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.
Other than Gioji Temple in Oku-Sagano in Kyoto, there is a temple named Gioji in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. Yasu City is said to be where Gio and Ginyo in Tale of the Heike were born.
After her father’s death, Gio went to Kyoto and became a Shirabyoshi, a dancer that performed traditional Japanese dances dressed as a man. In time, Taira no Kiyomori, the ruler of the country, was captivated by her good looks and tenderness and they fell in love with each other.
Gio asked Kiyomori to construct a canal for the people in her home town, which was suffering from droughts. Thanks to the canal, this area recovered from a bad harvest and became one of the largest rice producing centers in the country. Local people named the canal the Gioi River in token of their thanks.
However, one day, Kiyomori was fascinated by another Shirabyoshi named Hotokegozen. Grieving over Kiyomori’s change of mind, Gio and her younger sister Ginyo and her mother became Buddhist nuns and returned to their home town. Hotokegozen, who knew this and became enlightened that the same thing could happen to her and the rising sun would set in due time, left Kiyomori and visited Gio to become a nun herself.
After their death, village people built Gioji Temple to express their gratitude to these nuns as well as to mourn for them. The statue of the four nuns stands quietly in the precinct.
Ganjoji Temple in Gamo Town in Shiga Prefecture is a historic temple pertaining to Prince Shotoku. It was one of Ganjojuji temples, which were established in 46 places all over the country to fulfill Prince Shotoku’s wishes to bring stability to the nation. It was originally a Tendai-sect temple, but was converted to the Soto sect in 1625 when the temple was restored by the Zen priest Sanei Honshu.
It is the 26th temple of Gamo Kannon Holy Sites, the 9th of Shaka 32 Zensatsu (Zen Temples) and the 24th of the 27 Meisatsu (Fine Temples) in Omi-Koto.
The principal image is a secret Buddha, which is open to the public once every 33 years. It is said that the face was modeled after Prince Shotoku’s mother.
In the Kannon-do Hall, what is believed to be a mermaid mummy is enshrined. According to an old story, the mermaid fell in love with a beautiful nun and visited the temple every day, disguising himself as a young man. A lot of stone art objects made in the Middle Ages are preserved in the main hall.
Japan’s largest Jizo Bosatsu statue with a height of 4 m is enshrined at the side of National Route 4 in Sanbongi Town in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. It was erected in 1765 in the Edo period to appease the souls of the criminals who were burned at the stake. Beside the statue is another smaller Jizo Bosatsu holding babies under both arms. Today, a lot of families visit this place to pray for children’s growth and fine health.
In April every year, a festival is dedicated to this Jizo Bosatsu. The Chigo (children in ancient costumes) parade and the traffic safety campaign parade, in which 200 local organizations participate, are held in the town. Spectators along the road applaud and cheer on the children wearing elegant costumes and walking proudly hand in hand with their mothers.
Ono Castle, also called Miyayama Castle, was located at the top of Mt. Seikai in Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture. The castle was resided first by the Ono clan, the descendant of the Owari-Genji family, then the Isshiki clan, and finally the four generations of the Saji clan.
The Saji clan built up Chita Suigun (the naval forces) and played an important role in promoting maritime trade and controlling marine transportation in Ise Bay. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi placed great importance on their naval power and Nobunaga’s sister and niece were married off to the Saji clan.
Nobunaga’s niece, Ogo (or Oeyo), whose mother is Nobunaga’s sister Oichi, was married to Saji Kazunari, the 4th head of the Saji clan, by the order of Hideyoshi. However, when Kazunari sided with the Tokugawa and Oda allied forces later, Hideyoshi got angry and made the couple get divorced in 1584. Later in 1595, she remarried Tokugawa Hidetada, the 3rd son of Ieyasu and later the 2nd Tokugawa Shogun, and became the mother of his successor, Iemitsu.
