In ancient China, corners of rooms were thought of as places where evil spirits can hide easily. Underground grave chambers of nobility are represented by the form 亜 (亞) indicating the four reeled off corners.
Ancient clan ‘insignia’ also had the standard form of 亞 with several inscriptions inside. As a rare example, among the inscriptions there also is an equivalent of the element 莫 (meaning ‘dark’). As in the later Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) style, however, the form 亞 which means ‘grave’ did not remain, here also the lineage of the common explanation as ‘natural’ (not underground) grave as is usual also in traditional grave geomancy will be introduced in the following.
墓 is usually categorized as picto-phonetic character, here it is regarded as a pictograph in the first line. The character combines the upper part 艸 ‘grass’ and 日 ‘sun’ with the lower part, 艸 ‘grass’ and 土 ‘soil,’ showing a state of freshly green sprouting grass. With its sunshine, the bright shining sun fills the grassy plain with vivid life. This shows the ideal of the corpse returning to the soil and to nature. According to Yin-Yang thought, there has to be a balance of the sun (Yang) and the earth or soil (Yin).
The meaning originally shown by the character 德 originally is not the ethical notion of virtue attributed to it in later times. For its understanding one has to go back to the world of early animism and curse magic.
The character 行 shows a crossroad and 彳. The classifier of 徳 is its left half and means a junction. As place where a lot of people pass, it is an important spiritual place, too. Naturally, accidents occur more frequently there, which is why it becomes an object for the exorcism of evil spirits.
As in the case of 蔑 or 省, the 目 (including the strokes above) which is seen in horizontal position in the right upper part of the character shows curse decoration. 省 means to show military power towards a region or country. Its upper part and the upper right part of 徳 has the common origin of patrolling with eyes that have curse power. What concerns the character 徳, from containing the element 彳 the objects of patrol conducted by eyes with curse decoration are the evil spirits at crossroads and junctions; it shows them being exorcised and ‘tadasu: put right’ again.
Previous character forms are often close to that of antiquity. Here, 徳, the form of the Common Use Characters since 1948 has one stroke less than its previous form 德 and is a form close to that of the bronze inscriptions.
Later, 心 was added to the character form for the first time on the bronze vessel 大盂鼎 ‘Dà Yú Dĭng: Big Tripod (made by) Yú’ in a long inscription amounting to 290 characters from the early period of the Western Zhōu dynasty, directly after the Yīn (Shāng)-Zhōu revolution. From this time on, the meaning of 徳 changed from referring to the curse power of the eyes toward the mental inner virtue as existing in the mind.
The deer dance and the sword dance are traditional folk performing arts handed down in Izumi-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. The sword dance was introduced to this area in 1649 and the deer dance in 1792. The two dances have been handed down as one set of performing art.
Originally, both of the dances were performed to pray for the repose of ancestors’ souls, but later the deer dance has come to be danced for prevention of natural disasters and a rich harvest and the sword dance for driving away evils and bringing peace and stability to their land.
Several features of the old Shugendo religious style can be found in costumes, ohayashi music, dancing, chanting and movements of these dances. It is said that many of the similar dances spreading in the southern part of Iwate Prefecture and the northern part of Miyagi Prefecture have their origins in these dances. A lot of same features can be also seen in the deer dance handed down in Uwajima City in Ehime Prefecture, which was introduced by Date Hidemune, who was transferred to the Uwajima domain in 1615.
Hanamaki Festival is held in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture for 3 days centered on the 2nd Saturday in September every year. It originates in the float parade held in 1593 to revere Kita Shosai, the founding father of the town.
The festival features a number of events such as the parade of Furyu-dashi floats, which were originally made of bamboo and represented a whale but later changed its form into a Kyoto-styled Yakata float, and 140 taru-mikoshi (portable shrine made of barrels), and the prefecturally designated intangible cultural property, Deer Dance, which represents the ancient rituals to pray for peace of the town and to get rid of the evils.
The highlight is the Hanamaki-bayashi Dance Parade, in which 1,000 dancers elegantly dance to the Hanamaki-bayashi music, which is modeled on the Gion-bayashi of Kyoto. The pompous mixture of the sounds of large drums, small drums, Japanese flutes and Shamisen enhances the festival mood of the town.
