Aug 18, 2011

The Mystically Beautiful Hirokunai Sasara Blesses the Town All-Night on August 14

Sasara (ささら)is said to be a regional variation of Shishimai, Lion Dance. The tradition dates back 400 years ago, when the Satake Clan was relocated to Akita region. The Sasara is said to have led the procession of the lord to ward off the evil spirits in the wilderness and has been indigenized in the Semboku region. Today sasara is practiced as a part of o-bon celebration during August 7 – 20.

Sasara is commonly performed by a group of 3 drum dancers, 2 or more flute players, a few singers, and another comedy dancer. Unlike a typical Japanese Shishimai (Lion Dance), each drummer wears a mask and represents a lion.

There are many Sasara traditions in Semboku City: Umezawa (梅沢), Shiraiwa(白岩), Hirokunai(広久内), Donokuchi(堂野口), Tozawa(戸沢), etc.

Hirokunai Sasara

Hirokunai Sasara, A Quintessential Example of the Distinctive Lion Dance Tradition:

Among the Sasara tradition in Semboku City, Hirokunai Sasara (広久内) are distinctive : they drag around and bless the town all night on certain day that the members do not have a retirement age, unlike the counterparts that retire at 35 or 40 years old.

Hirokunai Sasara features two red lions and one black lion. Seen closely, the red lions appear slightly different in size: The bigger one represents a male lion, the smaller a female lion. The black lion is another male.

The group stops at every house around the main street. This year they started from the western end, and next year they will start from the eastern end. The mystical sound of taiko and flutes would go on all night - from sunset until the dawn.


There is a routine of performance songs. They enter a house premises with a song called Yadoiri, which literally means “entering the house”. Then, they perform a few different songs in sequence with no intermission. Each set lasts about 30 minutes, in which you will be entirely mesmerized by its subtle and profound beauty!

The origin and meaning of the lyrics are not well known; however, some lyrics are found identical to that of other shishimai. Violent and slow movements are combined to express scenes like a fight between two male lions over the female lion and the female lion strays from the path because of mist.

The performance is dedicated to the returned spirits of ancestors during the o-bon week. After the performance, the lion masks are removed and placed in front of the Buddhist alter or shrine in the house. The family members pray for the ancestors.

Buddhist alter for the family's anscestors.

"Hirokunai Sasara"

The Symbols on Masks and Costumes:

There are many symbols seen on the masks and costumes: each mask has a dish on the head, which symbolizes the golden sun or silver moon, and its horns are decorated with stars - which symbolize the Universe! Moreover, the daggers on the mask and the crossed wooden swords tied to the body on the back symbolize its strength to protect and ward off the evil spirits.

The group is welcomed by the family with food and sake. They mingle for a while before moving to the next house, playing a song called “nadewatari.” This will be repeated till the morning.

When and Where to See Sasara:

They perform over the o-bon week for 12 days (August 7 – 19). On August 15, the group performs at a tourism event in Kakunodate Town along with two other Sasara groups (Donokuchi and Shiraiwa).

For more detailed schedule and dates, please contact Semboku City Tourism Division (TEL 0187-43-3352) or Kakunodatemachi Tourist Association (TEL 0187-54- 2700).

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