Kuroishi Yosare Festival is the biggest event held in Kuroishi City, Aomori Prefecture. It is held on August 15 and 16 every year and counted as one of Three Nagashi-style Dances (dance parades) in Japan.
About 3,000 dancers called “Tokomanpo,” the workers of the local shopping area, wear straw hats and yukata with pictures of sparrow and dance around the city with distinctive call of “E-chaho, E-chaho.” The concept of the dance is to drive away sparrows by swinging the rice ears, from which the present design of the yukata was contrived.
The dances are mainly composed of Nagashi-odori (dance parade), Mawari-odori (a circle dance) and Kumi-odori (a pair dance). The dance parade sometimes stops and takes the form of a circle dance, where spectators invited to join and dancers perform more enthusiastically.
Kuroishi Yosare originates in the pair dance performed by male and female dancers to represent love call about 600 years ago. Later in the Tenmei era (1781-1788) in the Edo period, the chief retainer of the domain, Sakai Gyoemon, encouraged this dance to gain the popularity of the townspeople. Since then it has been handed down in this city.
Nishimonai Bon Dancing is a traditional event that has been handed down for a long time in Nishimonai in Ugo-machi, Akita Prefecture. One theory states that it started about 700 years ago, when Mitake Shrine was founded in this village and a dance to pray for rich harvest was dedicated. In 1981, Nishimonai Bon Dancing was designated as a national Important Intangible Cultural Property. It was the first designation for a Bon dancing.
One of the attractions of Nishimonai Bon Dancing is its unique and beautiful fashion. To the music of Japanese flute and drums played atop the yagura (scaffold), both minority women putting on black hood called Hikosa-zukin and adult women putting on elegant straw hat called Torioi-gasa perform elegant dances. It was considered that spirits gathered under the hood and hats. Some adult men dancers wear female dress.
There are two types of dances; “Ondo” with cheerful tempos and “Ganke” with quiet rhythms. Very complicated movements of feet and hands create elegant effects.
The ancestral “Hanui” costumes are also very beautiful. “Hanui” is passed down from mother to daughter and the patterns and designs are differ from family to family. We can see a family history in “Hanui,” which is made of fragments of old clothes collected from generation to generation since the times when dresses were important properties for women.
Niino Bon Dancing is a folk performing art handed down in Niino in Anan-cho, Nagano Prefecture. It is held in the middle of August as a part of events in the Bon season. Niino Bon dancing dates back to 1553, when the ceremony to celebrate the foundation of Zuikoin Temple was held, people from Shimoda in Izu province (present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) performed dances, which were later combined to the local dances and developed to the present form.
The Bon dancing is danced throughout the night during the 3 days of Bon Season. It is an old-fashioned one which is danced only with the Ondo (a chorus by natural voice) and without the Hayashi (musical accompaniments). When the Ondo group reads the first half of the lyrics, the participants continue the latter half while dancing. Regardless of age and gender, everyone joins the circle dances or the line dances to send off the spirits of the dead. Even a tourist can join the circle by following other people’s actions. It’s more like something you enjoy your self by dancing as you like than a performing art that you enjoy seeing.
After the lanterns are lit at dawn on the last day of the festival, everyone bring lanterns, in which spirits are enshrined, and send them off the town, singing a song of fall. When they go home, it is said that they must not look back because the spirits may come back to town.
Bon Dance Festival is held from August 13 to 18 in Higashiyama Hot Springs in the suburbs of Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. Higashiyama is a fine hot spring town with a lot of Japanese style hot spring inns lining along the both sides of the Yukawa River. The history of this hot spring town dates back to about 1,000 years ago, when hot springs were discovered by Priest Gyoki. It thrived as the entertainment center of the area since then and is still favored by many tourists today as the inner sanctum of Aizu.
During the festival period, a large yagura tower is constructed over the Yukawa River. A lot of chochin lanterns are hung all around and illuminate the town. A lot of citizens together with tourists and geisha ladies in yukata join the circle and dance around the yagura tower to the dance songs such as “Aizu Bandaisan” until late at night. The town is filled with up-tempo dance songs and drum beats every night. The quiet hot spring town takes on a cheerful atmosphere during the festival period.
