Akino Takayama Matsuri
Takayama Autumn Festivalth
(Gifu, Takayama city, Sakurayama Hachiman-gu shrine)
The Takayama Autumn Festival is held at the Sakurayama Hachiman-gu shrine on October 9th and 10th. A portable shrine starts from the Sakurayama Hachiman-gu shrine and is paraded through the streets of Takayama city. The prologue of the festival starts on October 7th when eleven ornamental floats, which have been designated as national treasures are lined up along the approaches to the main buildings of the precinct. These floats are resplendent with lanterns to create a romantic atmosphere for the night festival. A stage with windup mechanical dolls is installed on one of the floats. Two Chinese "karako" dolls jump about and hang onto swings on the stage one by one, and finally jump up onto the shoulders of a doll representing "Hotei", the Japanese shinto-god of wealth and happiness.
Izawanomiya Otaue Matsuri
Izawanomiya Shrine Rice Planting Festival
(Mie, Sima, Isobe town, Izawanomiya shrine)
In Japan, many shrines have sacred rice fields in order to offer sacred rice to their god. Before the rice planting season begins, rituals and festivals are held in various districts of Japan. The Ise Kotai-gu shrine complex has sacred rice fields close by the Izawanomiya shrine. On the festival day, young girls aged 12 to 15 called "saotome" plant young rice seedlings. They put on light makeup and wear white "kimono" and red skirts, hanging red sashes over their shoulders. In the sacred rice fields, six young men called "tachido" hand young rice seedlings to the "saotome" girls. Also, on a small boat in the rice fields, a boy beats a drum. Other young men stand along the side of the rice field and play various musical instruments. All the girls and young men sing traditional rice planting songs. Farmers to help ease the rather boring and exacting work of rice planting traditionally sang these songs in the fields. The origin of the festival is derived from the legend of the "Yamatohime" princess who was sent to the river in this area by the sun goddess. After the festival the "Taketori-shinji" ritual is performed. In the muddy rice field, a 14 m high sacred bamboo is erected as a good-luck charm and naked men fight to seize them.
(Nagano, Suwa and Chino cities, Suwa-taisha Kami-sha and Shimo-sha shrines)
Late April to Early May of The Chinese Astrological Years of the Monkey and the Tiger.
This Festival is held by both the Suwa-taisha Kami-sha and Suwatai-sha Shimo-sha shrines. In early April, worshipers from the "kami-sha" shrine go to the Yatsugatake mountain to cut down eight giant fir trees, while others from the "shimo-sha" shrine go to the Kirigamine mountain to cut down another eight giant fir trees. Each tree is about 12 tons in weight. Two thick ropes are tied to the tops of each tree and more than a thousand people haul them along for about 20 km and carry them into the shrines. On the way, there are hills and a river to cross. One hill called "Kiotoshi-zaka" is very steep and some of the more daring of the men, riding on a tree, slide down the hill at high speed. This is a very dangerous feat and sometimes people die under the sliding trees. After crossing the river the trees are purified and carried into the holy precincts of the shrines. In early May, the tops of the trees are cut to form a pyramid shape so that they can be more easily stung into the land. People dash to collect the sawdust and cut pieces off the trees for good-luck charms. After this, people start to sing "kiyari" song and make music. Others pull on the ropes of the trees in order to stand them up at the four-corners of the main building of the shrine. Before the trees are stood upright, local people cling onto them, but as the trees are lifted higher and higher, they start to fall off from and the last person to remain clinging to a tree is said to receive special powers from the god.