Yamaage Festival held in July every year in Nasu Karasuyama City, Tochigi Prefecture is a dynamic performance of outdoor kabuki, which is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. The history of this outdoor kabuki dates back to 1560, when Nasu Suketane, the castellan of Karasuyama Castle enshrined Susanoo no Mikoto at Yakumo Shrine and prayed for the country’s stability and a rich harvest. During the Kanbun era (1661-1672), a dance performance was first dedicated to the deity in addition to the sumo wrestling matches and Kagura Loin Dance. In the Horeki era (1716-1763), kabuki dances began to be performed and later it took the form of the outdoor kabuki plays.
On the day of the festival, about 150 young stagehands quickly build a kabuki stage with “yama (backdrops),” which is made of bamboo and traditional Japanese paper produced in the Nasu area. When musicians start playing the Tokiwazu-bushi shamisen, local kabuki players appear on the stage and play kabuki dramas such as “Masakado,” “Modoribashi,” and “Yoshinoyama.” After the performance, the stagehand staff quickly breaks up the set, carries all necessary parts to the next locale and re-builds the stage for the next performance. The performances are held five to six times a day.
Iizaka Kenka Festival is held for three days from October 1 to 3 every year at Hachiman Shrine in the town of Iizaka in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture. This event has a history of around 300 years. Together with Danjiri Festival in Kishiwada in Osaka and Oyama-Bayashi in Kakunodate in Akita Prefecture, this festival is regarded as one of the “big three” kenka (literally meaning “a fight”) festivals in Japan.
The highlight of the festival is the Miyairi (entering the shrine) held on the 2nd. At the sign of fireworks displayed at 7:00 PM, six festival floats decorated with colorful lanterns gathered from all parts of town and follow the two mikoshi (portable shrine) that start from the tentative shrine called “Otabisho.” Then the mikoshi and floats go through the town accompanied by gallant beat of the drums and powerful calls of the carriers.
The most spectacular point in the parade is kenka (fight). When the mikoshi enter the shrine precinct, the floats deliberately run towards each other and collide to prevent the mikoshi procession. Intense clash of the floats in the repeated violent beats of the drums is a striking spectacle for visitors.
Sone Tenmangu Shrine located in Takasago City, Hyogo Pref. is known as a shrine enshrining Sugawara no Michizane, the deity of study. The legend has it that in 901, Sugawara no Michizane took a rest in Mt. Hikasa on his exile journey to Dazaifu in Kyushu. He lamented for being falsely charged with a crime and planted a young pine tree he took in the mountain, praying “Grow well to prove my innocence,” beside which Michizane’s son, Atsushige, built a shrine later. The pine tree has been worshipped by people, called as “Sone Pine Tree.” The tree has been replanted several times and the present one is the 6th generation. At the annual festival held on October 13 to 14, people from the surrounding areas come to see traditional religious ceremonies of Hitotsumono Shinji (a divine service dedicated by children in ancient costume), Omenkake (mask dance performance), and the Bamboo Breaching, in which a long bamboo stick is split into pieces, as well as the parade of 15 colorful futon-floats.
Candy craft in Japan involves the processing of sweet and water candy into various colors or shapes.
The history of candy making in Japan is very long and one theory is that a craftsman in China dedicated his candy to Toji Temple in the Heian period. Another theory has it that a pipe craftsman made the candy in order to draw customers' attention.
Candy craft is not only made in Japan, but in Southeast Asia and Europe, too. There are many kinds from those sold in stalls to those used to decorate cakes.
In Japan, candy craft is supposed to be made by craftsmen at stalls or at fairs. Water candy is warmed, mixed with three food colorings, and shaped with scissors and brushes.
Candy has to be processed in one minute before it turns cold, and this requires great skill.
The Hojo Ya festival is an especially famous Shinto festival held in Fukuoka City. Hojo Ya is a religious ritual involving the freeing of all captive animals, and the banning of any taking of life during the festive period.
Although a Shinto festival, the practise of avoiding killing animals is Buddhist, but was absorbed into Shintoism. The festival is held in many temples and shrines all over the country in spring or autumn, along with the harvest thanksgiving rituals.
The enormous Hojo Ya at Hakozakigu in Fukuoka Prefecture is counted among the three largest festivals of Hakata City. During the festival period, more than 700 stalls line the 1km approach to the shrine gates, while many interesting events take place within the precincts of the shrine.
Each year sees more than a million visitors, and services are held for deceased pets, or other living creatures that were reluctantly killed during the festival period. The Hojo Ya is a gigantic event that rouses the enthusiasm of all of Fukuoka in autumn.
At night in Nagahama, lines of some 200 yatai form here and along the Naka River in Nakasu, Tenjin, in Fukuoka.
Yatai such as these first appeared in the mid-Edo period, when politics were stable. As the economy developed, eating out became more common and in big cities, restaurants, selling sushi for example, set up covered stands in front of their premises to sell food to passers-by.
Then, because stands could be moved to places with large crowds, wheeled-stands were used to take the food to where the business was. Customers ranged from merchants, craftsmen, low-class samurais to tramps, and stalls were very casual places to eat in--just like today's fast-food restaurants.
Fukuoka yatai offer many kinds of foods, such as Chinese noodles in soup, 'oden', grilled chicken on skewers, meat roasted on a hot plate, and fritters. In Tokyo, stalls have the image of more down-at-heel off-street business, but in Fukuoka, many stalls compete with each other and are stars of food culture here.