“Enshū Dainenbutsu” – Comfort the Spirits of the Dead with Music and Dance
In Japan we have a festival called Obon where, for a few days around July 15 (or August 15 in some regions), the spirits of the dead are believed to come home. Many families hold memorial services to welcome them, and keep them comfortable until they finally send them off again. The rituals performed vary from region to region, so today we would like to introduce the “Enshū Dainenbutsu”, one kind of Obon celebration which is very unique to Hamamatsu City.
By the way, “Enshū” is an old name for Hamamatsu and its surrounding region, and “Dainenbutsu” is the word for when a large group of people chant words of condolences and prayers for someone who has passed. The most noticeable characteristic of the Enshū Dainenbutsu is the combination of these chants and prayers with music and dance.
For Enshū Dainenbutsu, a family who has lost their loved ones in the last year can invite the Dainenbutsu to their home to celebrate their first Obon and welcome their spirit. The basic form of the ritual is as follows: In the evening, a band marches into the front yard of the home in formation, wearing traditional Japanese yukata (summer kimono) and bamboo hats. They dance and play flutes, drums and bells while marching in. Then, they change into a performance formation and start dancing and drumming while chanting prayers and words of condolence, in a sort of song to the dead. After the performance, they go back into their original formation and march out while dancing and playing instruments. It should be noted that as there are about 70 groups of the Enshū Dainenbutsu in Hamamatsu, certain details in clothing and dance vary slightly from group to group.
Sending condolences for those who have passed, recently or otherwise, through lively music, dance and performance may be a reflection of people’s mentality in Hamamatsu.
Legend says that the Enshū Dainenbutsu has a history of over 400 years, and was started by order of the famous Shōgun, TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, who built Hamamatsu Castle and later unified Japan. At the peak of the performance, it is estimated that about 280 groups took part in the ritual. However, these days the remaining performance groups have been working together to preserve the Enshū Dainenbutsu as a great form of local art for future generations.
Check this link to view a short video and experience Enshū Dainenbutsu for yourself!
Photos of the Enshu Dainenbutsu: