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Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

All you have to do is look (151)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 30, 2012

Floats at the Sakurayama Hachiman-gu fall festival in Toyama, Gifu.

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Matsuri da! (139): Drunken elegance

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 26, 2012

DID you get well and truly sloshed over the long weekend that included Christmas Eve and Christmas? The percentage of Japanese slumped face down on the bar or snoring in their easy chairs was probably no larger than it would be for any other weekend, however. Christmas is a working day here, unless it falls on Saturday or Sunday.

drunken elegance

Besides, not everyone in this part of the world behaves badly when they redline on liquor. In fact, there’s a certain tradition of drunken elegance that’s been turned into a religious ritual and dance. It’s called the konju, which originated as an imitation of the movements of some Chinese guy in ancient times who got a snootful and started rambling. It arrived in Japan in 736, but doesn’t survive in its original form. That’s because it was modified during the reign of the Emperor Ninmyo, which places it somewhere in the early to mid-Eighth Century.

The dance is so elegant, in fact, it’s often performed at Shinto ceremonies throughout Japan. One example was its presentation at the Bugaku festival of the Hodaka Shinto shrine in Matsumoto, Nagano. The folks at the Hodaka shrine thought it would be fun to couple a traditional dance festival with their Daisengu Festival, which rolls around once every 20 years. The konju was part of the choreography.

The performance was held at a site just as elegant for its beauty. The backdrop was the 3,190-meter-high Mt. Okuhodaka in the Japanese Alps. The stage was placed next to a bridge and a pond.

Come clean, now — that’s not how you behaved at the office Christmas party, was it?

Here’s a performance of the dance at a different time and different place. He does look a bit ripped, doesn’t he?

Posted in Arts, China, Festivals | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Matsuri da! (138) The turtle snake

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 23, 2012

CHINA is the origin for many things Japanese, but perhaps the most peculiar is the kida. That’s the main attraction of the Myokensai festival every year in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, held by the Yatsushiro Shinto shrine. The mythical creature is said to have hitched a ride to Kumamoto on the back of a Chinese divinity.

turtle snake

Myokensai literally means “strange sight festival” and the name is a perfect fit. That’s because the kida is a part turtle and part snake. The head and neck is a serpentine one meter long, while the creature with its turtle body is four meters long in all. It’s the main attraction in a parade of nine floats and 1,500 people. Reports say shouts go up from the crowd when the kida, manipulated by five men, emerges on the banks of the Mizuna River. It’s so popular that the Yatsushiroans made a special kids kida that joined the parade for the first time in 2009. Or maybe kidas reproduce by parthenogenesis.

And speaking of strange sights, the Mizuna River is actually a subterranean river that usually has no water above ground. It fills with visible water after a heavy rain. The name for the river is another perfect fit — it’s written with the characters for “no water”.

Who knows? Maybe the habitat of the turtle snake is the unseen waters of the Mizuna River. It shows up on the street at the end of this short video.

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All you have to do is look (144)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 21, 2012

Nine boats with 11 rowers each circle Mifune Island in the Kumano River as part of the Mifune Festival of the Kumano Hayatama Shinto shrine in Shingu, Wakayama. The island is 1.6 kilometers from the starting point for the boats. The festival dates from the Heian period, which means it’s about 1,000 years old, give or take a few decades.

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All you have to do is look (142)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A festival for offering the uni, or sea urchin, back to the sea as a gesture of thanks, conducted by the Akama Jingu in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, where a lot of them are caught. The local sea urchin cooperative is the sponsor. This year’s event was the 54th, and about 100 people in the industry participated.

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All you have to do is look (140)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 17, 2012

The Takayama Fall Festival in Takayama, Gifu. An important intangible cultural treasure of the nation that dates from the Edo period, one of the hallmarks of the festival is the competition between the artists and artisans of each neighborhood to show off their talents and skills.

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All you have to do is look (139)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 16, 2012

Martial arts performance offered as thanks for a bountiful harvest every summer in Ishigaki, Okinawa. The Senkaku islets are part of Ishigaki.

