Zeami, also called Kanze Motokiyo, was a Japanese aesthetician, actor and playwright in the early Muromachi period (1336-1573). He was born in 1363 as a son of Kan’ami, a master Noh player. His childhood name was Oniyasha. He named himself Zeamidabutsu, a Buddhist name of the Jishu sect, which was later contracted into Zeami. However, he was commonly called Saburo.
When Kan’ami’s company performed in Kumano for the 3rd Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 18-year old Shogun was fascinated by Zeami, who was at the age of 12. Since then Zeami was patronized by the Shogun and his accomplished performance was highly appraised by the nobility and high-ranking warriors. Nijo Yoshimoto, the regent and a famous renga poet of the time, was also impressed by his talent and presented him with the name Fujiwaka.
Being in contact with aristocratic culture and arts, Zeami enhanced his aesthetic thory. He established the Noh theater in the present form with his father and succeeded the title, Kanze-dayu, after his father’s death.
He wrote a lot of Noh plays, which are still performed in the same forms today, and also wrote practical instructions for actors including Fushi Kaden and Hanakagami. His aesthetic senses represented by the words “Hisureba hana nari, hisezuba hana naru bekarazu to nari. (If the secret of the flower becomes known to the public, it is not a true flower anymore.)” give vivid impression even to the people living today.
Karekinada (sea of withered tree) is the sea along a ria coast from Shirahama-cho to Kushimoto-cho, Nishimuro-gun, Wakayama Pref. There are some opinions about the origin of its name. One explanation goes that the only port along the coastline that a ship can drop at on a stormy day is Susami Port. There is no other port to take a rest, namely “the shade of a tree” for overland travelers, the rest of the coast is as good as withered trees. Another explanation is that the sea wind and waves of this coastline are strong enough to wither trees. There are strange-shaped stones and huge rocks continuously standing along this inhospitable shore. This is also a part of the Ohechi route of Kumano Ancient Road. It is a steep mountain path above bold cliffs and rocky beaches, but the view from above is said to be the best on the route. It is also known as the setting of a novel “Karekinada” by Kenji Nakagami. The area along the coastline was designated as Kumano-Karekinada-Kaigan Prefectural National Park in 1968, and a strong effort for nature conservation is being made.
This strange rock located in Kozagawa-cho is a nationally designated Natural Treasure. In the midstream of the Koza River with a total length of 56 km, which runs into the Kumanonada Sea and is known for its clear water, there are beautiful gorges formed by natural processes, which can be called the “figurative art created by nature.” One of them is the Kozagawa Gorge, located between Shichikawa Dam and the downstream. Along the gorge continuously stand strange rocks, each of which has a name according to its shape such as Ichimaiiwa (a monolith), Shojo-mine (a girl’s peak), and Mushikuiiwa Rock (worm-eaten rock). Mushikuiiwa Rock has numerous holes created by natural erosion, looking like a beehive. It is a worth-seeing art work made by nature. Kozagawa Gorge is one of the most famous cherry blossom viewing spots in the prefecture. In spring, a lot of people come to enjoy cherry blossoms while looking around the strange rocks.
Mt. Gantosan is located at the northern end of the Zao Mountain Range in the border of Miyagi Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture. The mountain has twin peaks; Kita Ganto and Minami Ganto. Although Minami Ganto is higher by 1 meter, Kita Ganto is designated as the summit.
The mountain is 1,485 m above sea level. There are several climbing routes including the one from Sasaya Pass toward the south, the one from Kawasaki Town in Miyagi Prefecture to the west, and the traverse route from Mt. Kumanodake to the north. If you are fully equipped, climbing up this mountain is not very difficult except in winter. On fine days, you can command a panoramic view of the Zao mountains from the summit.
You can also enjoy seasonal flowers and plants such as azaleas and alpine roses in early summer, Umebachiso (Parnassia palustris) in late summer and crimson foliage in fall. Mt. Gantosan is a drainage divide that separates the Mogamigawa River System, which flows into the Sea of Japan, and the Natori River System, which flows into the Pacific Ocean.
Mukabaki Shrine located at the southern foot of Mt. Mukabaki in the western part of Nobeoka City, Miyazaki Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded in 718 by transferring the deity from Kumano Taisha Shrine in present Wakayama Prefecture. The enshrined deities are Izanagi no Mikoto, Izanami no Mikoto and Yamato Takeru no Mikoto. Being called Mukabakidake Sansho Daigongen (the Great Three Gods of Mt. Mukabaki), the shrine was worshipped by the successive lords of the Hyuga domain.
The huge precinct is covered with densely grown trees, among which the main hall stands in the tranquil atmosphere. The trail up Mt. Mukabaki starts from the precinct.
Mt. Mukabaki (813 m) is a fine mountain with precipitous flat cliff, which looks like a folding screen. It was named so when Yamato Takeru visited this place to conquer the Kumaso tribe and said that the mountain looked like a “mukabaki,” which was a fur to wrap around the waist.
Kumano Hongusha Shrine in Takadate, Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a shrine associated with Kumano Worship. What is called Kumano Worship is the faith in Kumano Sanzan, a set of three Grand Shrines located in the southeastern part of the Kii Mountain Range in Wakayama Prefecture; Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha. It had spread all over the country in the late Heian period and onward.
Kumano Shrines have become located in various parts of Japan as Kumano Worship spread in the country; however, Natori is the only the place that has three Kumano Grand Shrines. It is said that in the late Heian period, a mountain practitioner visited an old shrine priestess in Natori and passed on a message from Kumano Gongen, the deity of Kumano Sanzan. To hear this, she decided to found the three Kumano Great shrines in Natori in 1123.
Comparing Mt. Takadate (Mt. Natori) to the Kumano Mountains, the Natori River to the Kumano River and Sendai Bay to the Kumanonada Sea, Natori Kumano Sanzan has become the largest-scaled sacred site of Kumano Worship in the Tohoku region.
Kumano Hongusha Shrine is located in the northernmost of the three shrines. Honden (the main hall) is a stately building with a Kokera-buki (thin wooden shingles) roof.
A Deer Dance, which is designated as an intangible cultural property of Natori City, has been handed down at this shrine. It is a traditional dance, in which dancers wear a deer head and carry the red and the yellow flags on their backs. The name of the shrine is written on the red flag, while the four-character idiom of kanji meaning “Hope for a rich harvest” is written on the yellow one.
Shurokusai located at the foot of Mt. Takadate in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a temple of the Soto sect of Buddhism. It used to be one of the attached temples to Kumano Shingu Shrine at the top of the mountain, and is known as the 2nd holy places of 33 Kannon Pilgrimage in Oshu.
It is said that the temple was founded about 1,200 years ago, when Sakanoue Tamuramaro offered a prayer for his victory in the war to conquer the people in the north land.
The principal image of worship is the statue of Sho Kanzeon Bosatsu, which is said to have been carved by Unkei, a master sculptor in the late Heian to early Kamakura periods.
The temple was originally called Shuroku-ji Temple, but as Date Masamune used it as the study (“sho-sai” in Japanese), it came to be called Shuroku-sai. It is one of the very few temples with the suffix of “sai” instead of “ji” used in the temple name.
There is a fine Japanese maple tree named “Risho no Benishidare” in the precinct.
The view from the top of Mt. Takadate is also wonderful. You can command a panoramic view of the Natori Plain at the foot and the Pacific Ocean and Kinkazan Island in the distance.
Kumanodo Bugaku is a folk performing art performed at the annual spring festival of Kumano Shrine in Takadate Kumanodo, Natori city, Yamagata Prefecture. Bugaku is a repertoire of dances of the Japanese Imperial court, derived from traditional dance forms imported from China, Korea, and India.
It is said that the Bugaku dance was introduced to the Kumanodo area by the Hayashi family in Risshakuji Temple in Yamadera, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture, but there is no precise records concerning its origin. The Hayashi family was the hereditary musician family serving the Japanese Imperial Court. As the Hayashi family moved to present Yamagata Prefecture before Bugaku was japanized in the mid-Heian period, the old dancing style of the imported dance has been precisely handed down in the Kumanodo Bugaku dance. It is designated as a prefecture’s folk cultural property.
In the Kumanodo Bugaku dance, neither dialog nor words are employed in the dances and songs. It is a kind of pantomime in dedication to the god. Although it has an origin in the Shinto dance, it also has several features of the dances performed by Shugendo practitioners.
The 3.6 m square temporary stage is built over the pond in the precinct. In back of the stage, the ensemble composed of one drum, one pair of large clappers and one Japanese flute play the music.