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Kado - Flower Arrangement

■The district formed by the 1,000 year-old capital group

 A thousand and several hundred years ago, from the 5th century, the capital of Japan was located in the Kansai region, in the Osaka, Nara and Kyoto areas. Since that time, throughout the history of Japan, Kansai continued to play the leading role as the economic, political and cultural center of the country.
 In ancient times, Japan felt a political influence from mainland China and the Korean peninsula, and further, as the eastern terminal of the Silk Road running through China all the way to Western Europe, there was a fusion of western culture and social structure that greatly influenced the culture in Japan. In every case, the political influence and culture from China and Korea, as well as the cultural influence of Western Europe reaching Japan over the Silk Road, came to Japan through the Seto Inland Sea, making the Kansai region the entrance gate for civilizations in other parts of the world. Kansai made the most of its vast store of historical and cultural assets in the following cultural exchange and fusion, resulting in the flowering of a unique Japanese culture. The delicate variations due to the mild climate and rich natural four seasons in the Kansai region fostered an abundant spirit in the people living there, generating a flexible mind set and a characteristic vitality. Including the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, the performing arts and architecture, Kansai accounts for the greater part of the source of the manners, business conventions, daily habits and customs of Japan, and it can thus be said that Kansai is the source of the Japanese culture and economy.

Kiyomizudera Temple

■A Storehouse of World Heritage Sites, National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties

 Blessed with a rich natural environment brimming with greenery, Kansai is also a treasure house of cultural properties, and the creativity of our predecessors in the Kansai region, who overcame a great number of difficulties over the ages, is still alive today.
 The "Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage" is an expression of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) ideal to preserve cultural and natural heritage properties for the next generations of mankind. Japan became a member country, called a state party at UNESCO, in 1992 when it ratified the treaty. Up to the present, including 3 natural heritage properties and 11 cultural heritage properties, there are 14 world heritage properties in Japan, and 5 of these sites are located in Kansai (as of February, 2011).

Kumano Pilgrimage Routes

 The world heritage sites located in Kansai are "Horyu-ji Temple" in Nara, the oldest existing wooden structure in the world, "Himeji Castle," famous as a strong citadel, and so beautiful that it has even been called the "White Heron Castle" (Hyogo Prefecture), the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" (Kyoto, Shiga), including the elegant Kinkakuji Temple, Kiyomizudera Temple, Byodoin Temple, and Enryakuji Temple, the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara," (Nara) composed of 8 cultural properties, including Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, Kofuku-ji Temple, Kasugayama Primeval Forest, Gango-ji Temple, Toshodai-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji Temple, and the "Nara Palace Site, " and furthermore, the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range," (Wakayama, Nara, Mie) composed of three sacred sites, "Yoshino and Omine," "Kumanosanzan (the 3 major shrines of Kumano)," and "Koyasan," connected by the Kumano Pilgrimage Routes (the Ancient Roads of Kumano). Locked deep in the lush greenery of Wakayama, Kobodaishi, the founder of the esoteric Buddhism sect known as Shingon, built the sect's headquarters at an elevation of 1,000 meters on Mt. Koya. The sect has been under the protection of the imperial household through the ages and it is still active today.
 Based on its long historical background, there are national treasures and important cultural properties in the Kansai region. Especially, there is such a heavy concentration of national treasures and important cultural properties in Kyoto and Nara that you wouldn't be going too far to say the whole district is a cultural asset. Nationwide, about 60% of the national treasures and 50% of the important cultural properties are located in the Kansai region. In addition to these world heritage sites, there are other historical sites and famous spots in every part of the Kansai region, such as the remains of the original Osaka Castle, and close by, the 7th and 8th century Naniwa-no-miya Capital site, the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Gosho, where the Japanese court culture was born, Asuka Village in Nara, a virtual historical walk through the ages, the Hikone castle in Shiga Prefecture, the home of the Ii Family, which was granted an annual revenue of 350,000 koku of rice, and the solemn quietness of the Ise Shrine, etc.

Joruri Puppet Theater

■Traditional performing arts

 The majority of the traditional performing arts representative of Japan, Kabuki, Bunraku (Joruri puppet theatre), and Noh, originated and developed in Kansai. It is also well known that Kansai is the birthplace of Cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) and Kado (flower arrangement), etc.
 The name "Kabuki" is based on the Japanese word "kabuku," meaning the inclination of youth to act strangely in the 16th century. It is thought that Kabuki originated in the early part of the 17th century, when Izumo-no-okuni put on a Kabuki Odori Dance show in Kyoto. Thereafter, actors specializing in Kabuki appeared, and scripts and scenarios were published. By the second half of the 17th century, it reached a form that was almost identical to that of the present. The Edo shogunate prohibited female actors from performing in Kabuki plays, so the art form assumed a characteristic style in which male actors played the female roles. In those days, there were many Kabuki theaters erected in Osaka and Kyoto, giving rise to Kamigata Kabuki (Kyoto-Osaka Kabuki). Compared with the rough and masculine Edo Kabuki (Tokyo style Kabuki), Kamigata Kabuki drew many fans as it featured plays based on contemporary affairs to delve into the interstices between lies and truth and depict the reality of human experience and the nature of mankind.

