Ishigami Area (石神地区）is largely known for its beautiful rice paddies (like this) but also for the well-preserved traditional culture. Every year on August 14th, Ishigami community gathers at a local shrine, Kakehi Jinja, for an annual festival, where stages of traditional folkmusic (minyo), taiko drums, hand dances (teodori), as well as the unique Bangaku are performed.
At Kakehi Shrine
Ishigami （石神）is a small community; however, the people are very enthusiastic about preserving the traditional culture. On this day, bonden (梵天) group drags around in Ishigami neighborhood, from house to house, to perform and wish for the peaceful and healthy life of each family. While the bonden are on its way to the final destination, Kakehi Jinja, people await and watch some traditional performances on stage.
The stage performances are by local children as well as professional adult practitioners. First, the stage started with children’s taiko and teodori (“hand dance”) with some intermissions with some traditional folk musicians who has been awarded nationwide, before the stage finale with Ishigami Bangaku （石神番楽）!
Teodori dance performance by local children
A young girl sings Obonai-bushi
Ishigami Bangaku, A Distinctive Theatrical Art of Ishigami People:
The stage finale is Ishigami Bangaku, which is designated as Semboku City’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Bangaku （番楽）is a variation of kagura （神楽）, literally meaning “god’s entertainment,” which is said to preserve the most primitive form of religious performance in Japanese animism. Kagura can be seen more near the mountainous regions of Japan, for it is said to have developed among the yamabushi, aesthetic hermits that resided in the mountains, who would come to town and perform for the people. In some parts of Tohoku, as in Ishigami area, it is called “bangaku.”
Here is a great example of how a rural traditional culture is being passed down through generations!
Watch the youngest tradition inheritors perform on stage!
(So adorable! Best part is toward the end.)
Another set of Torimai (Bird Dance)
When and Where to see Ishigami Performance:
Ishigami Area’s Festival is annually held on August 14th at Kakehi Jinja. They are one of the groups to perform at Obonai Shrine (10 min walk from JR Tazawako Station) on the following day, August 15. (Watch a video of Ishigami performance at Obonai Shrine in 2010.)
If you are interested in catching a glimpse of tradition in rural Japan that is rarely published in a guidebook, here is your chance!