Namura Shrine in Ayado in Ryuo Town, Shiga Prefecture, is a historic shrine and a treasure trove of cultural properties since most of the structures of the shrine are nationally designated as either a National Treasure (NT) or an Important Cultural Property (ICP). The origin of the shrine is not clear, but, as many Kofun (ancient Imperial tombs) have been discovered in the area, it is considered that this shrine was originally founded to enshrine the spirits of ancestors.
The Romon gate (ICP) has the impressively huge thatched roof. The wooden statue of Fudo Myoo (ICP) is enshrined in the Fudo Hall in the precinct, which is the reminder of Shinbutsu Shugo (the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) practiced until the end of the Edo period (1868).
The main hall, Nishi-Honden (NT), was constructed in 969 to enshrine the deity Kunisazuchi no Mikoto, who had resided in Mt. Kongo in Yoshino in Yamato province (present-day Nara Prefecture). The old shrine located on the opposite side of the road is the east shrine, Higashi Honden (ICP), which enshrines Okuninushi no Mikoto and Susanoo no Mikoto.
Namura Shrine is the head shrine of all the branch shrines in 33 adjacent villages; hereby the Grand Autumn Festival is held once every 33 years.
Osasahara Shrine is a very old shrine founded in 986. As the place where the god of water resides, it is visited by a lot of worshippers. Susanoo no Mikoto, Kushinada-hime and other 3 deities are enshrined.
Assembling the cream of the gorgeous Higashiyama Culture, Honden (the main hall) was constructed in 1414 during the Muromachi period. Though small in size, elaborate decoration is given to every detailed part of this Irimoya-zukuri building. The transom and doors are also beautiful. It was designated as a National Treasure in 1961.
To the right of the main hall is a bottomless swamp named Yorube-no-ike. It is said that the swamp has been filled with affluent water even though there is a long spell of dry weather since two mikoshi (portable shrines) were sunk into the swamp in hope for rain.
As this area has produced high quality glutinous rice and it is said to be the birthplace of Kagami-mochi, Kagami-no-miya Shrine enshrining the original of Kagami-mochi is located in the shrine precinct.
Tabayashi Kagura is a traditional folk performing art handed down at Tabayashi Atago Shrine located in the ruins site of Marumori Castle in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture.
It is said that this kagura dance is a kind of Juni Kagura (the kagura with 12 plays), which originated in Izumo province (present-day Shimane Prefecture). The repertoire and the dancing styles of Tabayashi Kagura are typical to Juni Kagura. The repertoire comprises 12 plays, each of which celebrates the feats of gods from “Sarutahiko,” “Uzume,” “The God of Paddy Field” to “Izumogiri” about Susanoo no Mikoto.
This kagura dance is composed of two phases; the “torimonomai,” in which dancers wear no masks and have torimono (a thing to hold in a hand) such as sakaki (a branch of a holy tree) or a sword, and Shinno (sacred Noh), which is a masked dance dramas about sacred myths.
The kagura dances are performed to pray for peace of the land, a rich harvest and happiness as well as to drive away bad luck. The dances have handed down magnificence and elegance of the world of ancient mythology to the modern generations.
Yamaage Festival held in July every year in Nasu Karasuyama City, Tochigi Prefecture is a dynamic performance of outdoor kabuki, which is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. The history of this outdoor kabuki dates back to 1560, when Nasu Suketane, the castellan of Karasuyama Castle enshrined Susanoo no Mikoto at Yakumo Shrine and prayed for the country’s stability and a rich harvest. During the Kanbun era (1661-1672), a dance performance was first dedicated to the deity in addition to the sumo wrestling matches and Kagura Loin Dance. In the Horeki era (1716-1763), kabuki dances began to be performed and later it took the form of the outdoor kabuki plays.
On the day of the festival, about 150 young stagehands quickly build a kabuki stage with “yama (backdrops),” which is made of bamboo and traditional Japanese paper produced in the Nasu area. When musicians start playing the Tokiwazu-bushi shamisen, local kabuki players appear on the stage and play kabuki dramas such as “Masakado,” “Modoribashi,” and “Yoshinoyama.” After the performance, the stagehand staff quickly breaks up the set, carries all necessary parts to the next locale and re-builds the stage for the next performance. The performances are held five to six times a day.
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.
Hikawa Shrine, or generally called Omiya Hikawa Shrine, located in Takahana-cho, Omiya-ku, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture is one of the largest shrines in the prefecture, which receives more than 100,000 visitors on New Year’s Day every year.
The enshrined deities are Susanoo no Mikoto, Inadahime no Mikoto and Onamuchi no Mikoto. The shrine is so old as to be listed on Jinmyocho (the list of deities) of Engishiki (codes and procedures on national rites and prayers written in the Heian period). It is Honja (the head shrine) of more than 280 Hikawa shrines in Saitama, Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures.
According to the shrine record, this shrine was founded about 2,400 years ago during the reign of Emperor Kosho. The area around the shrine was developed by the Izumo tribe and the name “Hikawa” is said to have been derived from the town of “Hikawa,” a part of present-day Izumo City.
Hikawa Shrine was designated as chokusaisha (the shrine attended by imperial envoy) by Emperor Meiji when the capital was relocated to Tokyo in 1868. In this year, shinsai (an Imperial Household rite) was held by the Emperor himself. Since then utamai (music and dance) performed by the music department of the Imperial Household Agency has been dedicated at the annual festivals.
Takanabe Taishi is the generic name of about 700 stone Buddhist statues located in Takanabe-cho, Koyu-gun, Miyazaki Pref. The statues were carved by Yasukichi Iwaoka (1889-1977), who devoted his half a lifetime to this feat. Distressed by a series of robbing of Mochida Kofun, Yasukichi turned over his family business to his son at the age of 40 and began to carve stone statues to console the souls of the ancient chieftains. In 1931, he obtained a part of land, where a group of kofun are located, and invited a stone workman from Usuki, Oita Pref. to learn how to carve statues.
The stone statues included the huge statues of Fudo Myoo, Inari Okami, Twelve Yakushi Nyorai, Juichimen Kanzeon (11-faced Kanzeon), Amaterasu Okami, Susanoo no Mikoto and various other small statues. Prayers, requiem and the feelings that people handed down since the ancient times are all embodied in these statues.
Gion Festival held on the third Saturday of July every year has been handed down in Usabe by the hand of the local people for about 300 years. The festival is run by all the people in the area including young people and directors of local community unions on a shift and the main supporters of the shrine. The highlight of the festival is the parade composed of Tenno-sama at the head, parasols, the big sward, and the float, which are followed by the Geza dancers and Geza-bayashi musicians. In 1998 the gorgeous float was completed by the hand of a master carpenter living in Tsuchiura City. The festival hands down the tradition of Geza performance and enforces the community unity. The festival is also called “Manju Gion” because there is a custom to treat visitors with steamed manju on this day.