Bo-no-te (staff techniques) is a folk performing art handed down in several parts of Aichi Prefecture. Bo-no-te in Aichi Prefecture dates back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1598), when Niwa Ujitsugu, the castellan of Iwasaki Castle in Owari province (the western half of present Aichi Prefecture), hired Kamata Hironobu as a bujutsu shinan (martial arts instructor).
He was a person of great skill in martial arts and especially excelled in staff techniques. Hironobu distinguished himself in the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute, but he became a Buddhist priest after the battle and traveled around the country to appease the souls of the dead soldiers.
When he returned to his hometown in Owari province, he opened the Bo-no-te school in reply to the local villagers’ earnest petition. Later, Kamata-ryu Bo-no-te (the Kamata school of staff techniques) spread to Mikawa province (the eastern half of present Aichi Prefecture).
When the nation returned to peace, the staff techniques turned into the performing art that was dedicated to gods in hope for a good harvest. The techniques in Bo-no-te have been proudly handed down in many towns in the prefecture.
Kamata-ryu Bo-no-te in Tanuki Town in Nishio City is one of such folk performing art. The men in traditional costumes skillfully wield 1.8 meter long staffs with distinguished calls. It was designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the prefecture in 1959.
The Naked Festival is held on the second Sunday of March every year at Sekison Shrine in Muyari in Wakayanagi Town, Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture. The god enshrined at Sekison Shrine is worshiped by local people as the god of fire prevention since a big fire was extinguished by the divine power during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). After the fire was ceased, people began to dedicate the Naked Festival in hope of receiving protection of the god and it has become a traditional Shinto event of the town.
On the morning of the festival day, when it is still cold in this district, several men of Yaku-doshi (the unlucky age) wearing only loincloths and head bands visit every house in the town, where they take up the pail storing water for extinguishing fire and pour water over themselves and then dynamically throw water at the roof of the house. Praying for fire prevention of the town, they walk about 2 km to visit 120 houses. When they throw up water with a powerful call, the spectators erupt into cheers and applause. When the festival is over, the cold eases with the arrival of spring.
Kagura is a traditional theatrical dance in the Shinto religion. Kashiwagino Jindai Kagura is one of these dances that have been passed down to the Kashiwagino region of Hinoharamura, Nishitama-gun,Tokyo. Jindai Kagura is performed once every two years at Chinjyu Nangou Shrine, on the occasion of the fall festival, to pray for rich harvests and the safety and well-being of the family.
Prior to the performance, dancers undertake a purification ceremony in which they clean themselves in the Minamiaki River, chanting “rokkonshoujyou”. Rokkonshoujyou, literally translated, means “six roots purification”. In the context of this Kagura it means to purify the six senses and the consciousness that humans possess. The word, rokkonshoujyou, is said to be at the root of the word “dokkoisho”, which Japanese people often utter to cheer themselves.
The performance starts with the Demon Dance, performed by children. It is then followed by 12 other performances, including Yusaguri in which people try to change the heart of a bad person by putting him into hot water and Daijya Taiji in which an old man asks people to capture a giant snake that has swallowed his daughter. All of the dances are based on local folk tales and they entertain the audience until midnight.
The performers range from elementary school students to adults all of whom decorate themselves with vibrant costumes and Kagura masks. The Jindai Kagura tradition is still alive and well today and it is dearly loved by Japanese people.
Jindai Kagura has been designated as an Intangible Folklore Cultural Asset by Tokyo.
Ozu Shrine is located in the southwestern part of Moriyama City, Shiga Prefecture. The ancestral deity of the Ozu clan and Uganomitama no Mikoto, the god of a rich harvest are enshrined here. The architectural style of the late Muromachi period has been preserved in a good form in the present main hall, which was reconstructed in 1526.
At the annual festival held on May 5 every year, the Mikoshi and Naginata-odori procession goes to and from Ozu Wakamiya Shrine in the next town.
It is said that Naginata-odori was first dedicated about 1,400 years ago. When Lake Biwa flooded and the shrine hall was washed away into the lake, the holy god was also lost in the lake. However, the god soon came back from the lake, with which people were delighted and dedicated the dance.