Choyo-no-Shinji and Crow Sumo Wrestling is Shinto rituals performed on September 9 at Kamigamo Shrine, which is famous as the oldest shrine in Kyoto. According to the concept of Yin and Yan, the odd number is the number of Yan (shine). Thus 9 is considered to be the number that Yan reaches to an extreme. As September 9 is the day when the extreme Yan overlaps, it was called Choyo (Double Yan) and was celebrated as the auspicious day since the ancient times. Since September is the blooming season of a chrysanthemum by the lunar calendar, it is also called the Chrysanthemum Festival.
In the old days, people drank chrysanthemum wine and purified themselves with dew on chrysanthemum petals in hope of a long life. Today, people in Kyoto visit Kamigamo Shrine on this day and offer chrysanthemum flowers to the deity and pray for the healthy life.
After the Choyo Shinto rituals are performed‚ a Shinto priest called “Tone” places a bow and arrow and a sword against a cone-shaped hill of sand. He then utters the cry “kaa‚ kaa‚ kaa‚ koo‚ koo‚ koo,” imitating the cawing of crows. After this ritual‚ children, divided into two teams of “Negi-kata (priests)” and “Hori-kata (people who cerebrate),” wrestle each other in matches. The sumo wrestling originates in an ancient Shinto rituals performed in the Heian period (794-1192) and it is designated as an intangible cultural property of Kyoto City. Free chrysanthemum flower sake will be offered that is believed to be effective for healthy longevity.
Okera-mairi is an annual event to celebrate the New Year at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. It begins on New Year's Eve and ends on the morning of New Year's Day.
The practise of Okera-mairi comes from the belief that, by bringing the holy fire of Yasaka home in the New Year and cooking a 'zoni' (vegetable soup with rice cakes in it) from that fire, one will have perfect health for the next year.
'Okera' is an asteraceous perennial, and its root was traditionally used as a gastrointestinal medicine in Chinese traditional medicine. It was also used as a charm to ward off evil spirits by feeding it into the flames. These beliefs and practices turned out to become today's Okera-mairi.
After the ceremony of the watch night on New Year's Eve, the holy fire is divided into five Okera lanterns by the hands of the Shinto priest. Each lantern comes with an 'Okera-gi', a piece of wood with a wish written on it. People bring the holy fire with the wishes back home by lighting a rope of twisted-bamboo.
The sight of the visitors returning home from Yasaka Shrine, spinning their rope to keep the fire alive is also a specialty of the Okera-mairi. Such a tradition today let's us see the continuation of ancient Japanese beliefs in the power of fire.
“Ubugi” is a Japanese word for clothes for a new born baby. Special clothes for a new born baby appeared around the Edo period (1603-1868), when it was often the case with a new born baby that it died in a few days after its birth. Parents intentionally made clothes for their babies from old cloth in hoped that their babies could manage to live long without catching eye of the devil.
Right after its birth, a baby was usually wrapped in a small futon-like blanket called “okurumi.” Then in 3 to 7 days it was dressed in the clothes called “tetoshi,” which had sleeves. On the 31st day for a boy and the 32nd day for a girl, when the baby had spent the first critical period safely, parents took them to a family shrine for “Omiya-mairi” to thank the family god for their safe growth. At the Omiya-mairi ritual, babies were dressed in gorgeous gowns. The Noshime pattern (checked pattern) was favored for boy babies, while the Patterns such as Gosho-guruma (court carriage), silk balls and small flowers were favored for girl babies. It seems that “Ubugi” has protected babies in various forms.
Shisa is an ornament often seen in Okinawa. They are made in the shape of a legendary animal and are usually placed on gates and roofs, or on village towers to ward off evil spirits that may harm the people, their families and the village. Shisa are also believed to bring good luck.
Along with the sphinx and the 'komainu', shisa evolved from the lion figure in ancient east Asian culture. 'Shisa' means 'lion' in the Okinawan dialect of the Ryukyuan language.
As an ornament, shisa were originally placed alone. After Buddhist influence, it became popular to place them in pairs. Initially, they were placed at the gates of temples, shrines, the graves of nobility, and at the entrance gates to villages. After the Meiji period, ordinary people were allowed to decorate their roofs with tiles, and shisa began to be placed on roofs as well.
Shisa are generally made from stone, ceramic (either glazed or fired) or plaster.