Festival of Kakunodate is a historic festival handed down for over 300 yeas in the Kakunodate area in Senboku City, Akita Prefecture. It is an annual festival of Myojin Shrine, the guardian god of the town and Jojuin Yakushido Temple. The festival is held for three days in September in hope of the town’s prosperity and business success.
The most spectacular is the float parade, in which 18 floats with warrior dolls and Kabuki character dolls atop of them are pulled around the city accompanied by the sounds of Japanese flute and drums played by ohayashi musicians. On the first day, the floats are pulled to Myojin Shrine. Then on the second day, they go along the street with samurai-styled old houses and head for the residence of the head of the Satake family, who were the descendants of the domain lord of this area in the Edo period, and drop in at Yakushido Temple on the third day.
The climax is the collision of the floats. When the floats run into each other in the street, the men start a negotiation to get the right of way. Then if the negotiation falls apart, they start to make the float collide each other, at which the spectators get excited and the street is surrounded with enthusiasm. This elegant but fierce festival was designated as a national Important Intangible Cultural Property in 1991.
Toyoma Shinryoku Takigi-Noh is the Noh play put on outdoors with light supplied by bonfires. It is performed in the middle of June every year at Mori Butai, the Noh theater and museum, in Toyoma Town in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture.
When the bonfires placed on the white sand ground around the stage are lit all at once at 5:00 in the evening, the Noh stage appears out of the darkness. For the following three hours, the elegant Noh plays on the stage together with the sound and smell of burning torches transport spectators somewhere ethereal.
During the Edo period, Noh was considered to be important as Shikigaku (music and dances performed at official occasions) of the warrior class. In the Sendai domain, too, it was given protection and encouragement by the successive domain lords including Date Masamune.
In the territory of the Toyoma-Date family, who followed the formalities of the Date clan, Noh was also extensively practiced and handed down by the warrior class. After the abolition of clans in the Meiji period (1868-1912), the warriors who handed down Noh plays became farmers, which resulted in Noh becoming widespread among townspeople and being inherited in Toyoma Town as Toyoma-Noh.
Toyoma-Noh has been handed down by Toyoma Yokyokukai (Toyoma Noh Chant Society) since 1908. Although they are amateur performers, they keep the tradition with extremely high level of performance that can be compared with professional Noh players. Toyoma-Noh was prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property and it still enjoys wide popularity among people inside and outside the prefecture.
Hishio Festival held in early May at Kamizaki Shrine in the Kamezaki district of Handa City, Aichi Prefecture, has a long history. One theory states that it dates back to the late 15th century, but its origin is unknown. It is a nationally designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Five festival floats, all of which were constructed in the late Edo period (the 19th century), are pulled down to the beach in front of the shrine when the tide ebbs, which originates in the legend that the enshrined deity landed on this village from the sea; hereby it was named “Hishio,” meaning “low tide.”
The floats are then pulled up to the bank of the beach and stand closely side by side. The line of gorgeously decorated floats looks very impressive. After the Karakuri doll performance, which is solely seen in the areas around Chita Peninsula, is done on the upper story of the floats, they are pulled around the town.
As the wheels of the floats are removed and buried in the sand of the beach after the festival to prevent corrosion, the preparation of the festival starts with digging them out, which is followed by assembling of the floats, Ohayashi music practice, and so on. It takes more than one month to prepare for the festival.
Suwa Taisha Grand Shrine, located in Nagano Prefecture, is comprised of four shrines. One of the shrines, Kamisha Honguu, is situated in Nakasu Miyayama, Suwa City. The other three shrines are Kamisha Maemiya, Shimosha Akimiya and Shimosha Harumiya. The deity enshrined here are Takeminakata-no-Mikoto and Yasakatome-no-Mikoto. The shrine was ranked the most important in Nagano region.
Suwa Taisha is one of the oldest shrines, its name first appearing in Engishiki Jinmyouchou (edited in 927). It is the head shrine and represents more than 10,000 Suwa Shrines nationwide.
Onbashira Festival is an awe-inspiring grand festival held once every six years in the Year of the Tiger and the Year of the Monkey. The festival is designated as an intangible folklore cultural asset by the prefecture.
In the festival, participants cut down sixteen gigantic fir trees 16m high and 1m diameter in the mountains and take them down to the shrines. The participants then erect one tree trunk at each corner of the four shrines.
The festival takes place on two separate occasions over the course of two months. The first part of the festival called “Yamadashi” is held in April and the giant fir trees are brought down from the mountain down steep slopes and hauled with straw ropes across Miya River.
The second part is held in May and called “Satobiki” in which the logs are paraded along with the cavalry and are then erected in the shrines. For these two months, Suwa region is in a continuous state of festivities.
Onbashira Festival at Suwa Taish Grand Shrine is one of the foremost Japanese festivals with its long history and grand scale.
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!”
Gohara lacquer ware is a traditional handicraft in Hiruzen, Maniwa City, Okayama Prefecture. It is designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the prefecture. It is said that the craft dates back to the Meitoku era (1390-1400) of the Muromachi period. The production reached its peak in the Edo period (1603-1868), when a lot of Gohara lacquer products were shipped to areas in the Sanin region.
Local chestnut wood is cut in a round slice, which is directly placed on a turner and shaped into a desired form, by which the grains of wood remain unimpaired. Then natural lacquer from Bicchu area (the southwestern part of the prefecture) is applied many times to create solid surface.
Because of its beautiful curbs of grains as well as the practicability for daily use, Gohara lacquered vessels are still loved by many people.
Chiryu Float Karakuri is performed at Chiryu Festival of Chiryu Shrine in Chiryu City, Aichi Prefecture, from May 2 to 3 once every two years. It is designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Chiryu Shrine is a historic shrine founded in 112 and was ranked the second largest shrine in Mikawa province in the Heian period (794-1192). The enshrined deities are Ugaya Fukiaezu no Mikoto and other three deities. The shrine is worshipped by local people as the god to prevent attacks by Mamushi pit-vipers as well as to bring rain and safe delivery.
Karakuri dolls have been made by the local people in Chiryu with creative ingenuity, and the techniques have been handed down since the Edo Period (1603-1868). They are made by the hands of the town people. The mechanism of the dolls is not sophisticated, and scrub bushes and scrap fabric are used for the material. It is unique and almost unprecedented in the way that dolls alone perform a whole play of Bunraku in response to Jorui chanting. It is said that Chiryu Karakuri is the most elaborate style of the float Karakuri in the country. It is a traditional culture that represents the pride of the people in Chiryu.
The Kumi kagura dance has been handed down at Ise Mikoto Shrine in the Kumi area on Oki-Dogo Island. It was derived from the Ochi kagura dance that has been performed on the islands of Oki. The Kumi kagura dance is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property. It is dedicated at an annual festival held at Ise Mikoto Shrine on July 25th in the years ending with even numbers and 26th in the years with odd numbers.
The kagura dances in the Oki Islands are usually performed by the people called Shake (hereditary kagura dance performers). However, the Kumi kagura was handed down to the local worshippers from the Wada family, the successor of this kagura in the Aburai area, in 1889, since when it has been performed by local people.
The dances are performed all through the night from 9:00 P.M. till the dawn of the following day. The repertoire includes “Miko-mai (the dance by shrine maidens),” which is typical to this kagura, gallant “Sarutahiko-no-mai,” and humorous “Taizuri (Sea Beam Fishing).” The combination of dynamic dancing and colorful costumes gives a deep impression on the spectators.
Amidst the dances, a small banquet ritual called “Nusa-no-sakazuki” is held, where the dancers and the directors of the shrine parishioners’ board are served with sake wine.