Kurikoma Dashi (Float) Festival is held on the last weekend of July every year in Kurikoma in Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture. It is an attractive festival that tells coming of summer. It originates in the festival held to pray for a rich harvest about 300 years ago, when the area was under the rule of the Date clan.
On the eve of the festival on Saturday, some of the floats parade through the town, while the Bird Dance by elementary school children, the Teodori Dance by 300 women and Monji-Jinku, the distinctive combination of folk song and dancing, are performed all over the town.
On the main festival day on Sunday, Ohayashi music performance is held at the festival center early in the afternoon. Then the 10 festival floats altogether start for the parade all through the town.
The floats are about 4 m tall and decorated with colorful ornaments. Each float is carrying a huge colorful doll of popular figure such as Miyamoto Musashi, Kaguyahime and Matsuo Basho. The dolls are designed to move mechanically. The town receives about 30,000 tourists for the two-day festival period every year.
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.
Shinmeisha Shrine in the Naka area in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, is an old shrine, which was relocated to the present place in 1600.
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at this shrine on the evening of November 2 and on the morning of November 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). It is said that this is one of the Ningyo-Joruri performances that were introduced to this area during the Edo period (1603-1868).
The doll performance is dedicated to give thanks to nature and to pray for a rich harvest, family safety, national peace and prevention of diseases. The dedicated play “Okina” is a drama in Kabuki style, which is originally a repertoire of the Noh play. Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is about 1 meter tall and operated by two local young men. Taking charge of operating different parts of the doll, the two doll handlers skillfully operate the doll and make it dance and perform the drama, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The movements of the dolls are so elaborate that you will feel as if a real man is acting as a doll.
The Sanbaso dance dedicated at the annual autumn festival of Ushikoshi Shrine in Ukusu in Nishiizu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture, on November 2 and 3 every year is performed as a Japanese-styled puppet play (Ningyo-Joruri). Sanbaso is a genre of the Kabuki and Ningyo-Joruri dancing, which originated in the Noh play. The doll performance is dedicated to pray for a rich harvest and national peace and stability.
There are several theories about the origin of Ningyo-Joruri performance in this area. One theory states that it was introduced by a nobleman from Kyoto, who was exiled to the Izu province. Another theory states that it was introduced in the early Edo period (1603-1868) by Okubo Nagayasu, who came to this province as Magistrate of Izu Gold Mine. In any case, it is clear from the shrine record that the Sanbaso dance was already performed at this shrine by the local young men during the Tenmei era (1781-1788).
Each of the three dolls, Chitose, Okina and Sanbaso, is operated by three doll handlers. Taking charge of operating different parts of the doll, they handle the doll in a well-balanced manner to the music of Japanese drums, flutes and clappers. The unity created by the dolls and their handlers leads the spectators to the fantastic world.
Mt. Nonodake in Wakuya Town in Miyagi Prefecture has been known as the holy mountain since the ancient times. Nonodake Hakusan Festival with a history of more than 1,000 years is performed gracefully with the traditional ritual at Konpoji Temple at the top of the mountain. The festival is continued for about 1 month from New Year’s Day to the end of January.
The most attractive event during the festival period is the Oyumi (the sacred archery) ritual performed on the 4th Sunday of January. After the prayer for a rich harvest is offered, the rice cake called “Oshitogiage” is dedicated to Hakusan Gongen. Then, assisted by the priests, two Chigo (young boy acolytes) wearing Eboshi hats and Hitatare garments shoot twelve arrows that represent twelve months of the year. This is an augury for the climate and harvest of the year. If an arrow hits the mark, they will have a good weather, and if an arrow misses the mark, they will have a strong wind. The archery augury by the cute boys gets a favorable reputation that it is accurate.
Mikami Shrine is at the foot of Mt. Mikamiyama in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. The enshrined deity is Amenomikage no Kami, the god of Mt. Mikamiyama. Historic buildings including the Romon gate, Honden (the main hall) and Haiden (the oratory) stand quietly in the deep forest. Honden is designated as a National Treasure for its unique architectural style called “Mikami-zukuri,” which is the combination of the architectural styles used for a shrine, a temple and a nobleman’s residence.
Zuiki Festival is held at this shrine on the 2nd Monday of October every year. The word “zuiki” means the stem of a taro potato. Every year five Mikoshi (portable shrine), which are made of zuiki and decorated with vegetables and persimmon leaves, are dedicated to the shrine to express gratitude for the year’s crop. It has been held for over 400 years and was designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the national government in 2005.
Yakehachiman is the traditional New Year’s event handed down in the Yanagisawa area in Kami Town, Miyagi Prefecture. It is held on January 14 to 15 every year in hope of a rich harvest, household safety and fire prevention. It is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property.
On the evening of January 14, young men in the village get together at Hachiman Shrine, where they make a hut of straw and bamboo poles. Then they put 12 straw lanterns on the branch of a tree. Then they burn the lanterns, which represent 12 months of the year, and perform augury on the climate of the year.
Early in the morning of the next day, the young men in loincloths visit each of the houses in the village and serve holy sake wine to the villagers. Also they apply soot from the Japanese traditional kitchen range on the faces of the wife of a newly married couple or other women of the family. This is said to be the charm for the god’s protection. At the break of dawn, they return to the shrine to set fire on the hut and pray for good health of the coming year.
Shimekazari is said to come from shimenawa rope which is used in shrines to mark the boundaries of a sacred area.
In welcoming the New Year, it is hung over the front of the house to mark it as a sacred area. It is also used as a lucky charm to prevent misfortune or evil spirits from entering the house, or to bring long life and bumper crops.
Many areas in the Tohoku region still preserve customs that use, along with shide and daidai, some food to decorate for shimekazari. This may include such things as mochi (sticky rice), Konbu (kelp), pine needles and fish.
Konbu stands for joy as it sounds similar to the word, yorokobu, (to be happy). Fish is used to pray for good health for the family and, in some cases, to indicate the elevated social rank of the house’s occupants. It is also believed to summon a big catch of fish.
The food used in shimekazari indicates appreciation for a rich harvest in the past year as well as hopes for the same in the coming year.