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Spirits Energize, People Dance: Wajima Kiriko Art Museum

Exhibiting cultural properties is always a hard task. It tends to freeze cultural properties within the walls of museums despite museums wanting to make the properties light and prosper and express those spirits and powers. Museums that realize ideal are rare, especially in the setting of the remote place of the country where is not as much popular among visitors as those in urban cities. But sometimes museum becomes an icon of the certain place, village or town, because the museum’s relics are strongly linked with how local people live, what are their beliefs and what is their treasure.

Before we first visited Wajima in August 2016, the Wajima Kiriko Art Museum was the first thing to come to my mind. We have seen many kinds of museums: some own and exhibit unique masterpieces, just like art buildings, others are treasure boxes of local culture. The Wajima Kiriko Art Museum has all of these features. It stands in an old-fashioned Japanese rural landscape of Noto Peninsula, where life moves at its own pace. The museum displays huge lanterns called Kiriko, painted in Wajima lacquer with a variety of decorations and pictures. A number of beautiful Kirikos, some as tall as 10-15 meters, lined next to each other and lit up, is a breathtaking sight when you enter the museum. Kiriko is a lantern used during a major festival of Noto Peninsula, named after Kiriko itself (Kiriko Matsuri). In summer, around 200 districts of Noto are lit with tall Kiriko lantern floats, and residents of old farming and fishing villages form processions in which they carry Mikoshi (portable shrines) and Kiriko, weighting up to 2 tonnes each and reaching heights of 15 meters.

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Noto Peninsula is the only region in Japan where such a large number of lantern festivals take place and it is not difficult to imagine how important it is for local people. Kiriko festival is a ceremony offering to the local Kami-sama (Gods). Although I never had an opportunity to join the festival, the Kiriko Art Museum in Wajima made me feel like a part of the ceremony, filled with excited shouts of people carrying Mikoshi, a smell of sake and loud voices of flutes and Taiko drums in a night filled with fire and lights. What was most appealing and exciting to me was that only entering the main hall evoked feelings of the festival night. Lights, sounds, and the procession of Kiriko lanterns in a huge hall, made the visit to the museum thrilling. The museum has three floors, but as some Kirikos are quite tall, the second floor is more like an observation desk, making it possible to have a look at this lanterns more closely. The third floor gives amazing views to the rural Wajima and Sea of Japan. We were able to watch the Kiriko festivals in different parts of Noto peninsula at the theatre in the museum.

We could define the Wajima Kiriko Art Museum as one of the living museums, because not only it preserves an important cultural property, but also makes a good use of it. By focusing on heritage utilization, cultural properties are promoted more, and regional identity is recognized widely. Kiriko festivals are held during summer, but the museum is always a festive mood all year round. It energizes and fills with festival spirit, and tells us about the distinctive culture of Noto peninsula. We are able to become a part of the mystic ceremony.

(T. M.)

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