December 25, 2011

He travels once a year.

The children in traditional attire. When my son was five years old, he was one of them.

On-maturi (Honorable Festival)   is the largest festival in Nara which is held on December 17th every year. Actually the festival continues for 4 days from the 15th to the 18th,  and the 17th is the climax as the traditional costume parade and art performance are held.  These parade and the art performances  are the offerings to a deity, called "Young Prince",  the son of Kasuga gods in Kasuga Grand Shrine.

Horse races are part of the festival. Too fast to catch them!

The origin of the festival dates back to the 12th century when rain did not stop and this unusual weather caused a  very bad famine. People were tormented. They decided to ask Young Prince for his help. They invited the deity to a temporary shrine and entertained him by showing traditional art performances. Prayers were granted soon.

One of characteristics of this festival is that many children participate.

This bamboo gate is a boundary to lead to the most sacred place, the temporary shrine.

This is the temporary shrine made of black pine tree branches.
Behind the bamnboo curtain, Young Prince sits and enjoys the parade and performing arts.
 I like this idea that the deity travels once a year  from his shrine to the temporary shrine,
and there he is entertained. 

In front of the temporary shrine, the shrine maidens perform the sacred dances and prayers.

Six performers covering their faces with a white mask,
dance very simple but mysterious dances.
This is based on the legend that the goddess of sea was ugly
and even her face was covered with acorn barnacles.
So, when she was summoned, she appeared with a white mask to hide her face.

The performances are going on and on.

The first Torii gate is decorated with holly Nagi tree branches.

(These photos were taken just before the parade would start.)
Just before the procession starts, the participants are gathering. Some of them are tense and others are relaxed.

He is rechecking the itinerary of the festival.

The other main characters are horses. Some of them are really excited.

On the 15th December, the costumes for the festival are exhibited.

At the same day, a shrine maiden performs "Boiling Water" ritual to invite the local deities
to pray to them for the success of the festival.

May all bad things be gone with 2011 and all good things come with 2012.
I wish your Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


  1. As always, I enjoyed this so very much. I love hearing all about the festival and seeing all of the imagies!

    Merry Christmas to you and your famiy, Keiko. I'm so glad 2010 brought us together.

  2. Lovely pictures as always introducing the details of the Festival. The two dances performed for the first time in 300 years (as Sarah wrote on her blog) show how this year has been so special disaster-wise. Hope prayers be granted soon and “all the bad things be gone with 2011” as you wrote.

    Has your mother restored her health? It’s quite cold these days, please take care of yourself as well as your mother. Wish you and your family all the best for 2012.


  3. The preparation for the festival is very interesting to see. Thank you so much for sharing variety of photos of the annual festival in Nara. I came to know about it farther.
    I wish you Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

  4. You introduce so much culture on this blog...I love learning from your posts! This event sounds quite massive. What a wonderful tradition to keep. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May you have all that you wish for in the new year :D

  5. Those are beautiful, fascinating costumes. The range of headgear is amazing. Today's hatless heads seem so boring in comparison.

  6. I could imagine how seriously ancient people in Nara worshiped "Young Prince (= Ameno Oshikumone no mikoto/天押雲根命?)", due to the duration and the great numbers of participants at On-matsuru! I love the long and big swords carried by three adults!!!

    Great entry with a bunch of terrific captures!
    Have happy Holidays:)

  7. Fantastic photos. I love how colourful the scenes are. I imagine this is a very special time for all of you there. I would love to see the ceremony at night with the glowing lights all around.

    Here I am celebrating Christmas, a special time for me and for many of the Christian faith. Of course, even those who are not Christian here do love the season because of different reasons.

    I wish you lots of joy, peace and happiness in 2012. Hugs, Joyful (Penny)

  8. What beautiful traditions you have in Japan. These photos are gorgeous!

  9. I was so surprised you posted the same festival I posted. And maybe you took photos near me at the approch of the shrine. So please watch my blog.
    And I discovered myself in your photo,the21th. I am standing between two big drums,next to a man. Wow.

  10. It is like stepping back in history. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  11. Thank you for visiting my blog. Your photos and history are so very interesting to me. I wish you a happy new year.

  12. Excellent shots - I love all the costumes. I'd love to see this in person, but your photos are the next-best thing.

  13. Thank you for sharing! Beautiful costumes, lovely horses ... I wish you the best for 2012!

  14. Beautiful...thank you for inviting us to this festival through your of the things I love most about blogging is sharing our cultural customs we might never have learned about other wise! Happy New Year.

  15. Thank you for the pictures and the details on this festival. It is very interesting, thank you for sharing.

  16. Hello, snowwhite.

     I was given many crops from your glorious works.
     We are far distantly each other, but this human interchange has cultural significance.

     Thank you for your heartwarming message and many visit, in this year.

     Healthy and Happy new years for you and yours.

