at Hiraizumi, Iwate Pref.
A cross talk show held at Chusonji Temple, designated as both Japan Heritage Site and World Heritage Site, in Hiraizumi, Iwate prefecture. The theme is “Minamoto no Yoshitsune”, one of the greatest and the most popular samurai warriors of Kamakura era (1185 to 1333) and of Japan history. Yoshitsune, with a lot of ups and downs, has not only been performed in "Azumakudari (Descending East of Japan, Hiraizumi from Kyoto)" at the "Spring Fujiwara Festival"* held every year in Hiraizumi Town during Golden Week (early May), but also in Noh, Kabuki, and Nihonbuyo (Japanese classical dance).
He also is an essential theme in Nambu Kagura, a type of musical theatre that is still widely performed in the region. Talking about Yoshitsune through several performing arts, the video unravels the life of Yoshitsune and his representation in traditional performing arts such as Noh, Kabuki and Nihonbuyo, as well as in the Nambu Kagura.
*“Spring Fujiwara Festival” in both 2020 and 2021 was cancelled to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Hiraizumi once thrived on gold and its glittering history of gold production is officially recognized as Japanese Heritage.
In Hiraizumi, the temple of Chusonji was built as an offering to those who died in the war which had been raging in the Tohoku region until the end of the 11th century. This meant that all the victims, whether allies or enemies, could go to the Pure Land where they would finally rest in peace. Gold was abundant in the area and led to the development of the luxurious Hiraizumi culture, as seen in Chusonji's Konjikido - a golden temple coated inside and out in gold leaf! Back then, Hiraizumi was the center of many exchanges of people and goods within Japan and with the rest of the world.
Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who was sergeant of the Minamoto clan in the Heian period, also visited Hiraizumi twice. The story of Yoshitsune's journey from the capital of Kyōto to the Northeast of Japan is known as Azumakudari (literally, 'Descending East'). It has been passed down to the present day in a variety of forms and is present in traditional performing arts such as Noh and Kabuki. The story is also featured locally in Hiraizumi, during the annual Fujiwara Spring Festival as well as the Procession of Yoshitsune's Azumakudari and in the repertoire of Nambu Kagura, a musical theatre local to Hiraizumi, where Yoshitsune spent his last days. Yoshitsune appears as an eternal hero for the people of Japan but why has he been so loved by everyone?
In Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, the Fujiwara Festival is held every spring and autumn at the World Heritage sites of Chusonji and Motsuji in honour of the Oshu Fujiwara clan who led the region to prosperity. A procession of more than 100 people dressed in historical costumes, including the character of Yoshitsune, takes place on the 3rd of May. The role of Yoshitsune is played by some the most popular actors and celebrities in Japan. Many people come every year to see him on his white horse.
Yoshitsune visited Hiraizumi twice, and his journeys from the capital of Kyōto to the Northeast of Japan are called Azumakudari (literally, 'Descending East'). First, at the age of 16, he travelled with Kaneuri Kichiji the Gold Seller to meet Fujiwara no Hidehira, a journey which took them from Kurama in Kyōto to the temple of Ritsugenji in Miyagi Prefecture, via Izu and the Kanto. It is said that as many as 200 monk soldiers from Hiraizumi welcomed them upon their arrival in Ritsugenji temple. Six years later, Yoshitsune returned to Hiraizumi while fleeing from his brother Yoritomo. That time he disguised himself as a mountain priest and came via the Hokuriku route.
The Azumakudari Procession is a re-enactment of Yoshitsune's legendary journeys to the Northeast. Each year, Hidehira's welcoming party departs from the foot of Chusonji and arrives in the temple of Motsuji, where the scene of Yoshitsune's meeting with Hidehira is re-enacted at the pond of Oizumi, in the refined atmosphere of a Japanese picture scroll from the Heian period. The procession then travels from Motsuji temple to the golden temple of Chūsonji Konjikidō for worship.
