Saturday, May 29, 2010

Summer Festivals and Events in Tochigi, 2010 edition - part 1

The star ratings reflect our personal opinion ONLY, your experience may vary.

Nikko Kinugawa Onsen District (鬼怒川温泉地区)

Official site in Japanese and in ENGLISH but I haven’t seen any info regarding upcoming events… Maybe I missed it.
  • Ryuoh Festival (龍王祭) on July 23, 24, and 25 (Fri through Sun)
The biggest event in the district and definitely worth experiencing, especially the ritual ceremony in the “wild” Valley. The ceremony takes place 23rd in the morning at Ryu oh kyou (= dragon valley: 龍王峡). The remaining two days are for the summer festival at Kinugawa Onsen and Kinugawa Kawaji Onsen, that includes Hawaiian dance and music, traditional local dance (Nikko warako odori:日光和楽躍り), enka (演歌) singing, fireworks, and a mikoshi parade (two mikoshi: one for male and the other female carriers which is sort of unique).
Rating: *** (it applies to the ritual ceremony in Ryuohkyou valley) and the rest: * and 1/2
  • Onsen Summer Festival (温泉夏祭り) on Aug 13, 14, and 15 (Fri through Sun)
On Aug 13 and 14 at Yunomachi Kouen (湯の町公園) and on 14 and 15 at Kawaji Onsen (川治温泉) traditional orchestra and local traditional dance plus fireworks welcome you.
Rating: *
  • Kawaji Yatai Night Festival (川治屋台夜祭)on Aug 28 (Sat)
At Kawaji Grounds saying goodbye to the summer season with local traditional performances and other activities.

Rating: *

Nikko Sannai and Chuzenji Lake Districts (日光市山内及び中禅寺湖地区)

Official site in Japanese
On July 5 and 6 (Sat, Sun) from 10 to 15 (that’s 3PM for you Yanks) at Futaara shrine where a market selling a variety of handmade arts and crafts, veggies, etc is held. Traditional dance performances twice on July 5 (Sat) at 11 and 13:30 are waiting for you.
Rating: **
Starting at 10:00 on July 18th (Fri) in Chuzenji Temple by the Chuzenji lake where a Buddhist ritual ceremony takes place for the spiritual solace of monks who lost their lives eons ago during training. Under the name of Hashiri daikokuten (波之利大黒天), a prayer for peace at home, wealth in business, safety in traffic and delivery, and avoidance of evil spirit is delivered by monks.
In the afternoon, monks get on a boat on the lake and a ceremony called “Jizo nagashi” takes place.
Rating: ***
From July 7 through July 14 in Imaichi district of Nikko city (日光市今市). Self-claimed biggest mikoshi in Japan, weighing over 1000kg parades through Imaichi downtown with over 350 Ujiko members.
Rating: **
From July 31 through Aug 7, you climb the 2484m holy mountain to the top and watch the sunrise from there. Several events, like fireworks, archery, dancing, and parades, are expected (see pics in above link to get an idea of the attractions). We are planning to do it this year. Dr. Trouble has already started his training regimen to the accompaniment of the Rocky soundtrack (yes, you may laugh if you want).
Rating: ***
On Aug 1st by the Daiya river (at Nikko Daiyagawa Park). No need to explain. Just wish for nice weather.
Rating: ** (I like fireworks)
  • Nikko suginamiki marathon (日光杉並木マラソン)
On the same day as above (Aug 1st) on Route 121. Again, no need to explain. Not our type of activity, either… Next please.
Rating: no comment