    Close spring, ruma ❀

  17. Such beautiful and colorful costumes. A very interesting post. Mickie ;)

  18. What a fascinating tradition. I enjoyed "attending" the festival through your photos. I wish you and your family a happy and blessed New Year.

  19. I love seeing your culture through your eyes. very intriguing and historical. Thank you for sharing and may 2012 bring you much happiness and joy!!

  20. Wonderful images, it must be an amazing festival to witness in person. It also looks like a great way for young people to connect with their traditions.
    Thanks for sharing this with the rest of us.

  21. Such beautiful pics... The festival looks so colorful and with the costumes and head gear it must be a treat to watch from close by. I always learn so much about Japan from my Japanese friends blogs.
    Wish you and your family a very Happy and Joyful New Year Keiko:)

  22. Happy New Year! Best wishes for you!

  23. As usual, the photos are first class. But even more striking, for me, is the complexity and richness of this ceremony. I have honestly never heard of so many of the fascinating traditions of Japan. I have a feeling that you have far more than we do and they ate performed with such care and thought. So often when I read your blog it really makes me want to visit Japan and this is a great compliment to you. Have a happy and good 2012. Jenny

  24. 新年おめでとうございます。

  25. とっても印象的な写真がたくさんですね。昔の伝統が今でも大事にされている雰囲気がよく伝わってきます。埼玉の一部の地域で流鏑馬があります。いろんな地域で独特の風習があるのですね。
    Anyway Happy New Year to your family and you.:)

  26. Keiko, I'm visiting you on New Year's Day and am enjoying the costuming and grandeur of the Honorable Festival. Your photos make me feel as though I'm attending! I hope your 2012 (and that of your country) is filled with many good things, including healing.

  27. Hi
    Nara is my favourite place in Japan; What I've seen on this post is exactly what I wish to attend on the day I will travel back to Japan !

    Greetings from France

  28. Yes, 12 years of aikido practice, and I'm now teaching it. And even more years at listening to X-Japan.

  29. How wonderful!And what an opportunity to photograph these beautiful people,costumes and horses.I can't imagine how someone can walk in these high platform shoes,with practice I suppose!
    Your images are lovely,thank you.
    Have a good year Keiko.
    All best wishes,

  30. J'ai eu l'occasion, dans ma vie d'artiste de travailler avec des artistes orientaux. Je les ai toujours trouvé étonnants et je les apprécié pour leur délicatesse. C'est pour cela que j'aime les Japonais et visite beaucoup de leurs blogs. Encore une fois,ici, je retrouve avec plaisir ce qui a fait la richesse du Japon et représente les racines culturelles.
    Merci pour cet excellent reportage.
    Belle année 2012


  31. Glad to have seen this special celebration in your world, snowwhite. The array of traditional costumes and performances are displayed with such care. I can see the hard work it took to arrange these ceremonies. I really like the shot of the studious boy checking the itinerary and the wispy view of the bamboo gate. I hope much joy comes your way in 2012!

  32. Keiko, you've made me feel as I am in attendance myself at the festival. the pageantry and costumes are beautiful. wishing you all the best in 2012.

  33. Hi Keiko!
    Your commemnt made me laugh,I must remember I can be anyone in the privacy of my own space!!! It's interesting to hear that the supreme Shinto deity is female.

  34. Ruby,
    There is an equality law in Japan, but still Japan is a male chauvinist country in many ways. As you said, how interesting the supreme deity in Shinto is Sun Goddess and even she is considered as the direct ancestor of the emperors and imperial families of Japan.

  35. What a beautiful post with so many colorful pictures. A very different world from mine. I like picture no 2 very much:-)

    Thanks for your visit.
    Best wishes for 2012!

  36. snowwhite,
    ! The range of colors are your traditional costume!

    For this new year, it's best for you.

    A hug,

  37. Your photographs are so beautiful and alive that I feel I went to this On-maturi with you. What a wonderful event it must be. I hope that you will have much happiness in 2012.

  38. Happy New Year!

    WOW! What a splendid festival! I have never seen On-matsuri! Your photos are really great and colorful. I feel I saw the festival in person. The Kasuga Grand Shrine must be one of the most important shrines in Japan. I once came across a wedding ceremony held there(I peeped it)when I visited Nara several years ago.

    前記事の紅葉、拝見しましたよ!東福寺のもみじ、とてもきれいに撮れていますね。Hmmm 修学院の紅葉はこれかな?と思うのが2~3枚ありました。苔の上に落ちているの。

  39. Sapphire,
    あたってます!! ビデオを見せてくれる、待合所のようなところの前です。ゆっくり撮れたのはここだけです・・・

  40. Dios mío!!! es maravilloso!

    Sufro por no vivir en Japón!!! sería verdaderamente feliz viviendo en Japón. Me lo dice el corazón...

    Muchas gracias por acercarnos, más y más, con la tradición!

    Domo arigato


Thanks a lot for visiting my blog and leaving warm messages. I will visit your site soon. keiko