“Go to the village hidden in deep snow…” Zaido-A Surviving Ritual In A Dream Place

Children participating in the Tori-mai (bird dance) which is said to have been performed by the main characters in Danburi-chōja
(Dragonfly Millionaire). The three dancers are wearing crowns, representing the cock, the hen and the chick.

 

Photographer Yukari Chikura is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography.  From her project ‘Zaido‘.  To see Yukari’s gallery click on any image.

 

 

 

A child performing the Tori-mai drinks water from a chozuya. A few years ago children participating in the ritual were saved by local women who had noticed them buried under snow fallen from the roof of the shrine.

 

People gathered from Azukizawa and Osato to perform the Gongen-mai and Kōshō-mai.

 

Performers walking through the snow to the shrine. In a place where the difference between summer and winter is stark, and the coldest winter days reach minus 20 °C, such practices can be extremely harsh on the young participants.

 

ZAIDO ( For my deceased father…)

 

Nothing had prepared me for my father’s death. He was taken by a blood cancer before the family knew he was seriously ill. After his sudden death, I had two big accidents and suffered serious injuries to my face and legs.

 

"...about to return to our daily lives, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck."

 

They seemed fatal, but I somehow managed to escape death. The process of recovery was slow and just as me and my family were about to return to our daily lives, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck.

The whole of Japan was shaken, feeling unimaginable despair. All hope seemed lost in one single moment.

As if nightmares appearing one after the other, these new realities, bruised my body and soul, leaving me feeling as if I had taken a severe beating.

With no strength left whatsoever, I found it hard to even get out of bed in the morning.

On one such day, my deceased father came to me in a dream and said, “Go to the village hidden in deep snow where I lived a long time ago”. I followed my father’s instructions and arrived at a dream place, covered with deep snow.

 

 

There, an ancient 1300-year old shrine ritual called “ZAIDO” was being performed.

 

"... noshu are known to have gone through 48-day long periods of complete abstinence."

 

During the 1300 years of its existence, there are said to have been times when it had a difficulty surviving. It is a beautiful, but harsh ritual. Before it, the noshu (performers) are required to undertake a very strict purification. In the longest documented cases, some of these noshu are known to have gone through 48-day long periods of complete abstinence.

 

From our modern society’s viewpoint, shojinkessai (self-purification) seems like a very hard thing to do.

 

"...how many times they have to fall down and get back up, there still exist people who are willing to continue protecting it."

 

Japan is a country surrounded by sea from all sides. That is why, a specific way of life and culture, unlike that of any other country, exist here. This, however, is not the only difference between Japan and the rest of the world. Sadly, natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions are also much a part of the Japanese everyday life. These days, I fear that the culture that has been preserved and passed down from generation to generation through many sacrifices, is sadly starting to disappear. And yet, regardless of how many hardships they have to endure, how many times they have to fall down and get back up, there still exist people who are willing to continue protecting it. It is through their dedication and the great impact it left, and continues to leave, on me that I am able to find a meaning to life again.

I would like to express my greatest respect for the villagers’ love and enthusiasm for the local community, as well as my gratitude to the people of the community who treated me like family, as well as to my father, watching from Heaven.

 

People bowing to the gods before performing the Kanate-mai. It is dedicated to the patron god of the land and danced by all nōshū. One executes it by holding a papyrus in the left hand and after having spread the arms, slowly lifting and lowering them again. It is danced several times throughout the festival at different locations and is said to turn men into gods.

 

The Gongen-mai, the dance of Daigogen. Long ago, the fifth daughter of the emperor was imprisoned in the depths of Mt. Gonomiya and a dragon terrorized nearby Hachimori. The villagers put on masks representing a lion’s head (Gongen-sama) and dance to appease her. A nōshū lifts the lion’s head above his head, while a child carries its tail.

 

The Godaison-mai. The two wearing the golden masks are the Ōbakase and Kobakase. The chant of the Ōbakase has been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Because of the sudden death of an Ōbakase long ago, its meaning was lost and the performer is actually only pretending to chant.

 

A large rope strung across the shrine’s stage was pierced with squared white paper on skewers. Fortunes written on paper are attached to a rope strung across the shrine’s floor with wooden skewers.

 

A shrine, hidden in an otherworldly snow landscape, dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. It is located in an area known for its heavy snowfalls, the border between the three prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Akita.

 

See also:

Tokyo Rhapsody

By Yukari Chikura

 

 

 

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