One more link here
On Aug 4th, starting at 9:00 at Futaara shrine Chugushi (by Chuzenji lake) where approx 1500 participants mostly from the Kanto area get together and do target shooting on boats floating on the Chuzenji lake. Some go cosplaying (visit second link).
Rating: * and 1/2
Starting at night both on Aug 20th (Fri) and 21st (Sat) at Rinnohji Temple Sanbutsudo (輪王寺三仏堂). It’s a prestigious and state-of-art Noh open-air performance by the famous Sanbutsudo building, illuminated by fire. The content of the Noh performance is a bit different on both days, but I don’t think one can get it, at least I can’t. It’s notorious for rain and bad weather but if this is the case, disposable plastic rain jackets are distributed to the audience and the performance continues. Kuroko opens an umbrella for the performers and follows them. If it’s a storm, it’s too bad and you are unlucky. If that happens, then you guys are moved to an indoor building of an elementary school or something like that (I don’t remember where it’s going to be held in such cases).
Rating: above ***
We are willing to buy tickets for you, if you wish but just let us know ASAP, the sooner the better. It always sells out at lightning speed. Payment via paypal, or for people in Japan - postal bank transfer, no surcharge, we mail the tickets to you. The only sad part is that the Sanbutsudo building is currently under renovation and is partly covered with vinyl, tarp and what not.

Northern Tochigi district (県北地区)
On June 28 (Mon), a Buddhist ritual performance takes place, followed by walking on fire by barefoot monks, dips in boiling water and so on. Sounds crazy but exciting!
Rating: ***
On June 6 and 7 (Sun and Mon) at … a remote and isolated area away from civilization, Kuriyama (see map in above link) samurai warrior cosplaying and marching in the streets take place (starting at 11:00) on Sun and traditional performances on Mon.
Rating: **
Link for the location is here
From July 1st to Aug 1st starting at 19:45 at Tennen onsen hotaru no yu, Nasu fishland in Nasushiobara city. It takes place at a campsite. Fee: 600 yen (if you only join the event) or free if you stay there. Self-explanatory as what to expect there.
Rating: * and 1/2
Info about last year's event is here.
Late July during weekend in Nasukarasuyama city (那須烏山市) downtown where Kyogen (狂言) is performed outdoor. A mikoshi parade is also expected. It was assigned as “Important Intangible Folk-cultural Property” in 1979.
Rating: **
Beginning of Aug in downtown Ohtawara where samurai warriors march with horses. Mikoshi parade, traditional dance, etc.
Rating: * and 1/2
  • Sakura city Kitsuregawa summer festival and fireworks (さくら市きつれがわサマーフェスティバル&花火大会2010)
Mid August at Michi no eki Kitsuregawa (道の駅きつれ川) where approx 3500 fireworks are expected. Detailed info will be available soon.
Rating: *

Kanuma area (鹿沼市)

On May 30th (Sun) from 12:30 to 15:00 at Mt. Kongoh Zuihojji temple (瑞峯寺) where crazy monks walk on fire with bare feet and dip themselves in boiling water!
Rating: ***
At Isoyama shrine during rainy season (from Mid June to mid July). At night, flowers are illuminated using paper lanterns (提灯).
Rating: * and 1/2
This event is accompanied by Satsuki (Azalea) festival on May 29th (Sat) at 19:00 by the Asahi bridge in Kanuma city downtown.
Rating: **
On Aug 16 at Hidoro Ohsugi shrine (日渡路大杉神社), traditional dance is performed by mostly female dancers. Detailed info will be provided soon.
Rating: *
  • Nakizumoh (泣き相撲); Screaming out loud competition by infants
On Sep 19 (Sun) at Ikiko shrine where two infants are in the sumo wrestling circle, doyo (土俵), competing which one will start to cry first.
Rating: **

end of part 1
Part 2 is here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

JAPAN Blogroll

Because the list would be simply too long and too massive if I tried to include all Japan-related blogs in the sidebar, here is a special page dedicated just to them.

So, without any further ado, here they are, in no particular order (because, really, I can't be arsed to divide them into witty categories like "photo", "ooohh, lookie, it's me in Japan", "oooh, lookie, it's me in a meido outfit", "let's Japanese" and so on...):

(drumroll please)-

More will be coming soon.

