Where the Japanese spirit is alive (and where it’s also lived out)
Summer is the season of festivals in Japan – but autumn is also not doing bad at all in this department. A lot of these festivals that are closely linked to the course of the seasons – and are strongly impacted by agricultural events – cannot be found in the centres of the the big cities, but rather in the rural outskirts and villages. Naturally, I wouldn’t dare to deny the gigantic festivals in Tōkyō or the other cities their overwhelming attraction. But these smaller festivals with their more “familiar”, even more “exotic” atmosphere have their very particular charm. Based on two short videoclips I would like to give you the opportunity to dive into the authentic atmosphere of rural festivals.
Phoenix Dance in Hirai (平井の鳳凰の舞)
The Phoenix Dance is being performed once a year at the last weekend of September at the Kasuga Shrine (春日神社 / かすがじんじゃ) in Hirai (平井 / ひらい), in the utmost west of Tōkyō. Since the old days this dance is deemed to provide rain and to protect from any kind of ailment.
The dancers consist of two groups: First, small boys in their primay school age (Yakko Dancers / 奴さん / やっこさん) perform their ritual dance in a circle (this part of the dances is not contained in the video below). And after them young men, decorated with golden phoenix headdress appear. They also stage their dance in a circle around a drum. The Phoenix Dancers, as well as the Yakko Dancers are accompanied by music (囃子 / はやし).
The dance is one of the Furyū Dances (風流踊 / ふりゅうおどり) (which could loosely translated with “smart dance” or “gorgeous dance”) which combines elements of the Gion-bayashi (祇園ばやし / ぎおんばやし) in Kyōto, a group that is in charge of the music at the grand Gion festival (祇園祭 / ぎおんまつり) in July.
Since 2006 this dance has been registered as an immaterial cultural asset of Japan.
Lions’ Dance in Iriso (入曽の獅子舞)
Every year at the third weekend in October the Shishimai (獅子舞 / ししまい) is presented in Iriso (入曽 / いりそ) in western Saitama.
This “Lions’ Dance” is being performed at two locations on Sunday:
First the dancers and the musicians assemble and perform at the Buddhist Kongō-in (金剛院 / こんごういん), and after that there are two further performances at the Shinō Irumano-Schrein (入間野神社 / いるまのじんじゃ).
Oldest evidence for this Shishimai date back to the middle of the 18th century, however, it is more than just likely that the roots of this festive occasion are much older. The dance is deemed to ensure bountiful harvest and to protect form sickness. In times of droughts it was also supposed to bring rain.
The dance is being performed by three lion dancers (shishi / 獅子 / しし), one “tengu” (天狗 / てんぐ) (“a mountain goblin with a long nose”, as the dictionary calls these Japanese legendary creatures), two stick carriers and four “blossoming trees”. While dancing, the lions are accompanied by eight flutes, six singers and a conch shell. And the story that is being told by the various parts of the dance, that may seem so mystical at a first glance, is in fact an allegory of rather ordinary human relations (i.e. a menage à trois), that can be distiguished (very roughly) as follows:
- entering the square / dance of joy
- separating the two male lions from the female one by a bamboo pole – and subsequent efforts by the male lions to reach the female lion
- dance in the flower garden
- leaving the square
- dance of gratitude to the gods
- the male lions fight for the female lion’s magic pearl, while the female is hiding in the flower garden (hurt or exhausted male lions are being treated with “medicine”)
- reconciliation of the three lions
The single parts of the dances are being connected by linking dances and songs.
The Shishimai of Iriso has been registered as an immaterial cultural assed of the Saitama prefecture (埼玉県 / さいたまけん) in 1979.
How to get there:
Phoenix Dance in Hirai:
Coming from Tōkyō take the trains of Japan Rail (JR) in western direction to Tachikawa (立川 / たちかわ) and from there by Ōme line (青梅線 / おうめせん) heading for Ōme (青梅 / おうめ) to Haijima (拝島 / はいじま). Change trains again in Haijima and take the Itsukaichi line (五日市線 / いつかいちせん) for Musashi-Itsukaishi (武蔵五日市 / むさしいつかいし) and get off at Musashi-Hikida (武蔵引田 / むさしひきだ). The Kasuga Shrine (春日神社 / かすがじんじゃ) is about 1 1/2 kilometres to the north of the station, located by the northern banks of the Hirai river (平井川 / ひらいがわ).
Lions’ Dance in Iriso:
Coming from Tōkyō take the trains of the Seibu Shinjuku line (西武新宿線 / せいぶしんじゅくせん) for Hon-Kawagoe (本川越 / ほんかわごえ) and get off at Iriso (入曽 / いりそ). The Kongō-in (金剛院 / こんごういん), as well as the Irumano Shrine (入間野神社 / いるまのじんじゃ) are a few minutes’ walk away in the northeast of Iriso station, just next to the main street, the Tsutsuji-Dōri (つつじ通り / つつじどおり).
And should you fancy some more of the glorious festivals in Tōkyō , why don’t you try some of the following links:
Asagaya Tanabata Festival (阿佐ヶ谷七夕祭り)
– Lots of colours and a tragic love in the universe
Asakusa Samba Carnival (浅草サンバカーニバル)
– When Brazil’s spirit spills over the streets of Asakusa
Asakusa Samba Carnival (浅草サンバカーニバル) (Video)
– A blaze of colour and the heat of Brazil in the heart of Japan
Kagurazaka Awa Odori (神楽坂阿波踊り)
– Summerly Exuberance in the middle of Tōkyō
Kagurazaka Awa Odori (神楽坂阿波踊り) (2012)
– When the city is soggy, it’s most fun to whoop it up
Kagurazaka Awa Odori (神楽坂 阿波踊り) (2013)
– Also in 2013 the dance tradition is being kept up
Kōenji Awa Odori (高円寺阿波踊り) 2011
– Summerly Dance Festivals in Tōkyō (Part 2)
Kōenji Awa Odori (高円寺阿波踊り) 2013
– Tōkyō’s biggest Awa-Dance-Festival – jollier than ever
Kōenji Awa Odori (高円寺阿波踊り) 2015 (Bilder/Pictures/Video)
– Tōkyō’s big street dance festival – this year pleasantly chilly
Sakura Matsuri (Bilder/Pictures/Video)
– Sumida-ku/Taitō-ku, Tōkyō
Sanja Matsuri (三社祭)
– A festival for the gods, the people, the eyes and the ear
Sanja Matsuri (三社祭） (Video)
Sanja Matsuri 2017 (三社祭) (Video)
– On the outskirts of the great festival:
– A feast of taiko (太鼓) for the eyes and the ears