Nambu Kagura is a type of musical theatre from the Northeastern region of Japan, from the south of Iwate Prefecture to the north of Miyagi Prefecture, including Hiraizumi. As well as wishing for good harvests and good fortune, the performances are also highly entertaining, with theatrical adaptations of local legends and stories.
During the farmers' off season, Kagura festivals are held here and there, with the dancers themselves singing their lines and drummers demonstrating acrobatic taiko techniques with highly artistic costumes and masks. Kagura is an art form that is still alive and widely loved by the people. It is currently practised by over 120 groups.
Particularly popular are the plays called Hoganmono, telling the story of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Benkei, who travelled to Hiraizumi twice and met their end there. A number of episodes tracing Yoshitsune's journey to Hiraizumi are performed in Kagura. Encounters, hardships, wanderings, glories, falls, friendships and romances unfold across the country, including Gojonohashi and Azumakudari, the meeting with Fujiwara no Hidehira, the battle of Yashima and the passage of Ataka no Seki.
In this video, the Nambu Kagura group called Magisawa Kagura (Ichinoseki City, Iwate Prefecture) will perform Gojonohashi Senningiri and Azumakudari. Gojonohashi Senningiri is about the fight between the agile Yoshitsune and the strong Benkei. The performance is breathtaking as Yoshitsune dodges Benkei's long sword. In Azumakudari, one can see the scene of Yoshitsune's meeting with Fujiwara no Hidehira the first time he travelled to Hiraizumi, when he was young and still known as Ushiwaka. Yoshitsune tells Hidehira the story of his life as the nimble Ushiwaka.
In Nambu Kagura, Yoshitsune is a popular star figure who dances with a white "zai" (hair) and a "wakado" (young man) mask. Each Kagura group is said to have its own image of Yoshitsune, with its own unique style of dancing, costumes and vocalizations.
Has been handed down to Mashiba District in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture. Inherits some characteristic programs from Nambu Kagura, sacred Shinto dance, and is performed at the local events or festivals. They started teaching Tori-mai, a special dance for prayer, at Mataki Junior High School in 1963, and then taught at the Children Association of Magisawa District. They also have instructed Takizawa Elementary School since 2002. Mataki Junior High School was combined into Ichinoseki East Junior High School in 2008, but their instruction still has been continuing. They focus on regular practices and successor trainings. Overseas performance in Bhutan and the exchange performances are played actively.
Became a Noh actor of the Kita school from his father’s generations. His father was from Sakura Moto-bo, Enjoin Temple, where actors performed for the stage of Chusonji Temple. In addition to his activity at Kita Noh Theater in Tokyo, Tamon focuses on promotion of Noh in Tohoku area, such as Chusonji Takigi Noh, Sendai Aoba Noh, and Hekisuien Noh in Shiraishi City, and performs both in Japan and overseas. He enlightens children in school, has lectures to promote Noh in various places. He has performed some large-scale songs such as “Shojoran”, “Dojoji”, and “Okina” at Chusonji Hakusan Shrine Noh Theater, which has long connections with him.
Born in Nara. Graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts in 2003. Is known for his colorful and powerful performance style which fascinates people, and is active in many public performances based on traditional dance. Won the Incentive Award of the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2017. Received the new face award from Association of Dance Critics in 2013. Has participated in Hieizan Takigi Kabuki, Ninagawa Yukio’s work, and Takarazuka Live as an assistant choreographer. In “NOBODY KNOWS” he composes and directs the stages using the story of Japan Heritage Site.
Born in Miyagi prefecture, 1990. Graduated from Keio University. At the age of 14, he was the youngest to win the highest rank A level of the All-Japan Tsugaru Shamisen Contest and won for three consecutive years up to 2006, recognized in its Hall of Fame. With his astounding performance skills and natural charm, he conveys the fascination of Shamisen music. He collaborates with “MIKAGE PROJECT” which composes and arranges folk song and classic music by oral tradition from various parts of Japan in contemporary style, also with “ART Kabuki-dan,” a band which consists of Japanese traditional musicians. He opens up the new music scene.