Discover this 400-year-old festival that has recently been designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. See the Yatsushiro Myoken Festival this November 2017 in Kumamoto Prefecture!
Dubbed as one of the three great festivals in Kyushu, the Yatsushiro Myoken Festival is celebrated yearly on November 22 and 23. An autumn festivity at the Yatsushiro Shrine, the Myoken Festival traces its origins back to 1636.
During the reign of the Sagara clan, Kagura-mai (sacred dance performance) and horseback archery were essential parts of festivals. Tadaoki Hosokawa commissioned the construction of a mikoshi and donated it together with other materials, instruments, and costumes used for festivals to the Yatsushiro Shrine. The Myoken Festival was carried on through the years and different elements were later integrated, making it the grand festival it is today.
The origin of the shrine, according to shrine records, dates back to the year 680 when Kengyo Mabuka, Jiro Tenaga, and Saburou Ashibaya arrived at Yachiwatakeharatsu from China by riding the back of a Game, a legendary creature whose body is half-snake and half-turtle.
The shrine was built in 1186 when it was still known as “Myoken-gu.” However, it was destroyed in 1588. It was then restored in 1622 and was later renamed as “Yatsushiro Shrine” in 1871.
It has three shrines. Jo-gu was built at the highest ground on top of Mt. Mimuro, chu-gu was built on the middle ground in the valley of Chugu River at the foot of Mt. Mimuro, and ge-gu was built on the lowest ground at the foot of Ootago Akatsuchi-yama.
On the first day of the festival, the shintai, a sacred object housed in a shrine, is transferred from the Yatsushiro Shrine to Shioya Hachiman Shrine by the mikoshi (portable shrine). This procession is referred to as “o-kudari.”
On the second day of the festival, the shintai is returned to its original shrine in a procession called “o-nobori.” The kasahoko (parade floats), shinme (sacred horses), and Game are also part of the procession.
The kasahoko became part of the Myoken Festival between 1681 and 1687. A kasahoko has three core parts, which include the dai, hashira, and kasa, and is made primarily of wood. Each kasahoko represents a district of Yatsushiro.
The Game, which is an important symbol particularly for the origin of the Myoken-gu, appeared in the festival sometime between 1681 to 1689.
The lion dance is performed at different times during the festival at the Yatsushiro Shrine, Tosaki no Kawara, and Honmachi Fudanotsuji. It was introduced to the Myoken Festival in 1691 through the efforts of a merchant named Kanshichi Izakuraya, inspired by a performance he saw at the Nagasaki Kunchi.
Yatsushiro is a city in Kumamoto Prefecture easily accessible by JR Kyushu trains. From Kumamoto Station, take a train on the JR Kagoshima Line bound for Yatsushiro.
Another option is to take the Limited Express Kawasemi Yamasemi, which runs from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi, and alight at Yatsushiro Station. Most of the seats on the Kawasemi Yamasemi are reserved so book your tickets early!
Total transportation time by train is around 30 to 40 minutes. The Yatsushiro Shrine is a 25-minute walk from Yatsushiro Station.
See the rich history of Yatsushiro through the Myoken Festival. Grab the opportunity to experience one of the three great festivals of Kyushu this November 2017!