Umamioka Watamuki Shrine at the foot of Mt. Watamuki in Hino Town, Shiga Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded in 545. The enshrined deities are Amenohonohi no Mikoto, Amenohinadori no Mikoto and Takemikumaushi no Mikoto. It was originally founded at the top of Mt. Watamuki and was transferred to the present place in 796.
The spring festival of the shrine “Hino Festival” held on May 2 to 4 every year is the most gorgeous festival on the eastern side of Lake Biwa. The festival dates back to 1170, since when ancient rituals and customs have been passed down to the present time.
On the main festival day on May 3, a lot of Shinto rites are performed in traditional ways. The highlight is the parade with the 3 holy children and the guarding attendants in samurai costumes in the lead, who are followed by a sacred horse, shrine priests and the 3 mikoshi from the attached shrines and sumptuous 16 festival floats, which were donated by wealthy Omi merchants about 130 to 200 years ago. The festival is prefecturally designated as an intangible cultural property.
Choyo-no-Shinji and Crow Sumo Wrestling is Shinto rituals performed on September 9 at Kamigamo Shrine, which is famous as the oldest shrine in Kyoto. According to the concept of Yin and Yan, the odd number is the number of Yan (shine). Thus 9 is considered to be the number that Yan reaches to an extreme. As September 9 is the day when the extreme Yan overlaps, it was called Choyo (Double Yan) and was celebrated as the auspicious day since the ancient times. Since September is the blooming season of a chrysanthemum by the lunar calendar, it is also called the Chrysanthemum Festival.
In the old days, people drank chrysanthemum wine and purified themselves with dew on chrysanthemum petals in hope of a long life. Today, people in Kyoto visit Kamigamo Shrine on this day and offer chrysanthemum flowers to the deity and pray for the healthy life.
After the Choyo Shinto rituals are performed‚ a Shinto priest called “Tone” places a bow and arrow and a sword against a cone-shaped hill of sand. He then utters the cry “kaa‚ kaa‚ kaa‚ koo‚ koo‚ koo,” imitating the cawing of crows. After this ritual‚ children, divided into two teams of “Negi-kata (priests)” and “Hori-kata (people who cerebrate),” wrestle each other in matches. The sumo wrestling originates in an ancient Shinto rituals performed in the Heian period (794-1192) and it is designated as an intangible cultural property of Kyoto City. Free chrysanthemum flower sake will be offered that is believed to be effective for healthy longevity.
Mifune Festival takes place every October at Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine, one of the Three Kumano Grand Shrines, located by the estuary of Kumano River, Wakayama Prefecture. Mifune Festival, or Boating Festival, dates back an amazing 1,800 years. It is designated as intangible folklore cultural asset by Wakayama Prefecture.
The festival’s inspiration is said to come from the pirate ships of Kumano in the mythological age, and was also influenced later from the fact that technologies of shipbuilding and navigation were developed in Udonomura, a neighboring village of Mie Prefecture.
The festival is to dedicate a dance called “Hari Hari Dance” to the local deity. It starts by transporting the spirit of the deity on the portable shrine to Shinkousen Boat at the riverbed of the Kumano River , then nine speed boats leading the Shikousen Boat and Morotobune, race each other around an island three times. On the Morotobune rides the parishioner of Toritono Shrine at Udomura dressed as a seaman who swings a red painted oar and demonstrates a dance along with the rhythm of oarsmen. As he chants “Hari, Harise”, the dance became known as the “Hari Hari Dance” and the ritual has been handed down over the centuries.
The Mifune Festival is an ancient ritual that bring scroll paintings of the age of the gods alive today.
The Sarugaishi River running through the mid-western part of Iwate Pref. is a river classified as Class A River by Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. It is part of the Kitakami River System. The total length is 73 kilometers and the watershed is 952 square kilometers. Springing out of Mt. Yakushi (1645 m) on the border of Tono City and Hanamaki City, Iwate Pref. the branch rivers including the Kogarase River, the Hayase River and the Otomo River join the main stream. Along the river are the folk tale town of Tono, which is famous for “The Legends of Tono,” Lake Tase for outdoor activities and the town of Towa in Hanamaki City, which is famous for “Naki-zumo (crying sumo wrestling).” Then the river finally flows into the Kitakami River near Igirisu Kaigan (English Coast) named by Kenji Miyazawa. The Sarugaishi River is well-known as the fishing place for Japanese trout, Yamame, Ugui and Iwana. The watershed area is part of Hayachine Quasi-National Park, where a variety of alpine plants, large and small waterfalls and beautiful gorges can be viewed.
In 1646, Tsugaru Hideyoshi, a younger brother of the Hirosaki clan head, Nobuyoshi, was given about 5,000,000m2 of land to build a mansion, which is the origin of Kuroishi Castle. It was a magnificent castle on a flatland, and is otherwise known as Crow Castle.
The 8th clan head, Chikatari, was given about 6,000,000m2 of land by the So clan in 1809. Therefore, the Tsugaru clan received some 10,000,000m2 land in all and became feudal lords and established a clan. In the fourth year of the Meiji period, because of the abolition of clans and the establishment of prefectures, the mansion was opened to the public. The Tsugaru family then presented the residence to Kuroishi Town and it was used as the Kuroishi Elementary School. Today it forms Mikyuki Park.
Most of the park is open, but there exist some remains of small clay walls across the moats in the south, which remind you of former times.
Ikkyuu was a Zen priest from the Daitokuji sect of Rinzai lineage in Muromachi period (1338-1573). His birth name was Soujun, which he later changed to Ikkyuu. He also used the sobriquet, Kyouun or Crazy Cloud. Ikkyuu was born in 1394 in Kyoto. He is said to be an illegitimate son of Emperor Gokomatsu. Later in life he took a very different path than when he was younger and was regarded a prodigy for his intelligence and talent. In his twenties he denounced the establishment and religious precepts and lived his life as an eccentric priest. Ikkyuu became an acolyte at Ankokuji at the age of six. He was a gifted child especially in poetry writing and became well known in Kyoto city. However, at the age of twenty, he attempted suicide. After a difficult period of depression lasting several years he recovered and was said to be enlightened upon hearing a crow’s caw. He was twenty six at the time. Now his life took a turn and he left his temple and lived among ordinary people, partaking in worldly pleasures including drinking and eating meat. His relations with women, especially to a blind woman called Mori in his last years, and his breach of all sorts of Buddhism precepts surprised and amused people. It wasn’t until much later when his idea of Fuukyou, in which denying religious precepts was also a way towards enlightenment, became accepted as a true Zen Buddhism teaching and his poetry and calligraphy became highly regarded. He died in 1481 aged 88. He wrote several important works including Kyouun-shuu (Crazy Cloud Anthology).