The castle ruins site has been arranged into the park, where the two-story donjon and the castle gate were newly constructed. You can command a wonderful view of Ise Bay from the observatory deck on the donjon. The Saji clan is enshrined at Saji Shrine in the ruins site of the watch tower.
Hie Shrine in Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, had been the head guardian shrine of 22 villages in the area before the Meiji period (1868-1912). The enshrined deities are Ooyamakui no Kami The guardian god of Mt. Hiei), Oomunachi no Kami and Ootoshigami. It is said that the shrine was founded by Fujiwara no Moromichi’s mother in 1100 in the clan’s manor, which was called “Ooka-sho” at that time.
Fujiwara no Moromichi was a head of the Fujiwara clan and served as Kampaku and Udaijin. Having come into colligion with the Tendai monks in Mt. Hiei, he ordered to attack them in 1095. As some monks were wounded in the battle and this aroused anger of the monks, he was placed a curse and died young in 1099. Thus his mother transferred the three dieties of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Mt. Hiei to appease the anger of the deities of Mt. Hiei.
Traditionally, the school of Shinto which believes in the guardian deity of Mt. Hiei is called the Sanno (the King of Mountain) Shinto; hereby this shrine is also called “Sanno-sha”. The annual festival held for two days from September 23 every year is popularly called “Sanno-san” by the local people and enjoyed as the representative event of the city that tells of the coming of autumn.
The shrine is also famous for the collection of important old documents including Sanno Reikenki in Shihon-Chakushoku style (paper-based colored), which is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property. In the precinct is a stone monument inscribed with a poem by Matsuo Basho.
Ogawa Castle in Higashiura Town in Aichi Prefecture was constructed by Mizuno Sadamori, the founder of Mizuno clan, during the Bunmei era (1469-1487).
Sadamori, a descendant of the Ogawa clan, which ruled this area about 100 years before, changed his family name to Mizuno when he was staying at the place named Mizuno in the eastern part of Owari province. After the Onin War, he assembled the former vassals to restore his ancestor’s territory and constructed the castle in the ruins site of the old fort.
For about 130 years since then, the castle was resided by the five generations of the Mizuno clan. During the Warring States period, the Mizuno clan spent eventful years surrounded by the powerful daimyo clans such as Oda, Matsudaira (Tokugawa) and Imagawa. In the Edo period, the Mizuno clan became a Fudai daimyo (hereditary vassals of the Shogun) and was appointed to be the lord of domains all over the country.
Lady Odai, Tokugawa Ieyasu's mother, was born in this castle in 1528 as the daughter of Tadamasa, the 4th generation lord. The stone monument for her birthplace is erected in the castle ruins site. Mizuno Tadakuni, the advocate of the Tenpo Reforms (1844), was also a descendant of this clan.
As Tadamasa constructed and moved to a new castle, it has been called Fujiro, meaning “Old Castle” by local people. The ruins site was arranged into a park and only a part of the earth work on the north side remains today.
Zuinenji Temple in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, is a temple of the Jodo sect. The principal object of worship is Amida Nyorai and Senju Kanzeon Bosatsu (Bosatsu with 1,000 arms). It is the 2nd temple of Mikawa Pilgrimage to the 33 Holy Place of Kannon.
Founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1562, the temple is associated with the Tokugawa clan and his ancestry family, the Matsudaira clan. The temple was founded to hold a memorial service for Ieyasu’s grandfather, Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, and his grandaunt and Kiyoyasu’s sister, Hisako, who brought up Ieyasu for a long time after his mother O-Dai-no-kata was dead. Among several temples and shrines that were constructed on the hill over the Tokaido Road, Zuinenji Temple received special protection by the Tokugawa Shogunate as the defense base to guard the castle.
Going through the four-legged main gate and walk along the front approach surrounded with beautiful white clay walls, you will get to the two storied gate with 1-bay and 1-entrance, beyond which you will see old and historic temple buildings.