Sep 16, 2010

Kabuki Dolls on the Yama Floats

The fall festival in Kakunodate took place last week, September 7th to 9th.

Kakunodate Town, Little Kyoto of the Tohoku Region, has been the mecca for the travelers who seek for a get-away in a rural historical town.

The main attraction of the festival is, without a doubt, the Yama floats. Now, it is translated as “a float”, as in a mikoshi (神輿) or a "portable shrine" that is commonly seen in Japanese festivals; however, the floats in Kakunodate, Yama (山車) literally translates into “a mountain vehicle” – as in a heavy dray transporting goods and people.

Knowing what are on a Yama would help you understand the complexity of traditions and enhances the entertainment upon following a Yama. Agree?

So here it goes:

The most attractive figure on a Yama float is—if not the dancers—the dolls (ningyo;人形) on the butai (舞台) stage where dances and leaders stand. Depending on the Yama, the dolls are made every year or preserved for the coming years. The dolls are so intricate that they appear as if breathing—the locals stresses, “The dolls are the most important creation in which the deities are said to be embodied.”

The dolls are created by traditional craftsman that remains only a few in Town today. Some are so well-crafted that carefully preserved and handed down over several years. Making dolls starts as early as May. The dolls must illustrate a famous scene from a Kabuki theater.

Take for an example:

Seibu Group (西部)
A scene of Kotobuki-Shiki-Sanban-So (寿式三番叟)

Seibu(西部)group's Dolls on the front Stage of Yama.


Sanbanso (三番叟) is an act of Kabuki (歌舞伎) that is performed at a celebratory rituals to wish for the peaceful society and long expectations. It originally derives from an Okina (), an act from a Noh, Classical Japanese Musical Theater.

In this particular scene, the Sanbanso performs a “Suzumai”(鈴舞い), or the Bell Dance. The bells signify an ear of rice. By shaking the bells, the prosperity and good harvest for the year is said to be achieved.

Each float features a different Kabuki scene. The dolls significantly vary in styles and materials. Truly entertaining to see it and compare!

Iwase Group (岩瀬)

Shimo-Iwase Group (下岩瀬)

Yamane Group (山根)

Hokubu Group (北部)

Yokomachi Group (横町); A doll of Minamoto-no-Yoritomo on the right.

While the front dolls depicts a rather serious scene, Ushiro-Ningyo (後ろ人形), Rear Dolls are humorous! Makes you laugh.

Yokomachi Group

Shimo-Iwase Group

Hokubu Group

Otsuka Group (大塚); A Ninja!!!

Also, the Okiyama (大置山)are a massive structure of a mountain located in different parts of town. You will see a scene of Kabuki there as well.
Okiyama (大置山) in front of the Yakushi-do Temple (薬師堂)

1 comment:

Kabuki said...

Exciting post. I want to give a big thanks to you for such a post and images as well. I just collect my Kabuki dance dress from at PIJ. Its really cool. Now just take a decision to visit kabuki theater. Thanks for your great post.