Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kamakura Festival

On Sunday, I went along to the Kamakura Festival, which is held every year in April from the second to third Sunday. The festival starts around ten thirty in the morning with a procession through the streets of Kamakura and this is then followed by various other forms of entertainment like dancing and music.

The procession lasted about two hours and went along the road next to the raised walkway called Dankazura, ending up in the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine. In the procession there were bands playing music, which included traditional drum playing. Lots of people carried
mikoshi(portable shrines) and there were also many people in various costumes, for example, this man wearing a lion mask.

One of the most interesting things at the Kamakura festival is the ritual dance performed on the Ma-iden stage, to commemorate Lady Shizuka, who was the lover of Yoshitsune Minamoto, Yoritomo Minamoto's half brother. In 1186 she had to perform a dance in order to entertain Yoritomo Minamoto and his family.

According to the story, Yoritomo had ordered the death of Yoshitsune for angering him. As a result Yoshitsune and Lady Shizuku went on the run, but unfortunately she was captured and taken back to Kamakura.

Lady Shizuku was known for her beautiful dancing and Yoritome repeatedly tried to make her dance, but she refused. Eventually she was persuaded to dance, but instead of singing of Yoritome's heroism, she sang of her love for Yoshitune. This angered Yoritome and he ordered the death of Yoshitsune's baby that Lady Shizuka was carrying, but only if it was a boy.

Unfortunately she gave birth to a boy and he was immediately killed and thrown onto the beach of Kamakura. The dance that is performed today commemorates these sad events and I found it extremely beautiful and interesting. You can see a picture of the dance

I also got to see an
outside tea ceremony. The tea ceremony(Sado) was originally introduced to Japan in the ninth century from China and it is the ritual way of preparing and drinking tea. It can last anything from three to five hours.

It has been influenced by Zen Buddhism and is usually held in a traditional Japanese room. There are many rituals that must be learnt for the ceremony and traditional utensils made of bamboo, iron and pottery are used. Nowadays many Japanese people interested in their culture take tea ceremony lessons.

The tea(called matcha) is very thick and green with a bitter taste and you are given a sweet(wagashi) to counter this. When receiving the cup of tea(known as a chawan) you must bow. Then when you drink the tea, you must take the bowl with your right hand and place it in the palm of your left hand. After this turn the chawan clockwise three times and then drink it in three sips, making a slurping sound at the end to tell the host that you enjoyed it. The chawan should then be wiped with your right hand where your lips touched the bowl. Finally it should be turned anticlockwise and returned to the host.

I was also very fortunate to be allowed in to see an archery competition. Kyudo, which means 'The Way of the Bow' is one of the oldest traditional martial arts in Japan and is closely associated with Zen Buddhism.

The Japanese bow is different to normal bows as it is gripped about two thirds of the way up. The bow is 2.25 metres long and is made from bamboo and mulberry wood. When practicing kyudo a hakama is worn, which is a split skirt. Kyudo is still very popular today with many clubs in high schools and universities.

There was also a Miss Kamakura competition and you can see all the lovely finalists
here. Not once did they stop smiling throughout the whole day.

Click here for all the