And if you want to be added, please drop me a line at: at with "JAPAN Blogroll" in the subject line. Thanks!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

394th Anniversary of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's Death – part two

This entry is our first submission to the monthly Japan Blog Matsuri. This month's topic is "how to". And what we'll try to do is to explain how to distinguish who's who during the Nikko Toshogu Grand Spring Festival procession.

You've seen the procession, you've stood there and watched the people go by. And you've listened to the garbled explanations provided in funny English over the loudspeakers. And while it all looked very pretty (and somewhat anti-climactic even), you still are not sure what it was all about.

This handy, step-by-step guide will show you how the procession looked like back in the 19th century and compare it with the procession we have today.

But, first things first:

We're friends with a very supportive Nikko local, who's the owner of a small and but well-known okonomi restaurant - Hinokuruma (火の車).

Shameless plug for Hinokuruma - go and eat there. The owner will treat you like one of her favorite long-lost children. Some English spoken, vegetarian choices available. And it's cheap.

Here's a map:


Anyway, thanks to her, we were lucky to get two precious seats at the very front row for the parade - Shinyotogyosai (神輿渡御祭) in the morning. Shinyotogyosai is the event's proper name, though it is also known as Hyakumonozoroe Sennin gyouretsu (百物揃千人行列).

When you buy a ticket (1200 yen), a booklet, an ema (絵馬) and a tourist information brochure come with it. One of the booklets explains the parade.


The print (版画) was made in 19th century (early Meiji Period), and it describes the parade for Ieyasu’s (TOKUGAWA of course, by now we're on first name basis) death anniversary.

If you start looking at all the details, you can see it differs from his 394th parade in 2010. But let's take a look at the similarities.

What you can see at very head of the procession is a big Sakaki tree used to purify the route.

1_sakaki tree

And now:


Our favorite tour guide - Sarutahiko (aka Tengu) and a lion (which looks more like a dragon) are there.


And now:


A horse and guys with red "lightsabers":


And now:


Naginata team:


And now:


Samurai warriors:


And now:


Decorated hats:


And now:


Hats with Chinese zodiac animals

Masked team:


And now:


Dignitaries on horseback:


And now:




And now:


Children dressed like monkeys collecting donated coins:


And guess what? Back in the olden days, they had actual monkeys doing it, too.

And now:


Sacred mirror:


And now:




And now:


Procession members in colorful outfits:


And now:


Priest carrying sacred paper:


And now:


First mikoshi carrying Ieyasu’s divine spirit:


And now:


Second mikoshi carrying Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI's (豊臣秀吉) divine spirit:


And now:


Third mikoshi carrying Yoritomo MINAMOTO's (源頼朝) divine spirit. Ieyasu was a big admirer of Yoritomo.


And now:


This last image is the cover picture of the booklet. It looks like it was taken during the Showa Era, I guess, in the early 80s, or so.


There are no side ropes dividing the crowds from the procession. A crowd can be see on the top of the stone-wall by the path (right side under the cedar trees) - now it's a non-no to stand up there. No special paid seats were provided back then. And not so many photographers pushing their way up to the front. Not many foreigners, either.

To read more about the festival, please see Part One of this series.

And to see more photos of the festival and the procession, visit our photo blog - Tochigi Daily Photo - here and here and here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

394th Anniversary of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's Death – part one

What happened then and what happens now

It was on May 18th 1616 when the founder of Tokugawa shogunate passed away in Sunpu castle (駿府城) in Suruga Province (駿河国). He was 75 years old. It is said that he died of stomach cancer; he most definitely had ulcers - probably as the result of too much worry and stress throughout his life…


image: wikipedia

Sunpu castle in Shizuoka prefecture. His resort pension after he retired as Shogun (Well, he still had a lot to do after retirement).

His body was initially buried at Kunohzan Tosho-gu (久能山東照宮), and a “part” of his spirit was transferred to Tosho-gu in Nikko the following year. Kunohzan Tosho-gu also celebrates the anniversary of his death, but on April 17 and not in May like in Nikko. The discrepancy between the two dates is due to the difference in the olden calendar and the one we use today.