The Tsurusaki Odori (Dance) Festival is held for two days in August in the town of Tsurusaki in Oita City, Oita Prefecture. During the festival period, 2,000 dancers perform elegant and gorgeous dances. It is designated as a national Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
The Tsurusaki Odori is said to have originated in the Eiroku era (1558-1569), when Otomo Sorin, the lord of Bungo province (present-day Oita Prefecture) addicted himself to wine at the expense of his responsibilities to his people. His chief retainer, Tobe Akitsura tried to dissuade him from his misconduct and hit upon the idea of inviting some of the beautiful dancers from Kyoto to perform before their lord. Lord Otomo was so impressed by the purity and delicacy of their dancing that he mended his ways completely.
Today, dancing teams in matching costumes with elaborate designs perform dances, making manifold circles. There are two versions of Tsurusaki Odori; “Sarumaru-Dayu” is a gracious slow tempo dance, while “Saemon” is a light, up-tempo dance. Their elegant and flamboyant actions together with the chanting and the music of Japanese flute and Chinese fiddle fascinate the spectators.
Hanatori Odori is a kind of sword dance handed down in Ehime Prefecture since the Middle Ages. It is a gallant dance performed to pray for good health. Today several towns in the prefecture have handed down their own Hanatori Odori dances, each of which is slightly different from town to town.
In Shirokawa Town in Seiyo City, Hanatori Odori is performed in the precinct of Hachiman Shrine on August 21, the memorial day of Kobodaishi, as a part of the Buddhist ritual held at the Taishi-do Hall next to the shrine.
When straw mats are spread on the ground and the Japanese drums and gongs are placed, Ohayashi music starts at the call of the leader and the dancers carrying bamboo branches decorated with colorful paper strips on their backs stand in two lines. The dancers are local junior and senior high school students. Then at the call of the leader, they perform six kinds of gallant dances by wielding swords or grain sickles. Hanatori Odori is designated as an intangible cultural property by the city.
Hanatori Odori is a kind of sword dance handed down in Kochi Prefecture since the Middle Ages. It is a gallant dance performed to pray for good health. It is said that the dance originates in an episode in the Warring States period (1493-1573).
Once there was an impregnable castle at the top of a mountain. When a troop of warriors made an attack on the castle, the troop leader called villagers together and performed a dance with them by wielding his sword. To see their dancing, the soldiers in the castle relaxed their guard and allowed the enemy to invade into the castle.
In Tokano in Sakawa Town in Kochi Prefecture, the Hanatori Odori dances are dedicated to Shirokura Shrine and Mitsugi Shrine in early November. When the real-size straw horse is set in the shrine precinct in the morning, two Tengu with long sticks in their hands appear. Then about twelve dancers wearing flower hats and blue costumes march into the precinct through the Torii gate, walking to the rhythm of Japanese drums, who are followed by the cheerful parade of the children’s Mikoshi and Ohayashi music band.
The dancers start dancing in a circle, dynamically wielding their swords, while two Tengu walk close to the spectators and play a joke on them. Dance is continued for about 1 hour and ended with the rice throwing ritual.
Otaue Dance Festival takes place on April 29th annually at Okudari Minamikata Shrine in Kinpo-cho, Minami Satsuma City, Kagoshima Prefecture. The festival, a performing art particular to this region, has long been performed to pray for rich harvests for over 400 years.
Around 150 local men gather from the seventh and the eight divisions of Kinpo Town and perform as dancers. Their costumes, hachimaki headbands and style of dance vary slightly from division to division.
Starting at Okudari Minamikata Shrine, the procession of dancers consisting of various styles of dance such as Kama (Sickle) Dance, Naginata (Pole sword) Dance, Bou (Pole) Dance and Kinzan Dance parade through the town.
Senior residents sing traditional songs which have been passed down for years by word of mouth. With their songs and beats from banging poles on the ground by dancers in red sash, performers demonstrate strong and powerful dances, which enchant spectators and they enjoy the seasonal dance until dusk. The festival used to continue well into the night in the past.
Otaue Dace is a well preserved tradition and continues to captivate people in the region.