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.
Tsumugi are silk textiles woven by hand using thread collected from the floss of the cocoons.
The floss is made from debris of the cocoons and spun by hand into thread. Because the thread is called “tetsumugi ito” or “ tsumugi ito”, the textile made from the thread became to be known as tsumugi.
Tsumugi is characterized by its unique texture and dull gloss coming from subtle variations of the tetsumugi threads. It is extremely durable and has been used for everyday clothes and working clothes since ancient times.
Thus, tsumugi, although it is silk, was not used for formal wear. However, during Edo period, many stylish, fashionable people liked tsumugi’s color palate and texture with its muted gloss despite it being silk. They found it expressed an austere elegance and considered it a stylish fabric that expressed their good taste nonchalantly. They generally wore it as outer clothing and dressing up in tsumugi became popular.
Though tsumugi is durable, because the newly woven cloth is hard and quite uncomfortable to wear, it is said that wealthy merchants had their clerks wear them first to break them in.
It could be fun to try a newly woven hard tsumugi and act cool like a rakugo comedian.
Himuro Yakushi, or formally named Murakamiji Temple, is a historic temple founded by Sakanoue Tamuramaro in 807 to pray for safety of his soldiers. The temple has been worshipped by local people for its divine power to bring national safety and people’s happiness.
Yakushi Nyorai at this temple is especially famous for curing eye diseases. Votive tablets, on which faces with big black round eyes are drawn, are hung at the side of the Yakushi Hall. Also, many pieces of paper, on which pictures of eyes are drawn, are dedicated and hung inside the hall. You will feel strong religious faith dedicated to the temple from these votive articles.
There is an interesting legend about this temple. Once upon a time, there lived an extremely cowardly warrior in a nearby village. He wanted to cure his cowardice and visited the temple on 100 consecutive nights. On the 100th night, a specter appeared in front him. Then he gathered his courage and struck at it with his sword only to find that it was a pillar of the hall. Visitor can see the scar made by him even today. It’s a heart-easing story for a temple with such a solemn atmosphere, isn’t it?
Ryujin (Dragon God) Fire Festival is held on the first day of Gero Onsen Festival, which is held for three days from the first Saturday in August in a famous hot spring town of Gero in Gifu Prefecture. The festival is based on a legend “Wan-kase-buchi” and was first held in 1970.
The legend has it that there lived a dragon god in a deep pool named “Wan-kase-buchi (Bowl Lending Pool)” in the Hida River near the village. Whenever the villagers needed expensive bowls and plates for a cerebration banquet, they went to the pool and asked the dragon god to lend some. However, one villager did not return one of the borrowed bowls and kept it for himself, at which the dragon god was angry and got on a rampage until finally he got it back.
In the festival, reenacting the rampage of the dragon god, the men controlling five dragons, each of which is 20 m in length and weighs 250 kg, perform valiant dances, chasing after the mikoshi carrying a big bowl. The scene of the dragons belching fire from fireworks set in the mouths in the midst of big sounds of drums and gongs and sparks of handheld fireworks is really dynamic.
Jikoji Temple originates in a small Buddhist hall built by Priest Jiko in 1249 to place the image of Amida Nyorai, which Jiko was inspired to take out of the sea. As a legend goes, about 400 years ago, there was an old pious Buddhist practitioner living in Hyogo no Ura (present-day Kobe), who had made a pilgrim trip to Zenkoji Temple in Nagano every year. Worried about his advanced age, Nyorai at Zenkoji Temple said to him one day. “Since you are so old and it must be hard for you to come over from such a long distance, you can go to Jikoji Temple from now on because the same Amida Nyorai resides there at Jikoji Temple.” From this episode, people began to say that three visits to Jikoji Temple corresponded to one visit to Zenkoji Temple, and Jikoji Temple has been called Zenkoji Temple in Harima (present-day Hyogo Pref.). The large stone Hokyointo (three-tiered stupa pagoda) is designated as an Important Cultural Property by the prefecture.
Iwafune Shrine is in Kisaichi, Katano City, Osaka pref. The enshrined deities is Nigihayahi no Mikoto. The Goshintai (symbol of divinity) is a big rock with a length of 18 m and a height of 12 m, which looks like a ship. The place where the shrine is located was thought to be Ikaruga-mine (the peak where the god descended). According to the legend, Nigihayahi no Mikoto, the founding father of the Mononobe clan, flew from the heaven in this rock ship named “Ama no Iwafune,” glided over the edge of the low mountains extending like a tongue and descended at this place. Another story about this rock is that Kato Kiyomasa once tried to move this rock to use as the material for stone walls of Osaka Castle, but he couldn’t and gave it up. In front of Goshintai, the Haiden hall (oratory) stands as if it carries the divine rock on its back. In the precinct are a holy rock cave formed by numerous huge rocks and many Buddhist images carved on the rocks. Iwafune Shrine is also known as the guardian god of safe navigation. This is the place where the ancient religious style has been kept for a long time.
Shigi-san Chougosonshi-ji Temple is the head temple of the Shigi-san faction of Shingon Buddhism and is located in Mt. Shigi in Heguri Town, Ikoma, Nara Prefecture. It is also the head temple of Bishamonten, one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune. Mt. Shigi is said to be the first place in Japan where Bishamonten appeared. Legend has it that when Prince Shoutoku-taishi prayed for victory over Mononobe no Moriya, - an opponent of the Buddhism that the prince was promoting - Bishamonten appeared on Mt. Shigi at the hour of the tiger, on the day of the tiger, in the year of the tiger, and led the prince to victory. To express his deep gratitude, the prince built a temple dedicated to Bishamonten in 594 and named the temple Shigi-san which can be translated as “the mountain to be trusted and respected”. This anecdote is believed to be a reason why paper-tigers are placed around the temple. Affectionately known as “Shigi no Bishamon-san”, the temple is especially crowded with visitors during their first visit of the year (New Year’s Day). As the temple enshrines Bishamonten, the original god of war and warriors, and also has a tiger as a guardian god, Chougosonshi-ji Temple is also famous for attracting professional baseball players from the Hanshin Tigers who go there to pray for victory.
Sakura Shrine is situated between the city boundary of Tsuyama district and Kagamino town, in Okayama Prefecture. The shrine honors Emperor Go-Daigo and Kojima Takanori.
The whole precinct is designated as an important historic site. In ancient times, this area was called 'Insho' because it used to be the manor of a retired emperor. It is also known as a place where Emperor Go-daigo stayed on his way to Oki during the Genkō War in 1331. It is recorded in 'Taiheiki' that, one night, Kojima Takanori broke through the strict security around the manor and wrote a poem 'Jyu-ji-no-shi' about the cherry (sakura) tree to console the emperor.
Because of this story, the Takanori Monument was created in 1688 and later, the shrine was established in 1869.