Sawa Shrine in Nishina in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, is an old shrine, which enshrines the deity of a bumper catch and navigation safety. According to the shrine record, the shrine was endowed with the landownership of shipbuilding village by Emperor Sujin (B.C. 97-30).
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at the annual autumn festival of the shrine held on November 2 and 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). It is said that Ningyo-Joruri performance was introduced to this area during the Keicho era (1596-1614) by Okubo Nagayasu, who was a Sarugaku performer and came to this province as Magistrate of Izu Gold Mine. Ningyo-Joruri was first performed at this shrine in celebration of the large scale refurbishment of the shrine building in 1825. Since then the tradition has been handed down by the local young people.
The dedicated plays are “Hinoiri-Sanba (the Setting-sun Sanba)” on the first night, and “Hinode-Sanba (the Rising-sun Sanba)” on the second night. Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is operated by three doll handlers. The troupe, composed of 22 people including drum and flute players and Joruri chanters, performs the Sanbaso dance in accordance with the traditional styles and leads the spectators to the fantastic world.
Nishiki-goi, developed from black carp, are ornamental, brightly colored carp. They were initially bred in the area of Nagaoka and Ojiya City in the Niigata Prefecture.
The earliest account of these carp was found in Nihonshoki, the second oldest book of Japanese history, in which it was said that Emperor Keiko (71~130) intentionally released carp to a pond. This is now regarded as a proof that carp were already bred by people at that time.
Nishiki-goi were born from mutated carp that were raised for food in Nagaoka and Ojiya City during Bunka Bunsei period (1804~1830).
The villagers noticed and became fascinated by these brightly colored carp and they started to breed them for ornamental purposes. Since then, carp have been developed in more than 80 colors and patterns.
Nishiki-goi, which, translated literally, means brocaded carp, was said to be so named after a remark by the head of the Nigata Prefectural Fishery Agency who, astonished with their beauty, exclaimed “ This is the very brocaded carp!”
Nishiki-goi can now be appreciated around the world which the Japanese people can take pride in.
This festival is held at Oyama Shrine in Fuse on Oki-Dogo Island in Shimane Prefecture on the first Day of Ox in April every year. The origin of the shrine is not clear. It has no shrine pavilion housing the deity but it enshrines the old cedar tree, which is some hundred years old.
It is said that Oyama Shrine Festival was first held by a mountain practitioner hundreds of years ago. According to the historical record of the festival written in 1825 by a mountain practitioner in Fuse village, it seems that the festival had already been performed hundreds of years before.
Locally called “Oyama-san” or “Yama-matsuri,” the festival is the event that tells people of the coming of spring. It is nationally designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
On the day before the festival, villagers perform the ritual called Obitachi-no-shinji (the belt cutting ritual), in which they go into the nearby mountain to cut out vine stems, which are put around the sacred cedar tree, and parade through the village carrying a large sakaki (a holy branch). On the following festival day, the Obishime-no-shinji (fastening belt) ritual is held, in which the vine stem is put around the sacred tree seven and a half times.
Mumyoi ware is a type of pottery made of mumyoi clay, which contains ferrous oxide and is obtained near the ancient goldmine on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture. Originally, mumyoi was used for medical purposes such as relieving symptoms of palsy, digestive problems, burns, and helping to stop bleeding.
The pottery was first produced in 1819, when they were fired at relatively low temperature. The large-scale production adopting high-temperature firing was started in 1857. Unlike other clay wares, Mumyoi ware requires extra processing efforts such as raw-polish, a process that polishes the products with cotton cloth before firing, and a process of polishing with sand after firing.
As Mumyoi pottery is fired in a kiln at a high temperature, it becomes exceptionally hard. It is well-known that Mumyoi ware produces a clear metallic sound when tapped. The more it is used, the glossier it becomes. Mumyoi ware is more suitable for daily use rather than for decorative purposes.
Koshio Kagura is a traditional folk performing art handed down since the Edo period (1603-1868) in Koshio in the Ina area, Minamiaizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture. It is designated as an important intangible folk cultural property by the town.
The kagura began in 1827 as the votive performance to Ichinomiya Katori Shrine, a branch shrine of Katori Shrine, which was the highest-ranked shrine in Kazusa province (present Sawara City in Chiba Prefecture).
The repertoire includes the kagura dance, the Hyottoko dance, the Okame dance, the Shoki dance and Watonai. Presently, volunteers of Koshio Kagura Preservation Association are making efforts to hand down the tradition. Visitors can see and lean the kagura dance at the town hall all through the year.
Wisteria Festival is held from the middle of April through early May every year at Kotoen Wisteria Garden in Hekinan City, Aichi Prefecture. The wisteria trellises in this 1,000 square meter garden were built by Hirosaku Oda, a local wisteria fancier, in 1820.
The garden features the special kind of wisteria trees called “Hiro-no-nagafuji,” which have 1.5 meter long bunches with beautiful purple flowers hanging from long vines that wind around the trellises. Together with Daruma-fuji (Daruma Wisteria) with sweet fragrance, the garden is filled with gentle scent of wisteria flowers.
The flowers are illuminated in the evenings during the festival period. Different from the scenery under the daylight, the lit up pink and purple flowers create a fantastic atmosphere. If you join the traditional tea ceremony held on the selected day, you can enjoy a gracious time.
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.
Umoregi-zaiku (bogwood carvings) is a traditional handicraft handed down in Aobayama in Miyagi Prefecture. “Umoregi” is carbonized, or fossilized, conifer, which lay buried in the layers of 3 to 5 million years ago. It was found a lot in the areas of Aobayama. .
The history of this handicraft dates back to the late Edo period. In 1822, Yamashita Shukichi, a foot-soldier of the Sendai domain, discovered pieces of bogwood in Aobayama. He made all kinds of efforts and finally succeeded in making out a plate to put on vessels or votive offerings to deities. The making of this craft rapidly spread among the low-ranked warriors in the domain as their side jobs.
Umoregi-zaiku is a unique handicraft that isn’t done in any other part of the country, and Umoregi itself is a unique material for crafts that is difficult to obtain today. In the making of Umoregi-zaiku, a piece of wood is hollowed out into a desired shape with chisels. Then lacquer is applied with fuki-urushi (buffing of coated lacquer) technique to create gloss. After lacquer is applied and buffed out 7 to 8 times, the product takes on deep gloss and stately appearance. With its beautiful grain and graceful luster, this blackish brown Umoregi becomes a high-grade work of art. .