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.
This character is a so-called compound ideograph. What regards the upper part 宀 (ukanmuri: roof classifier) which can be seen also in a lot of other characters, it does not simply show a roof, but is the roof of a mausoleum. This character points at the basis of Asian religious culture, the custom of memorial service for the ancestors and ancestor worship. One key to the long period of peace that can be seen in Asian history thus is included in this Kanji. By thinking about the favors received from the ancestors, it is possible to endure the hardships of human life and one becomes wide-hearted and more broad-minded. When recalling one’s ancestors with their different ways of thinking and life philosophy, one becomes more tolerant regarding people leading diametric opposite lives and holding completely different opinions in the present, and the essence of human life shows.
The lower part is a priestess or shrine maiden engaged in a ritual in the mausoleum. Shintō, the indigenous religion of Japan also often has rituals with shrine maidens inspired when in religious frenzy. In such a state, the priestess gets relaxed and conveys a divine message. The appearance of the priestess or shrine maiden at this time stresses her eyes with what in the character form of the Common Use Kanji looks like a grass-classifier but actually is a curse decoration. Both, the minds and hearts of the family taking part in the ritual as well as the relaxed conduct of the priestess or shrine maiden contribute to the meaning of the character.
Tanabu Festival held on August 18 to 20 in Mutsu City in Aomori Prefecture is the largest summer festival in the Shimokita region. It serves as the annual festival of Tanabu Shrine, designated as the shrine housing the head guardian god of the region in the Edo period (1603-1868). The festival is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural peroperty.
The origin of the festival is unknown; however, as Tanabu Festival is referred to in the travel diary written in 1793 by Masumi Sugae, a natural historian in the Edo period, it is believed that the festival began in much earlier eras.
The five floats lacquered in black and gorgeously decorated in the style of Gion Festival in Kyoto are brought from five sub-towns of Tanabe Town for the parade through the city. The floats have two stories; the deity of each sub-town is enshrined on the upper story, while the Ohayashi musicians called “Noriko (men who ride on)” are playing elegant Gion-bayashi on the lower story.
The highlight of the festival is “Goshawakare (the farewell parting of the five floats),” which takes place at 11 P.M. on the night of August 20. The five floats leave the shrine for the main crossroad of the town, where float-pullers and spectators are entertained with sake in a barrel and promise to hold the festival again in the following year; then they return to their own neighborhood.
Morinji, a temple of the Soto sect, is in Horiku-cho, Tatebayashi City, Gunma Prefecture. The principal object of worship is Shakamuni Buddha. It was founded in 1426 by a Zen monk, Dairin Shoutsu. The temple is famous as the setting of the nursery tale “Bunbuku Chagama,” in which a Japanese raccoon dog changes itself into a chagama (tea kettle) and repays the priest for his kindness. The Bunbuku Chagama and old documents concerning the story are treasured at the temple. Visitors will be welcomed by many pottery statues of raccoon dog with humorous expressions on their faces, which create an amusing ambience.
Since 2002, “the Raccoon Dog and Cherry Blossom Festival” is held in April. A lot of visitors come to enjoy listening to the tune of “Bunbuku Chagama” played on the Satsuma-biwa (Japanese lute in the Satsuma style) and the story read by Kodan storyteller as well as seeing traditional dances. The first 100 visitors can be treated with mochi (rice cake).
Itayama Lion Dance is one of the three lion dances passed down in Handa City in Aichi Prefecture. It is a kind of the lion play that was introduced from the northern part of the prefecture to the areas in Chita Peninsula at the end of the Edo period (the mid-19th century). The lion plays were dedicated to the guardian god of the villages in this area at annual festivals to pray for a rich harvest. Today only a few have been passed down.
A man in women’s colorful juban (an undergarment slip), black montsuki (a kimono with a family crest), indigo blue momohiki (pants) and white tabi (socks) dances and performs kabuki repertoire pieces to the sounds of Japanese large and small drums and wood clappers and Gidayu chanting. It is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property.
The Shiiba Kagura dance is a Shinto ritual handed down in Shiiba Village, Miyazaki Prefecture. It is designated as a National Important Folk Cultural Property.
The worship for mountains has been practiced in Shiiba Village since the times of slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting. The Shiiba Kagura dance has been handed down in 26 sub-villages today as the prayer to the mountain god. It is performed at a private house or a shrine all through the night on one of the days from the middle of November to the end of January. The styles of the dance including the number of dances performed at a time differ from village to village.
One thing that is distinctive to this area is that people put an importance on Shogyo (the words dedicated to the gods). Since many special words to be used for gods have been handed down and used in people’s everyday life in the villages of Shiiba, words play a significant role in the Kagura dance.
Shimotsuki is a Japanese traditional name for November. Shimotsuki (霜月) literally means “a frost month” because frost is starts to appear in this month. However, according to the different theory, it is said that as this month comes after Kannazuki, it was called “Shimo no tsuki (the following month),” which was later punned into Shimotsuki.
November is also called Shimofuri-tsuki, the frost forming month, Kagura-zuki, the month for Kagura dance to welcome the gods coming back from Izumo, and Yukimachi-zuki, the month to anticipate snow.
The national holidays in November are Culture Day (Nov. 3rd) and Labor Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23rd), both of which are said to originate in the cerebration ceremonies held to thank gods for rich harvest. On the day of the Tori (Rooster) in Chinese calendar, Tori no Ichi Fairs (open-air market) are held at Otori (eagle) shrines all over the country and many people come to pray for a health, good fortune and good business.
A hammer is typically used to pound or smash objects, but the Uchide no Kozuchi (magical hammer) carried by Daikoku, one of the seven gods of fortune, is different: with just one swing, that person can achieve happiness, with all the fortune and the necessities of life (food, clothes, shelter) they would want.
Daikoku is usually portrayed holding the kozuchi, and a grab bag, seated on bales of rice with a smile that is in a way charming. The bag, which is over the shoulder of Daikoku, first appeared in the Japanese myth, 'Inaba no Shirosagi', and is said to hold the luggage of the Yasogamis. It is also described in an old fairy tale that relates how Daikoku was almost burned to death, due to Sanoo's trap, but was saved by mice. Mice then became the guardians of Daikoku.
At first, Daikoku was deified as the god of destruction and good harvest, but as time passed, he became the god of good harvest, food and fortune.
The kozuchi can be seen in other fairytales such as the 'Issun Boshi' ('One-Inch Boy') and the 'Binbogami and Fuku no Kami' ('God of Poverty and God of Fortune') as a hammer that granted any wish.