The warrior parade (Hyakumonozoroe sennnin gyouretsu) takes place on the anniversary of his death and the whole idea of the parade is to re-enact the ritual ceremony of when the spirit of Ieyasu was transfered from Kunohzan Tosho-gu to Nikko Tosho-gu. The proper name of Hyakumonozoroe Sennnin gyouretsu (百物揃千人行列) is Shinyotogyosai (神輿渡御祭).

Day One, May 17th

On day one, May 17th, the descendants of the Tokugawa Shogun and Ujiko members get together at Honsha (本社) at 10 o’clock.


The 18th Tokugawa Shogun, Tsunenari Tokugawa (徳川恒考).

This ceremony is called “Reitaisai (例大祭)” and during Reitaisai, the divinity of Ieyasu is temporarily transferred into Mikoshi (= portable shrine). Three mikoshi then head to Futaara shrine where Ieyasu’s spirit is transferred yet again. This time from Mikoshi through Haiden (拝殿) to Honden (本殿). Both buildings are in the Futaara shrine complex.

After the divine spirit transfer is completed, Yoinarisai festival (宵成祭) takes place and three mikoshi spend the night at Futaara shrine, accompanied by shinto priests from both Tosho-gu and Futaara shrine. And what do they do all night? Drink divine booze perhaps?

The stay of Ieyasu’s spirit at Futaara shrine is considered to represent his physical death (= separation of his spirit from the body) and his spirit zooming off to heaven (= Futaara shrine).

Day Two, May 18th

The next day at 10 o’clock at Futaara shrine, a ritual ceremony to transfer his spirit back to mikoshi is conducted, and a festival called “Togyosai festival (渡御祭)” follows an hour later. It involves approximately 1200 members of Ujiko - including Nikko city Mayor, city council members and Nikko locals. – And they’re ALL MEN!! Oh man… Though Mrs. Trouble swears she saw some women in manly outfits. That is in addition to the two Toshogu shrine maidens in white dresses and funky headgear.

Anyway, all those guys are dressed in full traditional get up and go cosplaying from Futaara shrine to Otabijo (御旅所). This is supposed to be a recreation of the journey that His Divinity took while moving from Kunohzan to Nikko. In order to re-enact the journey of Ieyasu’s spirit, Otabijo is considered to be Kunohzan (Mt. Kunoh: 久能山), the place of his death.

When the lead of the parade enters Otabijo, three mikoshi are welcomed at Otabijo Honden (御旅所本殿: Main Hall) where a special meal called Sanbondate nanajuugozen (三品立七十五膳), consisting of something like three courses with 75 dishes (traditionally these dishes are divided into three groups coming from different sources, like the ocean, mountains and fields), is served to His Divinity. No wonder he had ulcers!

And when His Divinity is done eating, two Mai performances, Yaotome mai (八乙女舞) and Ozumaasobi no mai (東遊舞) take place.

After watching the show, it is time for him to go back to Tosho-gu, and that happens at around 1 PM.

The same event called Shuuki taisai (秋季大祭) takes place in autumn, on October 17th. That parade is relatively smaller in volume – there’s just one mikoshi and approximately 800 Ujiko members.

Other accompanying events

On May 17th (day one), there are other events: a traditional dance performance and yabusame (archery on horseback). The dancers come from Shiba Daijinguu (芝大神宮) in Tokyo. Amaterasu (天照大神) and Toyouke ohmikami (豊受大神) are enshrined there.


Dancers enjoy a tea break before the performance

Dancers praying at Tosho-gu before the performance

At 8 in the morning in Rinnohji Temple Sanbutsudo (輪王寺三仏堂), Ennen no mai (延年舞) is performed. Two freshly recruited monks in red uniforms and white scarves are on the main stage and dancing like Michael Jackson (well, almost) while other monks chant Buddhist gospels to bring peace and prosperity. This does not appear to have anything to do with Ieyasu’s death anniversary, at least to me, since this style of dancing was brought over by Ennin (慈覚大師円仁) from ancient China during the Tang Dynasty (唐). It’s been around a lot longer than Ieyasu, who was born in the 16th century.


