All About Japan

Full List—Japan's Intangible Cultural Heritage

Japanese Food Shrines World Heritage Handicrafts Farming Shinto Kabuki Theater Dance Temples & Shrines Healthy Japanese Food Kyoto Hiroshima Okinawa Akita Gifu Hokkaido Ibaraki Ishikawa Iwate Kagoshima Kanagawa Miyagi Nara Niigata Saitama Shimane Tochigi Wakayama

7. Oku-Noto no Aenokoto (Ishikawa)

The Noto Peninsula juts out into the Sea of Japan from Ishikawa Prefecture. Twice a year, the rice farmers on this peninsula perform the Oku-Noto no Aenokoto, a ritual in which the master of the house offers the deity of the rice field hospitality in his home (aenokoto literally means "hospitality ritual").

The invitation is treated entirely literally, and includes donning formal clothes to guide the deity, who has poor vision, to the master's home, where the god is offered a prime seat by the fire. The deity is then then helped into the bath and finally treated to a formal meal. The deity in invited in in December in thanks for a good harvest, then stays in the home until February, when a similar ritual guides the god back to the rice field in preparation for the year to come.

8. Hayachine Kagura (Iwate)

Kagura is a form of Shinto dance that actually predates Noh, using masks and movement to recount the origin myths of Japan. While there are versions of kagura throughout the country—particularly in western Japan and Kyushu—Hayachine Kagura developed around the worship of Mount Hayachine in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture, around the 14th or 15th century.

Hayachine Kagura actually refers to two related forms of the dance ritual, one performed at Hayachine Shrine (known as Take Kagura), and another at Otsugunai Shrine (called Otsugunai Kagura), each of which consists of roughly 40 different dance programs. In addition to performances at the shrines' major annual events, the dances can be seen at the Hanamaki City Ohasama Exchange Vitalization Center on the second Sunday of each month.

9. Akiu no Taue Odori (Miyagi)

Akiu no Taue Odori is a harvest ceremony carried out in the town of Akiu, Miyagi since the 17th century, performed on January 15 of the old Lunar New Year. Performed in the hope of a good harvest, Taue Odori literally means "rice-planting dance," and consists of a repertoire of six to 10 dances accompanied by flute, drums and bells. The dances recreate a number of rice-planting activities, performed by a group of young girls wearing hanagasa hats decorated with flowers made of washi paper, accompanied by two to four smaller boys dressed as farmers.

While versions of Taue Odori exist in Iwate, Yamagata and Fukushima Prefectures, as well as other areas of Miyagi, it was the Akiu version that was recognized by UNESCO in 2009, passed down in the region's Nagafukuro, Yumoto and Baba districts.

10. Chakkirako (Kanagawa)

The city of Miura is a military port town on the southern tip of Kanagawa's Miura Peninsula. It's not entirely clear when the Chakkirako dance developed in the area, but it's known to have been in practice by the mid-18th century, likely forming as an amalgam of dances taught by sailors making port from across the country—though it's also said that it was passed down by the wife of Fujiwara no Sukemitsu, who along with her husband is venerated at the local Kainan Shrine.

In Chakkirako, girls between the ages of 5 and 12 dance in two facing lines holding fans and clapping bamboo sticks with colorful paper and bells on the ends. These sticks, called chakkirako, give the dance its name. The dancers are accompanied by a cappella singing from older adult women in the community. The dance is performed at Kainan Shrine on January 15 every year, celebrating the New Year and offering hope for a plentiful catch of fish.

11. Dainichido Bugaku (Akita)

Dainichido Bugaku is a sacred New Year's dance named after the bugaku of imperial palace performances, said to have been introduced to Akita by a visit from a palace ensemble in the eighth century. Dainichido Bugaku consists of seven principal dances performed by four different communities in Kazuno City—Osato, Azukisawa, Nagamine and Taniuchi—as well as two dances they all perform together. Many of the dances involve the wearing of masks, accompanied by the flute and taiko drum. Performances are held from sunrise to noon on January 2 at Ohirumemuchi Shrine, which is also known simply as Dainichido.

12. Daimokutate (Nara)

Daimokutate is a rite of passage held on the evening of October 12 at Yahashira Shrine, near the eastern edge of Nara City in the town of Kamifukawa. It was traditionally performed by groups of eight or nine 17-year-old boys, though in recent years the age has been less stringently observed as the local population declines. There are records of Daimokutate being performed at least as far back as the 16th century.

The boys wear traditional suo robes and tate-eboshi, tall standing hats in the style of the Heian Period (794-1185). They're called up one by one to represent characters from the Genpei War, which occurred from 1180 to 1185 between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) Clans. Chanting memorized lines with varying, sing-song intonation, they typically brandish a folding fan or a bow, though one of the three variants of the ritual includes a character passing on a naganata halberd.