Gion Castle was resided by the Oyama clan, which gained prosperity in the area around present-day Oyama City, Tochigi Pref. from the time of Genpei War (1180-1185) through the end of the Warring States period (the late 16th century). The time of its construction is unknown, but it is referred to in the historical record written in the 14th century. The name “Gion” is said to have been derived from the name of the shrine, Gion-sha (present-day Suga Shrine), which was worshipped as the guard of the castle. The Oyama clan moved to this castle in the early Warring States period (the 15th century). The castle was an important base for the clan to fight battles in the Kanto region. Assigned as the governor of Shimotsuke province (present-day Tochigi Pref.), the Oyama clan wielded power in this region; however the clan was involved in the conflict with the Hojo clan and was finally destroyed by the Hojo clan in the Warring States period. In 1619, when Honda Masazumi, the castellan at the time, was promoted to the domain lord of Utsunomiya province, Gion Castle was dismantled. At the present time, the castle ruin is improved into a park and provides citizens with the place of recreation and relaxation. It is also known as a cherry blossom viewing spot.
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.
As it was proved by a geological survey that Mt. Gionyama (1,307 m) located in the central part of Kyushu was formed about 430 million years ago, it is called the birthplace of Kyushu Island.
The name “Gion” derives from the oratory to worship the mountain built at the foot in the ancient times by a mountain practitioner, who trained himself at Gion Kannoin Temple, a temple housed in the precinct of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto before Shinto and Buddhism were separated. People called the oratory Gion Shrine and the mountain Mt. Gion.
The mountain is one of the few places in Japan where a lot of fossils from the Silurian period of the Paleozoic Era. The fossils of marine life such as chain corals and trilobites have been excavated from the limestone layer near the summit. The mountain is also known as the treasure trove of alpine plants. The summit commands a wonderful view including Mt. Hayabinomine (Futagoyama) and Mt. Aso.
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.
Gion Yasaka Shrine in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine, which is widely known as “Gion-sama” in the area. Though its origin is not clear, it is said that it was founded in 804 by Sakanoue Tamuramaro.
The shrine had been left desolated for a long time until 940, when it was restored by Fujiwara no Hidesato, who was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Defense of the North and put down the rebellion of Taira no Masakado. The shrine buildings were, however, destroyed by battle fires in the later periods.
It was in 1601 when the shrine was at last restored again by Date Masamune. Since then, it was worshipped as the guardian god of Shida County (present-day Osaki City). During the Edo period (1603-1868), it was revered by the successive domain lords as Ichinomiya (the highest-ranked shrine) among Japan’s three important Gion shrines. The decorative paintings on the ceiling of the main hall were painted during this period.
The annual festival is held in July every year, when the shrine is crowded with people who come to enjoy seeing the mikoshi (portable shrine) parade and the daimyo’s procession.
You will feel the honorable history of the shrine from the solemn atmosphere of the precinct.
Kiryu Yagi-bushi Festival held from the 1st Friday to Sunday in August every year in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture is the biggest summer event for the people in the city. The festival was first held in 1964 as the integration of various festivals that had been held in the city all through the year including the festival of the city’s commercial and industrial association in spring, Kiryu Gion Festival and Star Festival in summer and the annual festivals at local shrines in fall. It was originally named “Kiryu Festival,” which was assumed the present name in 1988.
The festival is famous as the most gorgeous festival in the Kanto region. It features a lot of events such as the children’s mikoshi parade, the dance contest “Dance Yagi-bushi” and the Jumbo Parade. During the festival, the National Yagi-bushi Song Contest is held in town, in which a lot of Yagi-bushi singers from all over the country participate and show off their vocal skills.
Around the Bon dance yagura (temporary stage) set up throughout the city, people, old and young alike, get together to perform their original-styled dances to the rhythm of Yagi-bushi folk music. The enthusiasm and passion for the festival bring energy and life to the city.
Maebashi Festival held in the middle of October every year in Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture is a lively festival enjoyed by all the citizens of the city. Together with Hatsuichi (First Market of New Year) Festival and Tanabata Festival (Star Festival), it is counted as one of the city’s three biggest festivals.
The Maebashi Festival was first named the Reconstruction Festival when it began after World War II. Later in 1959, the name was changed to the present name and it has become a city festival in which citizens as well as many companies and organizations in the city participate.
On the main shopping streets, the citizens enjoy various events such as the marching parade composed of all the elementary school bands of the city, the wind music concert by junior high school students, Yagi-bushi and folk dances, and gorgeous parade of mikoshi (portable shrine) and floats.
The highlight is “Maebashi Danbee Dance” performed by a few thousands people. It was created in 1995 by modeling after the Nebuta Festival Dance in Aomori, Yosakoi Naruko Dance in Kochi and Yosakoi Soran-bushi in Hokkaido. Raising their arms high and shaking the bells in their hand, people enjoy the powerful Danbee dance. It has become the most popular attraction of the festival.
As its name, Abare-Matsuri (rampage festival) indicates, the purpose of this festival is to rampage about. The festival is held on the first Friday through Saturday of July every year at the vanguard of Noto Kiriko Festivals, which are held all over Noto Peninsula from August through the mid-September. On Friday night, when the large torch set up at the wharf of Port Utsushi is kindled, people carrying lanterns called “Kiriko” or Mikoshi (the portable shrine) start running around it. On Saturday, while people carrying Kiriko lanterns parade around the town, the portable shrine is first thrown into the sea, then into the river near Yasaka Shrine at night, and finally into the fire of the large torch burning in front of the shrine. As this rampage represents enshrined Susanoo no Mikoto, who is known as a destructive deity, it is said that the more violently people act, the more fortune they will get. This festival originates in an old episode that occurred in the years around 1665, when an epidemic attacked Noto region, the local people invited Gozu Tenno (ox-head deity) from Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto and held a big religious ceremony to pray for calming down of the epidemic. As the epidemic was calmed, the delighted local people of Noto visited Yasaka Shrine carrying Kiriko lanterns.