Issue No. 02, Fall 2007: MATSURI
Hamamatsu has long been an industrial city and is home to many global companies with products that can be found throughout the world. This success has been achieved, in part, thanks to the unique, long-standing pioneering spirit of this area. This pioneering spirit is founded upon Hamamatsus fascinating history and culture. A part of the culture of Hamamatsu, and Japan, is the various celebrations and festivals called Matsuri. Many of these matsuri have been happening for hundreds of years.
Matsuri are essentially Shinto based native Japanese festivals, held annually on fixed days. In this day and age there is some overlapping of matsuri and another category of annual celebrations of Chinese and Buddhist origin; however, matsuri remain the celebrations of particular Shinto shrines or local communities.
Japanese character for Matsuri
Matsuri are closely related to rice-centered agriculture and they revolve around the growing cycle. Spring and fall matsuri are the most important. Spring festivals are held to insure a rich harvest; fall festivals give thanks for a plentiful harvest. Besides spring and autumn festivals, there are summer and winter festivals. In farming areas the summer matsuri have the role of driving away natural disasters that might threaten the crops. In the cities, especially since the Middle Ages, the role of such festivals has been to ward off plague and pestilence.
Some matsuri are solemn while others are lively events featuring entertainment and competitions. In large cities elaborate matsuri tend to be popular while in the countryside small-scale, more personal ones are most prevalent. Some matsuri are performed in a very traditional way and some have been considerably adapted to modern times.
In a peaceful valley, deep in the lush, green mountains of Hamamatsu there lies a Shinto shrine. The near by town of Sakuma has long been a crossroads for several routes connecting the surrounding areas and a local center of culture. Each year on the last Saturday in October, the locals gather at Yasaka Shrine to take part in a traditional matsuri that has remained wholly unchanged for 400 years.
This Matsuri is known as Kawai Hana no Mai, which literally translated means flower dance where the rivers come together. It was designated by the national government as an intangible cultural asset in 1975.
It is said that the tradition of the Hana no Mai dance was originally started by villagers suffering from sickness and plagued by drought and the freezing of crops. They believed these occurrences to be the work of evil spirits and their attempts to pacify these spirits are the foundation of this tradition. Over time additional dances envoking plentiful harvests and good health were added bringing the total to nearly 20 dances. The origin of the name Hana no Mai is said to have come from the flowers worn on the heads of the children during the 3rd
Cauldron and decorations
The dance area is prepared by decorating the parameter with Sasaki tree, Gohei (hanging paper steamers), flowers, and sacred straw rope; and by placing a cauldron draped in sacred rope and flowers in the center. Then a byakkai
, or pure white lid, is suspended directly above the cauldron.
Water is collected from a near by spring, added to the cauldron, and then the fire is started. Following this, a prayer is offered for protection from the hot water and guidance to perform the dances correctly.
The dancing begins in the afternoon and runs continuously until dawn of the following day. There are dances with dialogue, individual dances that last an hour or more, and dances where the local children can participate. At one point, onlookers are sprinkled with hot water from the cauldron to protect them from sickness during the coming year. The traditional straw sandals worn can cause the dancers feet to become cut and raw, but this does not stop them from dancing around and around the cauldron deep into the night.
The appearance of Sakaki-oni
Excitement and tension continues to build until around 2 a.m. when Sakaki-oni, the top devil, makes his appearance. He makes his presence known as he steps through the cloud of smoke and steam wearing a large red mask and wielding a giant ax.
This tradition remains an important part of these peoples lives and they show no signs of letting it fall by the way side. The locals have organized a special preservation committee with more than 350 members to pass on these traditions to the coming generations.
Hamamatsu is home to many other celebrations, both old and new, that impart meaning and excitement to the lives of its people.
HAMAMATSU FALL & WINTER FESTIVALS 2007-2008
Nov. 17-Jan. 14: Hamamatsu Winter Firefly Festival
Nov. 23-35: Inasa Puppet Festival
Dec. 15-16: Akiha Fire Festival
Jan. 3: Terano Hiyondori Dance
Jan. 4: Kawana Hiyondori