Spring has a special status in Japanese tradition and psyche as it represents a new beginning. That sentiment is reflected by the fact that the Japanese schools and businesses start their new year in April.
Spring is also a season of festivals. Our town, Kimotsuki, is no exception. We have a variety of such festivals, including stick and sickle dances. Both children and adults, wearing colorful costumes with a stick or a sickle in their hands, participate in the century-old rituals, mostly to pray for the year’s good harvest.
The origin of these dances is not well-known. In general, they are based in agrarian society, therefore represent local farmers’ wishes for good harvest. But that is not all, according to a local historian, who explains that one of the Shimadzu lords, who had ruled Kagoshima for centuries, started the tradition in the Edo period several hundreds of years ago as a means for local farmers to defend themselves against enemies. It is in accordance with Shimadzu’s traditional belief that each person in the domain is a castle, therefore each castle must be protected by each person.
Unfortunately, due to decreasing number of children in many communities, it is becoming harder to maintain this tradition. In some communities, girls are now allowed to dance along with boys though in the past only boys and men were allowed.
Here we’d like to introduce two of the dances in Kimotsuki: one in Hami and the other in Miyage district.
In Hami, you see boys and sometimes girls performing sickle dances with men. They start from a local shrine, then move close to the beach before marching through the community, performing dances in front of houses.
The dances in Miyage are different from others. After the usual stick dance, boys and men participate in a tug-of-war like ritual, followed by yet another ritual which symbolizes rice cultivation. The whole ritual shows how important rice is in Japanese agrarian communities, and also in Japanese psyche.
As well as the spring festivals specific to Kimotsuki Town, there are some spring festivals that people throughout Japan celebrate. In march is Hina Matsuri or Doll Festival.
In May is Boy’s Day.