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.
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.
Rurihime Festival is held in Shirataki in Ozu City, Ehime Prefecture, on November 23 every year to appease the soul of Rurihime (Lady Ruri), who threw herself into the waterfall.
Lady Ruri was the wife of Fujiwara Yukiharu, the castellan of Takinojo Castle. At the end of the Warring States period (1493-1573), the castle was attacked by the forces of the Chosokabe clan again and again until at last it fell.
Lady Ruri and her women attendants fought back with fukibari (needles blown from the mouth), naginata and shuriken, but they finally escaped from the castle and made their way to the waterfall, where they were cornered by the pursuers.
Lady Ruri told her two daughters to live on and dived from the top of the waterfall (presently called the Otaki Waterfall) into the basin 60 m below with her 2-year-old son Takaomaru in her arms.
On the festival day, the parade of girls in colorful costumes and boys carrying the flower mikoshi (portable shrine) heads for Lady Ruri’s grave mound, where the memorial service is performed and the flower mikoshi is thrown into the waterfall for the repose of her soul and children’s good health.
Osasahara Shrine is a very old shrine founded in 986. As the place where the god of water resides, it is visited by a lot of worshippers. Susanoo no Mikoto, Kushinada-hime and other 3 deities are enshrined.
Assembling the cream of the gorgeous Higashiyama Culture, Honden (the main hall) was constructed in 1414 during the Muromachi period. Though small in size, elaborate decoration is given to every detailed part of this Irimoya-zukuri building. The transom and doors are also beautiful. It was designated as a National Treasure in 1961.
To the right of the main hall is a bottomless swamp named Yorube-no-ike. It is said that the swamp has been filled with affluent water even though there is a long spell of dry weather since two mikoshi (portable shrines) were sunk into the swamp in hope for rain.
As this area has produced high quality glutinous rice and it is said to be the birthplace of Kagami-mochi, Kagami-no-miya Shrine enshrining the original of Kagami-mochi is located in the shrine precinct.
The Shinjo Festival has been handed down in the city of Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture since 1756, when Tozawa Masanobu, the 5th lord of the Dewa Shinjo domain, carried out a festival at the Tenmangu shrine located in the castle area to pray for rich harvest. It is said that the people in the domain, who had suffered from famine and epidemics, were revitalized by this festival and able to have a hope again.
Today, the festival is held for three days in August. On the eve of the festival, the parade of floats depicting famous scenes from Kabuki plays and historical picture scrolls create a magical atmosphere of light and shadow when the lights are lit at night. Another feature of the festival is the Mikoshi Togyo Parade on the main festival day. There is also a floats parade on this day. On the 3rd day, floats are displayed in the central part of the town.
The Deer Dance is dedicated to Tozawa Shrine and Gokoku Shrine in the castle ruins site on the 3rd day to pray for rich harvest of the year. It is designated as an intangible folk cultural property of the prefecture as a dance mocking an antelope, which is rarely seen in the country.
Tsunaginosato Daimyo’s Procession is a traditional festival handed down in Towa Town in Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. The festival dates back to 1564, when Kasai Minbunosho, the castellan of Hatooka Castle, restored Hachiman Shrine and dedicated Yabusame (horseback archery) on the festival day.
The procession is performed in the middle of September every year. At 11:00 in the morning, when conch-shell horns are blown and fireworks are set off with loud bangs, the procession leaves the shrine for going through the town.
With the leading men in formal Hakama in the lead, about 120 citizens in total join the parade, performing the roles of Yakko (samurai’s servants), the spearhead troop of cavalrymen, the magistrate of transportation, mikoshi carriers, Chigo (young children) and Ohayashi musicians. This Ohayashi music is mainly composed of Japanese gong sounds in Kyoto style, which creates a graceful atmosphere.
Occasionally, Tengu and Chinese Lion get out of line and pretend to bite children on the head, which is a magical rite for protecting children from diseases. When Yakko stop and toss to exchange the 3 meter long keyari (feather-topped lances)” in a valiant manner, which is called “Otorikae (exchanging),” the spectators along the street erupt into cheers and applause.
Hokkaido Jingu Shrine located in Miyagaoka, Chuo-ku, Sapporo City is one of the major shrines in Hokkaido. The enshrined deities are Okunitama no Kami, Onamuchi no Kami, Sukunahikona no Kami and Emperor Meiji. It was founded in 1869, when the Meiji government decided to set on the development of the land in Hokkaido and they enshrined the three deities to guard the land. In 1871, the name of this new shrine was decided as Sapporo Shrine and the construction of the buildings started. Since then the shrine has been worshipped as the guardian god of Hokkaido as well as the family god of the people living in this island. In 1964, Emperor Meiji was enshrined together and it changed the name to Hokkaido Jingu Shrine.
The precinct is known as a cherry blossom viewing spot. On the annual festival day in June, mikoshi and floats with ohayashi musicians parade in the city. The shrine is selected as “the New Ichinomiya Shrine of Ezo Province (literally meaning “a modern version of the first shrine of Ezo province)” by a civilian shrine pilgrimage group named Zenkoku Ichinomiya-Kai.
Matsuri Nobeoka Festival held since 1977 is the biggest summer event in the northern part of Miyazaki Prefecture. It is a citizen’s festival featuring the fireworks display, the Deai Mikoshi parade and the Banba So-odori dancing parade. Everything is planned and carried out by the executive committee organized by the citizens under the themes of “the warm heat,” “the love for homeland” and “the feeling of thankfulness.”
The members of the committee attend the necessary workshops, set the shooting ground and shoot up 10,000 fireworks by themselves with the aid of pyrotechnists.
In the Deai Mikoshi parade, large mikoshi (portable shrines) are dynamically waggled and lifted up and down. The largest mikoshi named “Sanbyakkan Mikoshi” weighs more than 1 ton.
The Banba Odori dance is a traditional performing art handed down in this area since the Edo period (1603-1868). In the Banba So-odori parade, more than 5,000 citizens including Mayor participate and dance in a huge circle. In the recent years, the new styles of Banba dances such as “New Banba,” “New New Banba” in the Okinawan Eisa style and “Samba Banba” are also popular among young citizens.