Yep, that's the Ennen no mai ceremony

And that's how the monks danced.

Dr. Trouble almost got thrown out for taking those photos. Technically, he was outside of the restricted "press" area, but just barely, and the Rinnohji staff did not take too kindly to it.

To be continued in part two (hopefully tomorrow).

OK, Part Two is here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nikko Toshogu Grand Spring Festival - video

So sorry
for the very delayed post, but between my normal work and my other work, and the book that will see the light of day (yay!) and needs to be finished ASAP, I hardly have time to fart these days.

So, in the meantime, while I fart, please enjoy this video of the 1000 warriors march in Nikko on May 18th, 2010.

A.K.A. 春季例大祭- 百物揃千人行列 Shyunki reitaisai- Hyakumonozoroe sennin gyouretsu

And on Tochigi Daily Photo (our photoblog), you can see what May 18th looked like in pictures: here and here.

And here are a few shots from day one of the festival - May 17th.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ja Matsuri - Snake Festival - in Oyama City - part 2

Our friend from the fabulous Oakland Daily Photo blog wanted to know who organizes a festival like Ja Matsuri. How are the people who take part in the festival chosen and who can participate.

All are very valid questions, and this is what we found out.

Who organizes the ceremony?
Because the Ja Matsuri festival is designated as a cultural asset in Tochigi prefecture, you can be certain that the city of Oyama has something to do with organizing the event. And yes, turns out that the main organizer is actually the Oyama city tourist association. That body, in conjunction with Ujiko members are responsible for putting on the show.
“What’s Ujiko?” I hear you ask.

Ujiko is a group of local people who worship the same local god, Ujigami 氏神. Uji (氏) means “clan” in English.

 Before taking a dip in the pond

Back in the olden days, Ujigami was considered as the ancestor of local power. Ujiko are its (his?) offspring and relatives of the clan who worship the same Ujigami. So basically Ujigami is a mythical superhero (something like a patron saint, I guess) of the clan, and thanks to him, the clan has an important name, wealth and influence. Or at least, that’s how the story goes.
Every shrine has Ujiko members, and such members in Oyama, along with the tourist office are responsible for organizing the ceremony.

 Poster for the festival

The shrine’s part is to engage not only in religious services, but also to include public and social aspects of the event, somewhat similar to what you could expect a community center to do.
And the tourist office job is to energize the local area by getting involved in organizing ritual ceremonies to make a buck. Because, let’s face it, at the end of the day, it’s also about money – the money that people attending such events so willingly spend.

How are people chosen to participate?
Young boys and girls in each district, who are taught by some old dude how to make the snake, are chosen to dip themselves in the filthy pond. I guess it all depends on whether their parents are willing to participate as well. The rest is all about connection. You know someone who’s doing it, and you’re asked to do it too.

When it comes to traditional Japanese music (taiko drumming and such), there are groups that preserve traditional instruments and teach the young ones to play. Again, kids are encouraged to participate and participating carries with it instant respect and prestige.

If this festival is like many others in other cities, then members of public services (like local fire department guys and their families) are also drafted into participating. Sometimes, they do it as “volunteers” and sometimes they get paid. It all depends on how determined any given district is to appear “involved” and prestigious.

Is it an ecumenical event or do only "shintoists" participate?

It’s a circus. Any religious significance is symbolic only. The festival is an excuse to eat, drink and have a good time. And with this particular festival it just so happens that this particular good time involves getting soaking wet in a shrine pond.
And if you're not into getting soaking wet, you can always have some yakisoba or candy apples.

Personally, I'd take the apples:

or a bunny:

Or even a poor turtle, who no doubt thinks "Shit, I better get out of here before the crazies invade my pond":

Part one of our report is here.