A contest to become the first to reach the sacred mountain, carrying bonden for the gods to descend.
Date: January 17th
Place: Taiheizan Miyoshi Jinja Shrine, Akita
City: Akanuma, Akita City
A bonden is a sacred wand measuring almost four meters in length, which serves as a marker for the gods descending to this world. In ancient times, bonden used to be made of paper or rice straw, but in recent years, they are often made by decorating a bamboo basket with colorful fabric. The bonden wands are carried by groups of children, townspeople, or even company employees. Each group entrusts the bonden with their prayers for an abundant harvest, good health for their families and success in business.
Although this festival is held in all parts of Akita Prefecture, the festival at this shrine on Mt. Taiheizan (1,171 meters above sea level), the symbol of Akita City, becomes particularly heated. Men race to the shrine to become the first to make offerings of bonden. They even start hustling, jostling and grappling with one another rather violently, which explains why it is also called "Bonden fighting." The excitement reaches its peak around noon.
There are various interpretations of this contest, yet the wish to finish first probably stems from the natural desire to be the first to be blessed with divine powers, especially as this festival is held in the New Year. Moreover, the patron deity of Miyoshi Jinja is a god of power, so the fiercer the struggle, the more blessed the participants will be in divine power, which explains the intensity of the struggle.
In addition, the onlookers push forward to touch the triangular charms hanging from the bonden and filled with divine power. This makes the festival even more intense. Dedicated to the shrine, the bonden wands are neatly placed in the snow-covered precincts, making a fine spectacle. In former times, the bonden wands were offered to the inner shrine standing on the Taiheizan mountain top.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo turns into a snow museum! Internationally renowned and Japan's largest snow festival.
Dates: For 7 days, starting in the second week of February
Places: Odori Site, Susukino Site, Satorando Site in Sapporo
City: Chuo-ku & Higashi-ku, Sapporo City
Rows of small and large snow statues are on display at three sites in
Sapporo City during this festival, which is visited by two million
people including overseas tourists.
Odori Park which serves as the main venue is located in the city center,
and a space extending 1.5km transforms into a snow museum.
International Square (Nishi 11 chome, Odori) becomes the stage for the
International Snow Statue Contest and every year more than 10 teams
compete from all over the world. As this is a park, you can drop by
whenever you like. The lit-up snow statues are so beautiful (-22:00).
Moreover, the ice sculptures displayed at the Susukino Site, which is
also a famous nightspot district, create a truly fantastic world. Here,
you will discover unique works with Hokkaido delicacies such as crab,
cuttlefish and salmon frozen inside the ice, which are fun to look at.
The year 2006 marks the opening of Sapporo Satorando, a park designed on
the theme of agriculture (9:00-17:00). In addition to attractions for
children, such as the 100m long slide and the snow maze, organizers plan
to have visitors experience flying in hot-air balloons and sliding down
snowfields on snow rafting boards.
Members of the Self-Defense Forces had always played a vital role in the
production of the gigantic snow statues and the transportation of snow,
but since their dispatch to Iraq, festival preparations have mainly
been conducted by citizen volunteers.
Hana-Marsuri (Floral Festival)
Date: April 8th
Place: All over Japan
Hana-Matsuri refers to the memorial service performed at temples throughout Japan to celebrate the birth of Buddha on April 8th. It is formally called Kanbutsue. On this day, small buildings decorated with flowers are made at temples and a tanjobustu (baby Buddha figurine) is placed inside. This figurine is sprinkled by worshippers using a ladle with ama-cha, which is a beverage made by soaking tealeaves in hot water Some people take this ama-cha home and drink it as holy water.
Takigi O-Noh (Bonfire Noh performance), Kyoto
A graceful musical theater performed at night in a symbolic shrine of Kyoto
Dates: June 1st and 2nd
Place: Heian Jingu Shrine
City: Nishi-Tenno-cho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Noh, which is the most ancient form of musical theater in Japan, is performed in the evening darkness amid the illumination of the burning torches. Heian Jingu Shrine, where the stage is set up, is a famous shrine built as a partial reproduction of the palace constructed in 794, and its red torii gate at the entrance serves as a symbol of Kyoto. Many people gather to watch the Noh performances in an atmosphere evocative of the ancient capital.
Noh is performed by actors wearing lacquer-coated wooden masks and dressed in gorgeous costumes. Emotions are neither expressed on the face nor by voice. The movements are also limited, yet in this style of performance, we Japanese are able to appreciate a serene aestheticism peculiar to Japan. In contrast, the kyogen which is performed during intervals of Noh, is a comic drama with plenty of lines and movements as well as lots of humor.