Sep 9, 2010

Yama Festival and Shinmeisha

The History of Kakundoate Festival:

Kakunodate Town in Semboku City is known as Little Kyoto of the Tohoku region and proudly preserving the tradition of Samurai period. The Yama Buttsuke Festival in Kakunodate Town has been passed down through generations over 350 years. For the Kakunodate natives, the festival is a sign of passing summer and arriving fall and, most importantly, reassures them the significance of preserving the traditional culture.

The festival is held annually but on fixed dates: September 7th-9th.

 The neighborhood community owns a massive float called Yama, literally meaning “Mountain Vehicle”, and it is to be dragged around the town to accomplish 3 missions: A visit to the Shinmeisha Shrine, the descendant of Satake Family, and then the Yakushi-do temple.

The Shinmeisha Shrine and the Yakushi-do Temple have been the centers of worship for the Kakunodate people for many centuries. Each site had its own festivals on different seasons; however, in the Meiji era, the two distinct festivals were combined and has become of how it is today.

The Shinmeisha Shrine:

The Shinmeisha Shrine (神明社)

Kakunodate Chinju Shinmeisha (角館鎮守神明社)is the official name of its site. Established circa 1658.

The Okiyama is another type of yama but placed on a fixed site.

The Shinmeisha's main shrine is up the stairs.

Lanterns made by local kindergarteners.

During the 3-days festival, the Shinmeisha Shrine holds its annual rituals on the first two days, followed by the Yakushi-do temple on the last two days. The floats are dragged to visit both religious sites to wish for the business prosperity and better health for the family—and ultimately, the safety during the festival.

At 16:00 p.m.— the Shinmeisha Shrine opens its gate to the members of Yama floats, welcoming them with purification and a prayer for their safety. This is the very first destination on the festival. The floats come from different parts of town and arrive at the shrine one by one. You will notice the particular tune of music, which is rather slow and heavy. It is called “Noboriyama” (上り山) and expresses in the lyrics the purpose of the visit.

On the other hand, the lighter and catchier music is played after the Yama float is done with the purpose—called, Kudariyama (下り山).

The float is being dragged by many people-- even these children!

After the purification, the members go up the stairs that leads to the main shrine.

The prayer by the shinto priest.

Running down the stairs and return to the float.

The float stays before the torii. The dancers perform on its front stage.

Meanwhile, the dancers perform on the stage of float. Beauty!

All of them are so beautiful.

Kabuki-themed dolls with amazing details.

Some floats have a humourous doll called Ushiro-ningyo.

The floats to go up (nobori) with a purpose has a priority on the roads; therefore, the one that goes down (kudari) loses its priority and has to yield. That is why a crash, “yama-buttsuke,” does not happen at this point—done quite peacefully.

Then next group awaits with the nobori tune.

Each of 18 floats has its own theme.

The tradition is passed down to the next generation.

Each float has its own style of music and decorations. It is truly marvelous and entertaining to watch.

Next day, September 8th, is a visit to the Satake Family. To be continued…

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