Posted in Festivals, Martial arts, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Matsuri da! (137) Getting in hot water

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 15, 2012

THERE’S no better place in the world to take a bath in Japan, whether it’s at home, a small public bath in the neighborhood, a large public facility with extra features (such as massages and meals), or a hot spring resort.

The Japanese understand better than anyone that they’ve been blessed with hot water, and that’s one of the reasons for the annual festival held at the Shiobara hot springs in Shiobara-machi, Tochigi.

The Shimobarans themselves don’t know how long they’ve been taking the waters, but it was already well before 1659, when the supply was abruptly cut off by a tsunami. The folks in the neighborhood were so concerned they offered a prayer at a local shrine. Lo and behold, the water was restored. Hallelujah!

Grateful for their good fortune, they held a ceremony to distribute the sacred water to other shrines nearby.

Every year since then, they recreate that ceremony to give thanks for the spa waters and to pray for the prosperity of the resorts. It starts with a special Shinto rite for scooping out and dividing the water. That’s performed by five miko, or shrine maidens, who are second-year junior high school students. The water is then taken in a procession of 100 people dressed in white robes to the Shiobara Hachiman Shinto shrine, and then to other shrines and ryokan in the area.

It all concludes with a performance of the Urayasu dance by third-year junior high school students.

Well, it really concludes with a hot bath followed by a cooling beverage, but you know what I mean.

Here’s what the Urayasu dance looks like when performed in another location.

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All you have to do is look (136)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Onda Hachiman-gu (Shinto shrine) fall festival in Muroto, Kochi. Every other year the four floats are decorated with paper flowers, and this was a paper flower year. They are paraded through town during the day, and festooned with lanterns for some night-time twirling.

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All you have to do is look (134)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Nagasaki Kunchi, an important intangible cultural treasure of the nation, conducted by the Suwa Shinto shrine in Nagasaki City. They have a larger stage for more performances once every seven years, and this year was a big stage year. Practice for the fall event starts in June. The Chinese elements are distinctive of Nagasaki.

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Matsuri da! (136): Hand dancing

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 8, 2012

THOUSANDS of festivals are held in Japan throughout the year, and it’s a safe bet that one or more is underway on any given day. While most of them share common elements, both traditional and modern, they also have an element unique to their community or region. The Nagawa Fall Festival in Hachinohe, Aomori, is a case in point.

There is the Shinto kagura dancing at the Suwa shrine. There is also deer dancing, pestle dancing (a form of kagura), tiger dancing, and Hawaiian dancing. There is a procession with a mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrine. There is a fire department parade with the fire department kids’ club, a primary school parade, a traffic safety parade, a beer garden, and a gateball championship.

All of that you can see and do at other festivals. But only at the Nagawa Festival can you see five floats in a procession with women performing the Nambu hand dance to the accompaniment of shamisen and taiko.

And this is what it looks like.

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All you have to do is look (130)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 7, 2012

The fall festival of the Hojozu Hachiman-gu Shinto shrine in Imizu, Toyama. They don’t know when it started, but the oldest of the 13 floats dates to 1650. The floats gather at the harbor district for viewing, and they’re decorated with lanterns at night.

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All you have to do is look (124)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Handa Dashi Festival is held once every five years in Handa, Aichi, and this year was the year. A dashi is a festival float, and the city has 31 one of them, each rather elaborate. The main attraction is when they’re lined up in a row, which you can see at the end of the short video.

Here’s a previous report on another festival in Handa featuring large floats.

Posted in Festivals, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (122)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Kishiwada Danjiri Festival held annually in Kishiwada, Osaka, is an example of the intensity with which Japanese participate in these traditional events. Danjiri is the local term for a festival float, and each of the 34 districts in the city has one. They are pulled at maximum speed through town, and they don’t slow down for turns at intersections. In fact, that maneuver also has a special name: yarimawashi. (Photo: Asahi Shimbun)

The following Youtube video is a compilation of some of the mishaps that have occurred over the years. Get your socks on before pressing play — and remember that they still do this every year.

Posted in Festivals, Photographs and videos, Traditions | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (118)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 25, 2012

The nukihosai, a Shinto rice-cutting ceremony at a sacred paddy in Sapporo.

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