Monzen-machi is a town that was established around the prominent temples and shrines as stores and business developed to serve visitors to the temples and the shrines.
A town that is developed around a shrine is called aTorii-mae-machi (a town in front of torii) and a town established by religious followers is called Jinai-cho or Shake-machi, all of which are widely categorized as Monzen-machi.
Some noted Monzen-machi are: Narita City, Chiba Prefecture, - developed around the Shinshou-ji Temple, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture - developed around theTosho-gu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine and Rinnou-ji Temple, Ise City, Mie Prefecture - developed around the Ise Shrine, Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture - developed around the Izumo Taisha Shrine, located in Kotohira-cho and Nakatado-gun, Kagawa Prefecture - developed around the Kotohira-gu Shrine.
Monzen-machi is sometimes defined as a religious city. It embodies the urban culture (chounin bunka) born and developed during the Edo Period when society was relatively peaceful and people’s lives were influenced by and served by temples and shrines.
Yagumo Honjin is the former residence of the Kowata family, which was one of the wealthiest land owner families in Izumo province (present-day Shimane Prefecture). Carrying on a brewing industry, the family also served as O-Shoya (the officer that ruled Shoya of each village).
This grand building with a floor area of 2,640 m2 standing on 3,940 m2 land was constructed in 1733. In the Edo period, the residence was used as honjin (an inn for the nobility and daimyo), where the lord of the Matsue domain stayed when he made an inspection tour around the domain territory.
After World War II, the residence was open to public as a Japanese restaurant and inn, where guests can enjoy its gorgeous interior furnishings. Yagumo Honjin was nationally designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1969.
Ryokan was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk in the late Edo period (1603-1868). He is also known as a calligrapher and poet, who wrote both Japanese waka poems and Chinese classic poems.
He was born in in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in 1758. He was much influenced by his father, who was a Nanushi (village officer) and poet. Ryokan studied under Omori Shiyo, a scholar of Chinese classics and became his father’s assistant.
Later he visited and stayed at Entsuji Temple (in present-day Okayama Prefecture), where he was ordained priest by the Zen master Kokusen. It was around this time that Ryokan also took interested in writing poems and deepened exchanges with many poets of the time.
Ryokan attained enlightment and was presented with an Inka (a formal acknowledgement of a student’s completion of Zen training) by Kokusen at the age of 33. He left Entsuji Temple to set for a long pilgrimage and necer returned to the monastery life. He lived the rest of his life as a hermit and taught Buddhism to common people in easy words instead of difficult sermons.
He disclosed his own humble life, for which people felt sympathy, and placed their confidence in him. A lot of artists and scholars also visited his small hut, Gogo-an, where he talked with them over a drink of Hannya-yu (enlightening hot water, namely Japanese hot sake). He died in 1831. His only disciple, Teishin-ni published a collection of Ryokan’s poems titled “Hasu no Tsuyu (Dewdrops on a lotus leaf).”
Kagura is a traditional theatrical dance in the Shinto religion and Musashi Mitake Shrine Daidai Kagura is one of these dances that have been passed down since the Edo period. Musashi Mitake Shrine sits on the top of Mount Mitake in Okutame, Tokyo.
The dance is said to have originally come from the Masaki Inari Shrine in Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, and it is based on the Izumo-style of Kagura dance.
The shrine still serves many different kinds of “kou” each of which represents a group of followers. The people in a kou believe that the highest form of praying to their god is to dedicate a dance and Daidai Kagura is performed on special occasions.
There are two different types of performing style in Kagura dance. In one type, masks are worn and in the other they are not. Masked Kagura has more of an entertainment aspect with clear story lines, many of which are based on popular mythologies from folktales such as Kojiki. The non-masked dance has a more religious or ritualistic aspect and it is performed to purge the place of evil spirits. These two dance performances used to have 12 titles each, however only 17 in total have survived and are still performed.
Because Daidai Kagura is dedicated to god, the dancers kneel down and bow at the start and at the end of their dance. Also, all of these dances are performed facing the image of god.
Daidai Kagura preserves the essence of true Kagura which encourages people to enjoy themselves while they honor god.
Saeno Shrine in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine. According to the shrine record, it was founded by Yamato Takeru, a legendary prince of the Yamato Dynasty, who was ordered by his father Emperor Keiko to set out for the eastern land to put down the barbarians in 110. Sarutahiko, known as Dosojin (the guardian deity for a community and the god of road), accompanied him at this time as the guide, he enshrined Dosojin at this shrine; hereby it used to be called Kasama Dosojin Shrine.
The other enshrined deity, Ameno Uzume no Kami, is the deity of marriage, namely the deity who leads our family life. Hence the shrine is famous for housing the god who leads our way of life.
At the annual festival held on April 20 every year, Dosojin Kagura, which is a kagura dance in Izumo style and a prefecturally designated intangible cultural property, is dedicated to the deities.
As the shrine was faithfully revered by the successive lords of the domain including Date Masamune since Honden (the main hall) was constructed in 1522, the shrine possesses several cultural properties such as the votive plaque with Masamune’s writing and several old swords.
The Manai Waterfall in Takachiho Town, Miyazaki Prefecture, is an impressive waterfall, which symbolizes Takachiho, the land of myths and legends. It is selected as one of Japan’s 100 Fine Waterfalls.
Takachiho, a small mountain town situated in the center of Kyushu, in northern Miyazaki is one of the most sacred places in Japan, where the grandchild of Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, descended from the High Plain of Heaven. Takachiho is full of fascination for tourists, such as the sea of clouds floating over mountain villages, Takachiho Gorge with mystic atmosphere, simple and old-fashioned farm houses with chigi (ornamental crossbeams on the gable, mostly seen in a Shinto shrine) on the roofs and glorious mountains covered with tender green in spring and crimson foliage in fall.
The Manai Waterfall flows down the 17-meter perpendicular cliff made of columnar basalt in Takachiho Gorge. The waterfall gently flows down into the deep green water between the towering cliffs lit by the gentle sunlight. It is a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. The boats are available for rent and visitors can get right close to the waterfall.
The Nageta Kagura dance is a traditional folk performing art handed down in Ishikoshi Town in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. It is performed to pray for peace and stability of the country and a rich harvest of the year. Nageta Kagura is designated as an important intangible cultural property by the city.
Nageta Kagura belongs to the Izumo-styled Kagura dance, to which the elements of Nanbu kagura dance were added. The Izumo-styled kagura dance is composed of three phases; the ritual play “Okina” of the traditional Nohgaku, the “torimonomai” used in Shichiza rituals and Shinno (sacred Noh), which is a masked performance of sacred myths and shrine omens. It spread from the Izumo region to all over the country including the Tohoku region, where it was combined with the local Nanbu Kagura dance.
The Nanbu kagura dances have been danced mainly in the areas from the northern part of Iwate Prefecture to the southern part of Miyagi Prefecture. It is composed of the Shikimai ritual dances and drama plays, in which local legends and folk tales are expressed both with dancing and chanting.
The repertories of Nageta Kagura include Ushiwakamaru, Sanbaso, Godai-Ryuo (the five dragon gods), the Kamioroshi dance (the dance to ask the god to descent to their land) and the Bird Dance. Presently the Nageta Kagura troupe has delivered some innovative performances such as the collaboration with the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra.
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.