Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri

The Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri, the festival of the Wakamiya Shrine, which is a sessha (auxiliary shrine) of Kasuga Shrine, is said to have begun in 1136, during the latter part of the Heian period with the prayers offered by Fujiwara Tadamichi (chief advisor to the emperor) for a good harvest and the nationwide relief of famine and epidemic.This festival has been held in Nara every year without a break, and the 2002 festival will mark its 867th observance. Many events are held over a four-day period. The best known of these are the colorful and varied religious ceremonies performed during the Otabisho festival held On December 17. This is a panorama of the arts of ancient Japan. A stage is set up on the lawn in front of a temporary shrine housing the deity. Eight shrine maidens perform a charming kagura dance, and four boys dance the seldom-seen azuma asobi. There are also dengaku (dances originally performed during rice planting), the mysterious seino dances performed only during this festival, Sarugaku (a prototype of Noh), bugaku (court dance and music) reminiscent of the traditions of continental Asia, and yamato-mal at the Kasuga shrine.Both the dengaku, which influenced Zeami (the creator of Noh), and sarugaku, a kagura-shiki performance that is the origin of Noh, have been presented since the earliest days of the festival. These are extremely significant in the history of Japanese arts, and are of great interest because they preserve the forms of ancient performing arts in a contemporary setting. It is also noteworthy that shibabutai, meaning "lawn stage", is the antecedent of the Japanese word shibal (drama). The arts in these religious ceremonies are performed on the lawn stage for eight continuous hours until late at night, illuminated by firelight in the darkness. The forms of the dancers, lit by the thin flames flickering in the harsh winter night, transcend time and Space and beckon US toward the World of the imagination. This performance concludes the year's Schedule of festivals in Nara. Amidst the festival's excitement, this tribute to the old Capital elicits a sense that the year's end is drawing near.
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