura Ritual is performed at the annual spring festival of Ichikishima Shrine in Mukaiyama Town in the Okkawa area in Handa City, Aichi Prefecture. The origin of this kagura dance dates back about 400 years. When Nagoya Castle was constructed, it is said that the dancer wearing a lion head led the line of carts carrying stones for the stone wall of the castle. The lion dance was performed along the way in hope of the safe transportation.
The lion dancer leading the procession of the festival floats is depicted in “Okkawa Dashi Sairei Ezu (the picture of the float festival in Okkawa)” painted in 1755. It is supposed that the lion dancer was from Mukaiyama.
Today, three kinds of lion kagura dances, Suzu-no-mai (the Bell Dance), Tsurugi-no-mai (the Sword Dance) and Doiri-no-mai, are dedicated at the shrine festival, which is held on the same day as Handa Spring Float Festival. This dance was designated as an intangible folk cultural property by the city in 1969.
Ankoku-ji is a generic name for temples which were built by Ashikaga Takauji under his grand plan of creating one temple in each provincial state following the earlier example of Emperor Shoumu who built Kokubun-ji temples.
Most of Ankoku-ji still remains today and this Ankoku-ji in Oozaki City, Miyagi, is also one of sixty six Ankoku-ji temples build under the plan.
While Kokubun-ji were built to pray for each state’s achievements in culture and education, though having the similar basic concept, Ankoku-ji differs slightly as they honor the fallen soldiers since Genko War and pray for the peace and security of the nation.
Ankoku comes from word “Ankokurijyou” meaning to make the nation peaceful and safe, and save all mankind and create prosperity. With this vision and its respect for all dead soldiers, Ankoku-ji are temples designed to unify Japan.
Miyagi Ankoku-ji was destroyed several times by fire during military conflict but since then it was rebuilt by Date Tadamune, the lord of Sendai Clan, in 1760. It remains intact to this day.
The principal image of Buddha in the temple is a wooden Amidanyorai statue, which is designated as a Miyagi’s cultural asset. Along with the other sixty five temples scattered in the nation, Miyagi Ankoku-ji watches over worldly life.
The Takashimizu Castle ruins are located in Takashimizu in Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture. The castle was constructed in 1356 by Takashimizu Naokata, a clansman of the Osaki clan, who served as the Oshu Tandai (the responsible head of the shogun’s executive office in the Tohoku region). After the Osaki clan was destroyed, it was resided by the Watari clan since 1604. Later the Ishimoda clan moved to this castle in 1757 and ruled the area until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868). It was dismantled after the Meiji Restoration (1868).
Most part of the outer moat was reclaimed and the ruins site was converted into Takashimizu-jo Sotobori (Outer Moat) Park, where visitors can enjoy viewing flowers of each season. A part of the moat still remains and it makes visitors think of the bygone time. The pottery plate with the picture of old Takashimizu Castle is placed at the center of the park. As Takashimizu is known as a town of spring water, the park also has a pond where children can play and bathe.