Statues dating from the eighth century. (Kirishima City)
Hayato, the town in Kirishima City that is home to Obama Elementary School, is a popular tourist destination known for its two hot springs - Myoken and Hinatayama. It is also a center for the production of rice, green tea, and other agricultural products, as well as precision instruments and other machinery.
The town is known for various traditional arts, notably bo odori (stick dancing), a bold form of dance dating back to the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868) in which participants forcefully strike together 180-centimeter and 90-centimeter-long sticks.
Bo odori (Obama Elementary School)
Bo odori is performed as a way to ask the guardian deity of the Obama region, which is venerated at Hayasuzu Shrine, for a bountiful harvest. The dance is made up of four parts, corresponding to tilling, planting, harvesting, and storing the crop. One dance takes about 10 minutes. When the dance is finished, the onlookers shout for more and the dancers comply by repeating it three or four more times. The dance is performed at 10 locations in this area, and at each one the dancers are soaked in sweat by the time they finish.
In the past, most performers were men around the age of 20, but today elementary and middle school students make up the majority. A few years ago, the rules were changed to let girls participate. Children in Obama teach each other the dance at school, helping to safeguard this local tradition.
A horse parades in the Hatsu-uma festival.
The Hatsu-uma Festival, held every year on a Sunday in February or March, features a procession of horses that "dance" to the beat of drum and shamisen (a three-stringed instrument) music. The festival dates back 450 years and is famous throughout Kagoshima Prefecture. More than 20 horses decked out in bells and flowers lead the procession, followed by about 2,000 people playing musical instruments and dancing. The dances are dedicated to the god of Kagoshima Shrine, the main shrine in town, to ensure the health and fertility of livestock and a good harvest.
The ornately decorated Kagoshima Shrine (Kirishima City)
Seventy-four-year-old Rokutan Hirochi, a graduate of Obama Elementary School and organizer of the event, smiles as he tells us about the traditional arts of the region.