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Kiriko, the spirit of Noto: Visit to Wajima Kiriko Art Museum

Wajima Kiriko Museum 2
I attended the field trip to Noto organized by the Graduate Program in Cultural Resource Management aiming to study Noto’s festivals. During this field trip, I was most impressed by the Wajima Kiriko Art Museum.

This museum exhibits Kiriko. Kiriko is a traditional implement used in Noto’s summer festivals. The museum reopened on April 29, 2015, with a new and unique structure to attract visitors’ interest. The most unique feature is that the first- and second-floor ceilings were opened to exhibit the large, tall Kirikos without disassembly. This space has 24 normal and seven large Kirikos. Since the space illuminates Kiriko to express the atmosphere of a festival night, visitors almost feel as if they are experiencing the real festival. We shouted for joy unconsciously. This was a really great artifice!

The museum staff explain Kiriko to visitors as follows. While mikoshi or dashi is the vehicle for deities, Kiriko is the light for them. They are also called Oakashi. Originally, Kirikos were just small boxes or lanterns made with paper and bamboo. Thus, people called them Kiriko, which means a cutting box. The people in each community in the Noto area wanted to make their Kiriko bigger than everyone else’s. Over time, they gradually became larger, with some reaching more than 10 m high.

The people who live there make their own Kiriko in each village or community. One or more Kirikos are paraded in each festival. Among Kiriko festivals, which are held in about 200 locations on the Noto peninsula during the summer, Kiriko is the most spectacular. I feel that Kiriko represents the spirit of Noto.

Some fortune-related words are written in Kanji on the front of Kiriko. For example, 瑞環寿 (sui-kan-syu) means “congratulations on new meeting.” The back of Kiriko is also fascinating, with beautiful pictures usually painted there. In this museum, visitors can view these paintings by going up the stairs of the open-ceiling structure. This arrangement allows visitors to enjoy viewing Kiriko from various directions and grasp its structure. There is also a special corner on the second floor where the festival’s video is shown, revealing how passionate and attractive Noto’s Kiriko festivals are.

Although these efforts by the museum to entertain visitors are wonderful, I found one inconvenient aspect of the exhibition. They did not have devices for foreign visitors. There are many panels that explain Kiriko but none in English. Overseas students had to ask Japanese students to translate the explanation panels for them. Noto is an invaluable place where many traditional cultures have existed for a long time, and it has the potential to attract more foreign people who want to explore Japanese culture. Kiriko is one of Noto’s most fascinating charms. I want foreign visitors to this splendid museum to be able to learn about Kiriko and Noto’s traditional culture.  (S. M.)