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).
Tenkasai Festival is a naked festival held at Matsudaira Toshogu Shrine in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, in February every year. It is said that the festival was originally held to pray for stability and peace of the country during the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392). It was discontinued in the Meiji period (1868-1912) and revived in the recent times as the valiant and dynamic naked festival.
Matsudaira Toshogu Shrine is well-known as the birthplace of the Matsudaira clan, the ancestors of the Tokugawa clan. It enshrines Matsudaira Chikauji, the founder of the clan. The water in the old well named “Ubuyu-no-ido (First Bath Well)” has been famous for its holy power since Chikauji’s days. When Tokugawa Ieyasu was born in Okazaki Castle, the water for his first bath was taken from this well in accordance with his family custom.
The festival is held to protect men of the unlucky age of 41. On the festival day, local men of this age get together wearing only a loincloth. They run into the shrine precinct, where they fiercely struggle with one another to touch the wooden ball called “Mizu-dama (Water Ball),” which was purified with the holy water in the well on the previous evening. It is believed that if they can touch the ball, their bad luck is purified. The precinct is filled with air of excitement.
There are a lot of stalls and open booths for visitors, who can also enjoy other events such as the service of the Senjin-nabe stew (Battle Field Stew), hana-mochi rice cake making, the dedication of a large Ema-plate, performance of Japanese drums and the demonstration of Bo-no-te (stick weapon techniques).
The Miyabukuro Masutori-mai dance is a folk performing art handed down in Furukawa Omiya in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. The dance has been performed in many places in the prefecture since the ancient times as the dance called Hayashi-mai performed at celebratory occasions, in which dancers dance with auspicious compliments. It was introduced to this area from the southern part of the prefecture in 1942 and has been dedicated to the god at Miyabukuro Shikagamo Shrine in September every year to pray and thank for a rich harvest.
The dancers wearing hanten (kimono-styled jacket), momohiki (pants), tasuki (a cord to tuck up sleeves), hachimaki (hair band) and red and white tabi (Japanese socks) dance to the song and the sounds of Japanese drums and gongs with exaggerated actions of measuring rice with a masu (rice-measuring box) in their hands. “Jester,” who is a personified rice-field god, joins the dance in the middle of the performance, and everyone on the stage prays for a rich harvest and throws red and white rice cake to the audience in the finale.
Katsurai Festival is held on December 1 every year at Shiogama Shrine, which used to be listed as the highest-ranked shrine in the southern part of the Tohoku region.
As is also called “Kamimukae-sai (the festival to invite deities),” it originates in the ritual to invite Take Mikazuchi no Kami and Futsunushi no Kami and celebrate their feat of having brought peace and stability to the Tohoku region. Since then, Date Masamune and other powerful warriors who fought for the stability of the region dedicated the rice cake named “Katsurai-mochi” when they made triumphant returns.
Today, the rice cake called “Kabuto-mochi (the rice cake in the shape of a warrior’s helmet)” together with Zoi fish, abalone, pheasant and dried persimmon is offered to the deities and the Yamatomai kagura dance is dedicated. People bring a piece of Kabuto-mochi to their home as a talisman to prevent fires and bad luck and bring safe travels.
At “Naorai,” the feast in which the consecrated offerings of food and drink are consumed by priests and laymen, attendants were served with Zoni (the rice cake soup) with Kiji-mochi, which is made to resemble pheasant meat.
Sakuma Dam Festival is a citizen festival held on the last Sunday in October at Sakuma Dam in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. It started in 1957 in memory of the victims to their duty of dam construction and in hope of the long successful operation of the dam.
When the dam was completed, red and black carp were brought from the water moat of the Imperial Palace and released into the dam lake as the guardian gods; thereby the parade of the Dragon God and the Dragon Dance is performed. Dashing seven young men wearing festival jackets and hair bands skillfully operate the Dragon God, which is 15 m long and weighs 60 kg, and perform a valiant dragon dance. It is distinctive that this dragon god has carp scales.
Other events such as the Sakuma Hiryu Daiko drum performance, various street performances, the Japanese noodle quick eating contest, the throwing rice cake contest and the local products fair are held in the lakeside field. Hand-held peacock fireworks are displayed on the lake. A lot of local people come to enjoy the festival on this day.
Takengei is a traditional folk performance handed down for 250 years in Irabayashi Town in Nagasaki City. It is a series of acrobatic performance on bamboo poles given at the annual autumn festival of Wakamiya Inari Shrine in October.
Accompanied by the festival music of the drums and Japanese flutes, young men wearing white male and female fox costumes climb 10 meter tall bamboo poles and perform acrobatic dances. They do a headstand by putting their legs around the pole, sprawl atop the pole with arms and legs outstretched, or give other fantastic performances one after another. This is the reenactment of foxes, the messenger of the Inari god, becoming lighthearted by the rhythms of the festival music and playing merrily.
The foxes throw down pieces of red and white rice cake and living chickens as the bringers of good luck, at which the spectators rush to pick them up. At the climax scene, one of the male foxes slips off the pole with his head down. As there are no nets or any other protection underneath, all the spectators watch it breathlessly. There are day and night performances given five times for two days in total. Tourists are fascinated by the mystic atmosphere of the night performance.
On March 3 each year, Hina Matsuri, or Girl's Day, is held at home to pray for the growth and happiness of daughters.
Hina Matsuri is one of five seasonal festivals in Japan and the origin of the festival is as a purification ceremony held in March.
In Japan, dolls were used to drive evil spirits out and this custom came to be connected with toy dolls used in 'Hina Plays'. The hina dolls were decorated and became the basis for the Hina Matsuri.
Lozenge-shaped rice cakes are one of the offerings made at the festival. One of the base ingredients, mugwort, is supposed to remove negative energies. White sake is offered, too, and is supposed to purify the body. A clam is also offered to pray for a good match for the girl who will fit like two parts of a shell. Many other lucky things are offered to pray for the girl's growth.
Yokkaichi-juku was the 43rd of the 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1686). As the center of overland traffic and sea-lanes, the town had already thrived in the 16th century, when a market was started to be held on the 4th day of each month, hence it was called “Yokkaichi (4th Day Market).” The town was located at the diverging point of the Ise Kaido, the pilgrimage road to Ise Shrine, and the pilgrims could make their 40 km journey by boat from Yokkaichi port.
Yokkaichi is famous for “Nagamochi” rice cake. As the word “nagamochi” is a pun for “long-lasting” in Japanese, a Warring States period warrior Todo Takatora once said “It’s a good sign to eat rice cake to bring the long-lasting fortune of war.” An old pine tree standing in Hinaga in Yokkaichi City is the only remnant of the pine trees that were bordering the Tokaido Road.