Festive decorations adorn Nara last month of the year, during the Kasuga Wakamiya On-matsuri
The Kasuga Wakamiya On-matsuri, a festival at Kasuga-taisha grand shrine, is considered the final event of Nara’s festival season. It runs for three days from Dec. 15 to 18. It all began in the Heian Period (794-1185) when regent Fujiwara Tadamichi visited the “tabisho,” the resting place of a deity, at Wakamiya shrine to conduct a ritual and pray for the region’s salvation from starvation and plague. The festival has been held since that day every year, without interruption. At the “watari-shiki” ceremony that begins at noon on the 17th, around 1,000 people parade through the streets of Nara in historical costumes from different periods of Japanese history. The parade, a staple winter event in Nara, draws large crowds of spectators. During another ceremony called the Otabisho-matsuri, the dedications to the deity continue with ritual music and “bugaku” court dances. It is a time when the former Japanese capital is gilded with ancient performing arts and elegant ceremonies.
The “sakazuki-dai” returns after a 120-year hiatus
A central event of the On-matsuri is the Oshukusho-sai, a ceremony where a sake cup stand called a “sakazuki-dai” is decorated according to Shinto rites. This implement has a history, as it was beloved by samurai warlords. In fact, there are records that Oda Nobunaga donated a sakezuki-dai at Kofuku-ji temple in Nara in 1582, to which he invited his disciple–and future shogun–Tokugawa Ieyasu. Production of sakazuki-dai ceased during the turbulent transition from the Edo shogunate to the Meiji government of the late-1800s, but was revived 120 years later in 1988. Since then it has served as a dining implement to pray for the successful close of the festival.
An implement embodying the roots of Nara’s traditional crafts
A ceramic sake cup crafted in the Akahada style is placed in the center of an oval sakazuki-dai that is 45 cm by 35 cm. The cup is surrounded by “itto-bori” knife-carved Nara dolls. It is said these dolls were first made especially for this ceremony. Yoshio Ota, a certified Kasuga Nara doll maker, fashions these historical dolls. Kasuga-taisha’s main shrine and other small shrines are rebuilt every 20 years in a ceremony called the Shikinen Zotai. Yoshio gets his materials from the disassembled structures to make his dolls. Yoshio designs the dolls according to the theme his client wants for the stand, whether it be Noh, kyogen, bugaku or any of many other possibilities. To fulfill any request he receives, he studies every day. He says, “Nara is a fortunate place because here you can come in close contact with culture of the greatest standing.” Yoshio continues to improve upon his impressive skill set today.
- The Kasuga Wakamiya On-matsuri at Kasuga-taisha grand shrine
- Dec 15th 〜 17th every year
- Kasuga-taisha shrine
- 160 Kasugano-cho Nara-shi, Nara Pref.
- Please check Kasuga-taisha shrine website (http://www.kasugataisha.or.jp/about/basic_en.html)