National Geographic : 1978 Jul
A FOLK FESTIVAL IN RURAL JAPAN Day of the Rice God Photographs by H. EDWARD KIM Text by DOUGLAS LEE BOTH NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STAFF THE GOD SMILES on his festival day. Chanting and drumming and wailing of pipes summon Sanbai-sama to his divine duty, and so the Shinto deity of the rice fields descends again to the valley town of Chiyoda in southern Japan's mountainous interior. Here townsfolk gather to welcome his return with a centuries-old pageant. Rain had fallen in the night, borne on the winds of the Asian summer monsoon, but the day dawns clear as veiled flower-hat dancers dip and swirl in procession (right). Thus begins the Mibu Ohana-taue-a rice-transplanting ritual preserved by the Japanese Government as a national "folk-culture asset," a day of old beliefs and old ways of working the earth, a prayer in dance and music begging the boon of another year's fruitful crop. The flower-hat dance was once performed later in the season to drive worms from the rice fields. Costumes recall a classic ruse staged in 1578, when a local warlord dressed his men as flower hat dancers and led them into his enemy's castle. Samurai steel flashed from silk kimonos, and the dancing warriors won the victory.