Sarugaku

 At present, Kabuki can be seen at the Minamiza Theater in Kyoto and at the Shochikuza Theater in Osaka, etc., and special seasonal shows and events, like the "Funanorikomi" (literally, "Crowding Onto the Boat"), a prelude to the July performances at the Shochikuza Theater in Osaka, and the all-star "Kaomise" (literally, "The Debut") held at the Minamiza Theater in Kyoto at the end of each year, draw many visitors from all over the country. In recognition of its importance, civic groups in Kansai have been active in the promotion of Kamigata Kabuki.
 Bunraku (puppet theatre) is a leading traditional performing art form in which human emotions are expressed by puppets. Bunraku got its start in the 16th century when a puppet show from East Asia adopted samisen music (a traditional 3-stringed Japanese instrument), which came to Sakai, Japan through the Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa), and Joruri puppet theater, which had developed in Kyoto, leading to the development of Bunraku. Bunraku flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries, and during that period it developed into its present form, where, rather than the original one person, three people now operate each puppet. Now, the base of Bunraku in Osaka is the National Bunraku Theater, which is active in the promotion of the art form and efforts to foster successors.

Noh

 Noh theater has a history that is even longer than either Kabuki or Bunraku. Its roots go back to a performance called Sarugaku, performed as a torch-lit religious ritual at Kofuku-ji Temple in Nara. The art form was perfected in the 14th century by the famous father and son Kan’ami and Zeami. The dance of the actor wearing the expressionless Noh mask invests the figure with emotion, and the plays share some aspects Western psychological drama. In Osaka and Kyoto, various schools of Noh have established their own theaters where regular performances are staged. Outdoor torch-lit Noh performances can be seen at temples and shrines, which never fail to draw the audience into the subtle and profound atmosphere of the medieval world.
 Other traditional Japanese performing arts include Ikuta-ryu Sokyoku (koto music) that developed from Gagaku, the ancient imperial court music, and the traditional Japanese dances, Kyomai and Kamigatamai, all testaments to Kansai as a treasure house of the traditional arts. Located at the foot of the back gate to the Osaka Tenmangu Shrine, a theater for performances of Kamigata Rakugo (comic stories told by a professional storyteller) called the Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei has drawn many Rakugo fans, including, of course, local citizens, but also people from all over the country.

Tenjin Matsuri

■Festivals

  In the Shinto religion, which is unique to Japan, matsuri festivals are religious Shinto rituals. These events also function to bring the community together and strengthen cooperation and social solidarity between the local organizations. For the local citizens, the various functions held during the matsuri provide, for a passing moment, the opportunity to feel free and open, and these events grew over the years into the large-scale events they are today. Among the many matsuri held in Japan, the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka, the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, and the Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo are the three most famous festivals representing Japan.

Tottori Shan Shan Matsuri

 The Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka is associated with the ancient Tenmangu Shrine and it is held every year centering on the 24th and 25th of July, and the climax of the festival takes place with putting the mikoshi (portable shrine) on a boat and carrying it upstream on the Okawa River (the lower part of the Yodo River) to the mouth of the Dojima River, called the Funatogyo event. Religious Shinto music called Kagura and dance called Bugaku are performed on the boat as it proceeds up the river, one of a fleet of more than 100 boats filling the river to the brim.
 While the Tenjin Matsuri takes advantage of Osaka as "The City of Water," creating what can be called a festival with a "moving stage," the Gion Matsuri is held in the center of Kyoto, with a procession of floats for several days leading up to the climax on July 17th as a religious ceremony associated with the Yasaka Shrine, and it can be called a festival with a "moving art museum." It is thought that the festival originated in the 9th century when poor crops caused illness and starvation and people prayed for relief with their weapons displayed on a float. Thereafter, the various sections of the city competed in producing the most beautiful and original float, until the festivities reached their present form.
 Along with the Gion Matsuri, the Aoi Matsuri and the Jidai Matsuri are known as the three most famous festivals in Kyoto.
 Some unique festivals that feature the tradition of cultural exchange between foreign countries are available in Kansai. There are Kobe Nankinmachi Shunsetsusai (Kobe Chinese New Year Festival) and Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival in Kobe, as well as Shitennoji Wasso, the ancient historical festival held every year in autumn at the Naniwa Palace Site Park.

Awaodori Dance

 Not only Kyoto and Osaka, all of the local districts have festivals born in the course of history that have continued down to the present, many related to prayers for bountiful crops, prosperous business or household safety. The "Ebessan" held on the 10th of January at the Nishinomiya Shrine (Nishimomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture) and at the Imamiya Shrine in Osaka as well as in a variety of other districts and the Danjiri Matsuri held in many districts in autumn are especially famous. The Danjiri Matsuri has a history going back about 300 years, and it is an event where many of the local citizens participate. Of the various Danjiri Matsuri events, the Kishiwada City Danjiri Matsuri held in the middle of September in Osaka Prefecture is a fast-paced event that draws not only the local citizens, but also visitors from all over the country.
 There are many other festivals, including the Omihachiman Sagicho Festival (Shiga, February), where young men dress up like women and walk through town carrying floats on their shoulders. There are the festivals Omizuokuri (Fukui, March) and Omizutori at Nigatsudo Hall (Nara, March) which both give signs that spring will be arriving soon in Kansai. Miyako Odori (Kyoto, April) is a traditional spring dance festival at the Kaburenjo Theater in Kyoto Gion, Shinchi Kobu. There is the Fire Festival (Wakayama, July) which is held at Kumano Naichi Taisha Shrine. This historic dance performance culminates in 10 meter high decorated portable shrines being purified by huge torches. The 400 year old Tokushima Awa Odori (Tokushima, August) creates a virtual picture scroll of people with Taiko drums and Japanese instruments winding their way rhythmically down through the streets. At Tottori Shan Shan Matsuri (Tottori, August), about 4,000 participants dance through the streets waving umbrellas. There’s also Nada Kenka Matsuri (Hyogo, October), portable mikoshi shrines bang into each other as if they were fighting and at the end of the year, Ise Daikagura (Mie, December), Through these different festivals and events, residents of Kansai are able to experience the different seasons of the year.