無 is the first character form of 舞 ‘dance.’ When following the classification of the traditional ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters,’ 無 is regarded as a ‘loan character’ which shares the same on-reading with another character. As, however, the classification method if the ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters’ was created to analyze the corrupt forms of the Chinese characters a thousand years after their origination, to think they were invented along these guidelines is a mistaken conclusion.
As the very first stage of Kanji is pictographic, it is obvious that on this stage the meaning ‘nothing’ cannot be expressed. With thought becoming more abstract in later times, therefore, ‘loan characters’ were very useful. Rather than naturally developing, however, ‘loan characters’ are a group of characters that receive their meaning by convention and custom. That 無 is the first character form of 舞 can be known from the tortoise plastron and bone characters. There, it actually is the form of a dancing human being with decorations hanging from both sleeves.
The Lun Yu of Confucius, Chapter 12, has “ … went to the 舞雩 ‘rain altar.’ ”
雩, read ‘u’ in Japanese, means a place for rain dance rituals or sacred music. The meaning ‘nothing, not’ can also be regarded as having its origin in the state of having ‘no rain.’ If understood this way, there is no need anymore to rely on the notion of ‘loan character’ for 無.
Anyway, explanations like “It shows a house burning down thus resulting in the meaning ‘nothing at all’,” which the author once heard in China, are misleading.
Chintoro Festival in Kamihanda is a part of Spring Float Festival held in every district in Handa City, Aichi Prefecture. Two festival floats are pulled all through the town, while two boats called “Chintoro boats” are set afloat on Miyaike Pond in the precinct of Sumiyoshi Shrine.
On the festival eve, 365 paper lanterns, which represent 365 days of the year, are set over the roof of each boat in hemispheric shape, in the midst of which a long pole with 12 paper lanterns representing 12 months of the year is erected. The lights of lanterns reflecting on the surface of the pond are very beautiful.
The name “Chintoro” is said to be derived from the name of lanterns used for the boats, or some say it is because the Ohayashi music sounds “CHINTORO, CHINTORO.” The highlight of the festival is the cute Sanbaso Dance performed by young children on the temporary stage built in the bow of the boat.
Ichihasama Shishi-Odori is a traditional performing art handed down for over 530 years in Ichihasama-Masaka, Kurihara City, Miyagi Pref. This dance is performed as a ritual to keep evil spirits away and pray for the repose of ancestors’ souls. Every July, the dancers wearing deer masks dance widely to act out male and female deer confirming each others’ affection. Legend has it that once upon a time when Date Masamune ruled this province, a local hunter went hunting in Mt. Iwakura and saw a herd of deer dancing in a very amusing way while beating on their bellies. It looked so amusing that he was inspired to create his own deer dance later. This traditional dance performance is a designated intangible folk cultural property of Miyagi Pref.
Sugihara Paper is a traditional handicraft handed down for over 1,000 years in Kami-ku, Taka-cho, Hyogo Pref. Cold and clear water that springs out of the deep mountain and the severe climate with heavy snow have grown fine mulberry that is made into this paper. This craft dates back to the Nara period (701-794). Its further advanced techniques have made it possible to produce fine paper for copying mantras and thin paper. It was once listed as the most excellent paper in quality as well as in quantity in production. However, with the change of times, it was replaced by western-styled paper, and the paper making in Sugihara valley came to a period in 1925. It was in 1966 when the townspeople started to work on the preservation of this craft. They put up the stone monument at the birthplace of Sugihara Paper, and then in 1968, established Sugihara Handmade Paper Factory, where annually 700 kg of washi paper is produced with the traditional paper filtering techniques. They had revived the craft so far as to be designated as a prefectural Important Intangible Cultural Property and in 1983.
Sekine Kagura is a traditional folk performing art handed down since the late Edo period (1603-1868) in Kitaura in Misato Town, Miyagi prefecture. The tradition was discontinued for some time after World War II, but it is presently preserved by Sekine Kagura Preservation Association. It is designated as an intangible folk cultural property of the town.
This kagura is characterized by its speedy and rhythmical movements. The repertoire is composed of three categories; Shinmaimono (sacred dances), Gunkimono (military epics) and Dokemono (comical plays).
It is said that Sekine Kagura was introduced to this area at the end of the Edo period by a young man named Zentaro, who came from the southern part of present Iwate Prefecture to work for Sasaki Hikonai, a brewer in Sekine Village. Zentaro, who was a good dancer of Numakura Kagura in the Kurikoma area in Iwate Prefecture, later got married to a woman in Sanbongi in Osaki City and contributed to the development of Iga Kagura there; hereby Sekine Kagura and Iga Kagura are called “Brother Kagura.”
The Kabuki theater in Kamimiharada (Akagi-machi, Shibukawa City, Gunma Prefecture) was constructed in 1819 by master carpenter Chojiro Nagai and is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property. Having leaned carpentry in Osaka and invented many mechanical devices, Chojiro applied this same ingenuity to stages. He created stages whose sidewalls could be laid outward to extend stage width (the Gando mechanism), stage mechanisms that made it possible to view the rear area of the stage from a distance (the Tomi mechanism), revolving stages on supporting pillars (the Hashira-tatemawashi mechanism), and mechanisms for raising stage trapdoors (the Seri-hiki mechanism).
The theater was originally constructed in the precinct of Tenryuji Temple in Akagi Village and was relocated to the present place in 1882. The Kabuki plays at this theater had been discontinued several times from the Meiji through Showa periods. In 1995, the local volunteers organized the committee to hand down the traditional stage operation techniques and its sub-committee to revive the rural Kabuki plays; thereby the plays are regularly put on stage today.
Apart from the stage mechanisms, the manhandled stage operation skills are also the cultural property that should be handed down. To operate the stage smoothly, not less than 80 people per stage are needed and that they need to be perfectly in tune with one another. Today the people in the town of Kamimiharada join together to hand down this precious theatrical tradition.
The deer dance and the sward dance handed down in the Kamiyagari area in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a kind of Nenbutsu Odori (a Buddhist invocation dance), which is performed to commemorate ancestors, prevent disasters, get rid of harmful insects and pray for a rich harvest. The dances are dedicated to the deities at the festivals of Kamo Shrine held in May and October every year.
The origin of these dances date back to the Keian era (1648-1651) in the Edo period, when a man named Tokuro living in front of Ryuhoji Temple in Yawata Town began these dances. The two dances have been handed down as one set of performing art. It is designated as a prefecture’s intangible folk cultural property.
In the deer dance, dancers are required to use high skills to beat the drum hung at the waist and to sing and dance all at once. In the sword dance, dancers wear different masks and Zai (a wig of long hair).
Katte Shrine located in Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Nara Pref. is one of the eight Myojin shrines in Yoshino. It enshrines Oyama Tsumi no Kami and Konohanasakuya-hime no Mikoto. Legend has it that in 672, when Prince Oama (later enthroned as Emperor Tenmu), who had stayed in Yoshino and gathered an army to battle with the crown prince, was playing the Japanese harp in front of the hall at this temple, a heavenly maiden appeared and showed him a lucky omen.
It is also said that in 1185, when Shizuka Gozen, who parted with Minamoto no Yoshitsune in Mt. Yoshino, was caught by the pursuers, she performed elegant dance in front of the hall at this shrine to make time for her husband to escape.
The main hall was once destroyed by fire and restored in 1776, but in 2005 it was burned down again by the fire of suspicious origin. Presently, only a part of wooden structure remains and there is little possibility of the restoration of this important cultural property.