Naginata-odori is composed of two parts; Naginata-furi and Dengaku-odori. In Naginata-furi, the dancers march in a line, wielding naginata in their hand. It is followed by Dengaku-odori dancers, who dance to the Ohayashi music. Naginata-odori is nationally designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
On the festival day, box seats are built along the procession course and the town is bustled with a lot of spectators.
The custom of Mizushugi (Water Celebration) has been passed down in the Koizumi area in Kami Town, Miyagi Prefecture. It is a water celebration ceremony held on February 2 every year.
Mizushugi used to be held in many places in the prefecture but most of them were already discontinued. It is now preserved in the original form only in the Koizumi area and this custom is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property.
Newly married couples and the couples who have lived in the village for 1 full-year are invited to the ceremony. They are all formally clothed. When they walk under the torii gate made by the locals reaching each other’s arms and worship Dosojin (the guardian deity of the community) enshrined in the hall, they are allowed to be the members of the locals.
After that, the kanji representing “water” is written on the foreheads of all the participants with Japanese ink. Then all the participants drink sake together to celebrate the new membership and to pray for household safety and safe delivery.
When the ceremony is over, all the participants visit each house in the village and throw up water at the roofs with dippers, calling words for fire extinguishment.
Hyozu Festival is held from May 3 to 6 every year at Hyozu Shrine in Gojo in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. Hyozu Shrine is a historic shrine founded around the late 3rd century, when the capital of the country was relocated to present Otsu City. Later in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Kinmei, the shrine was relocated to the present place and the shrine building was constructed here. The enshrined deity is Omunachi no Mikoto.
On May 5, after the Shinto rituals are performed at the shrine in the morning, about 30 Mikoshi (portable shrine) and the drum floats carried by shrine parishioners from 18 sub-towns get together in the front approach to the shrine, where the parade of Mikoshi starts in the afternoon.
Large and small Mikoshi and drums in various styles are carried with powerful cry of “Choito Sa!” along the 300 meter front approach lined with pine trees. The climax is the gallant performance known as “U-no-ikinuki (Rest of Cormorant),” in which Mikoshi carriers roughly lift up and down the Mikoshi and run about to the sounds of drums.
Kemari is an ancient football game in the Imperial court in Japan. It is said that kemari came from China during the Yamato period about 1,400 years ago. There are no winners or losers in this game because the objective of the game is simply to pass the ball to fellow players.
In Kagawa Prefecture, Hono Kemari (the kemari offering) is held at Konpira-gu Shrine on May 5th and July 7th (Tanabata Kemari) and in the middle of December (Osame Kemari), among which the ones in May and July are open to the public.
The kemari game is played in a sacred court called “Mari-niwa.” When a team consisting of six shrine priests and shrine maidens wearing colorful costumes called Mari-suikan and Mari-bakama appear in the Mari-niwa court, the High Priest performs a ritual to release a ball from a branch of paper mulberry. Then the players start playing the game, shouting “Ariya!” as they control the ball, and “Ari!” as they pass it on to the next player.
The Annual summer festival of Tsuno Shrine in Tsuno Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, is held from August 1st to 2nd. As the festival of Hyugakoku-Ichinomiya Shrine (the highest-ranked shrine in ancient Hyuga Province), the festival has been so proudly handed down by the people of the town as to be said that even young people living in far-off cities never fail to come back to their hometown to join the festival.
On the first day of the festival, the parade of the huge mikoshi (portable shrine), which is said to be one of the few most magnificent mikoshi in the country in structure, size and decoration and weighs more than 300 kg, goes around the town with the powerful call of “Chosaina! Sora! Yare!” while the drummers on the four drum floats and two kids’ floats beat on the drums repeatedly.
The climax is Omiyairi (the returning of the mikoshi to the shrine) held on the second day. In the roaring sounds of drums, men carrying the heavy mikoshi come back into the shrine precinct, where Kenka-daiko (drum fight) is performed by the drum teams competing in showing off the valiance. The dynamic sounds of the drums fascinate the spectators.