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.
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.
The fire festival is held on the 2nd Saturday of January every year at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Moriyama City in Shiga Prefecture. On the same day, another fire festival is held at Katsube Shrine in the city. Both are prefecturally designated as intangible folk cultural properties.
The festivals are based on the story dating back about 800 years. When Emperor Tsuchimikado fell into a critical condition, it turned out that the illness was caused by a huge centipede living in Mt. Mikami. Then Fujiwara no Hidesato shot three arrows at the same time and they hit the huge centipede. Its head fell into the precinct of Sumiyoshi Shrine, the body into Katsube Shrine and the tail onto the ground near Karahashi Bridge in Seta village. The parts of the body were burned down at the places they fell; hereby the festivals are held at the two shrines.
On the morning of the festival day, the Shinto ritual and the arrow shooting ceremony are held at the shrine. Then the huge straw torch is brought into the precinct by men in loincloth in the evening. The torch is about 6 m long and weighs about 40 kg.
The men set the fire to the torch and dance wildly around the blazing fire with the powerful calls of “Heiyu! Heiyu!” which means “May an illness be cured!”
The fire festival is held on the 2nd Saturday of January every year at Katsube Shrine in Moriyama City in Shiga Prefecture. On the same day, another fire festival is held at Sumiyoshi Shrine in the city. Both are prefecturally designated as intangible folk cultural properties.
Katsube Shrine is a historic shrine, which is said to have been founded in 649 by Mononobe no Sukune Hirokuni to enshrine his ancestry deity. During the Warring States period (1493-1573), the shrine thrived under the faithful protection from the Sasaki clan, the governor of Omi province and other powerful daimyos such as the Oda and Toyotomi clans.
At Katsube Shrine, 12 large straw torches in the shape of a huge centipede are provided in the shrine precinct. This is based on a story that, when Fujiwara no Hidesato launched an arrow, the body of a huge centipede fell down from the sky and he burned it down. The torch is about 6 m long and 40 cm in diameter.
After dedicating the offing including holy sake wine, sardine and tofu and offering a prayer to the deity, young men in loincloth receive the holy fire from the altar and set it to all the 12 torches at the same time. Then the men dance wildly around the blazing fire with the powerful calls of “Goyo! Hyoyo!” which means “May a headache be cured!”
The Hiwatari ritual is performed as a part of Tenjin Festival held on February 25 every year at Sugahara Shrine in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. The ritual has been performed to pray for prosperity and good health in the new year on the lunar calendar, which has begun at around the beginning of February. It marked the 30th anniversary in 2007.
In a Hiwatari ritual, mountain practitioners and worshippers walk through the burning fire to purify themselves and bring good luck. The Hiwatari ritual at Sugahara Shrine is one of the rare cases in that it is performed at a Shinto shrine, for Hiwatari is usually performed at Buddhist temples in Japan.
After the goma stage is purified with a sword and an arrow is shot in hope of the god’s guard, mountain practitioners throw torches into the huge goma stage built up of more than 10,000 wooden tablets inscribed with wishes. Then a set of purification rites are performed in front of the holy fire.
When the fire burns down and coals are flattened into a 3 square meter stretch, the mountain practitioners start to walk on the burning ashes. After that, general worshippers walk on the ashes.
Carefully walking on the burning ashes, fire walkers have a piece of paper called “Ashigatafu (footprint paper)” in their hands. After completing the toasty walk, they apply Japanese ink on the bottom of their foot and press it on the footprint paper. It is said that, if you put up your footprint talisman on the wall of your bedroom, your wish will be fulfilled.
Tenonji Temple in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, is a temple of the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect. The temple was founded by the Zen monk Kensho Goshin in 1362 by the order of the 3rd Shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, on behalf of his grandfather, Ashikaga Takauji, who had made a vow before he died that he would construction a temple at this place in appreciation for the fulfillment of his prayer for victory.
The stately main gate built in the Yakuimon style looks like a castle gate. The main hall is a Chinese-styled building with the large camber on the outer side of the roof. It is nationally designated as an Important Cultural Property. In front of the main hall is a Hojo-ike Pond (set living things free pond), which is typical to a Zen temple.
In the precinct stands a huge cedar tree named “Ieyasu-ko Mikaeri-no-sugi (the cedar tree that Ieyasu looked back at).” According to a legend, when Tokugawa Ieyasu visited this temple to pray for his victory, he heard someone calling his name. He turned around to see who it was, when an assassin was just going to launch an arrow at him from behind a huge cedar tree. It was Enmei Jizo Bosatsu (Life Lengthening Jizo) that called him and Ieyasu narrowly escaped from being shot. When he left the temple for a battle field, Ieyasu looked back at the cedar tree over and over again to show his gratitude to Jizo Bosatsu.
Haruna Shrine in Harunasan-cho, Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture is a historic shrine located in Mt. Haruna. The enshrined deities are Homusubi no Kami and Haniyamahime no Kami. It is one of the Six Shrines in Kozuke province (present-day Gunma Prefecture). It is said that the shrine was founded during the reign of the 2nd emperor Suizei (reigned 581-549 B.C.) and the shrine building was built in 586.
As the god of rainfall and the holy place for mountain practitioners, it has been visited by a lot of worshippers since the ancient times. From the Nanbokucho Period (1336-1392) onward, it had been affiliated with Ueno Kaneiji Temple in Edo, but according to the separation of Buddhism and Shinto during the Meiji period, the Buddhist colors were discontinued and it was restored to the original shrine.
With a national Natural Monument “Yatate Cedar Tree,” at which Takeda Shingen shot an arrow to pray for his victory and the huge Misugata-Iwa Rock behind the main hall, the precinct is filled with solemn atmosphere.
The six buildings including Honden (the main hall), Haiden (the oratory) and Heiden (the votive offerings hall) are designated as national Important Cultural Properties, and an iron lantern, the Sangaku (Japanese methematical votive tablet) of the Seki school and the documents concerning the shrine are designated as prefectural Important Cultural Properties.
This 73 m waterfall located in Tsuno-cho, Koyu-gun Miyazaki Pref. is selected one of Japan’s 100 Fine Waterfalls. It is a part of Osuzu Prefectural Natural Park. The name “Yatogi (grinding an arrow)” comes from the legend that Emperor Jinmu (reigned 660-585 BC) ground his arrow in the water of this waterfall when he was on his expedition to the east from Hyuga province. The waterfall is the most famous of about 30 large and small waterfalls in Mt. Suzuo. It is a wonderful waterfall with abundant flow of clear water, which is in good harmony with the surrounding natural forest. Visitors will be struck with magnificence of its pure white water.