The custom of ōtaue and the local community: The case of Kawahigashi, Toyomatsu Village, Hiroshima Prefecture in the pre-war Shōwa era

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The custom of ōtaue (rice-planting festival) in the Chügoku Region has often been dealt with in Japanese folklore studies and historical studies on Japanese performing arts. In these studies, this custom has been treated as what remains of old-fashioned rice-planting in Japan or the preservation of a performance carried out before the establishment of dengaku. Research on ōtaue has been driven by such academic interests and many papers about it have been written. The point that most of these papers focused on was not the relationship between local community and ōtaue, but problems related to ōtaue itself, its performance or style of worshipping the gods. The nature of the community within which this custom was held, and its meaning and function in the inhabitants' everyday lives, were seldom discussed. In this paper, building on an awareness of these issues, the author focuses on the case of ōtaue ('ushikuyo') which was held in Kawahigashi, Toyomatsu Village around 1935, and has analyzed the relationship between it and the local community. To put it concretely, he has tried to interpret religious and non-religious representations concerning the inhabitants' everyday lives as measured against the background of their modes of livelihood, the social organization, and social structure of this area. The aim of this paper is to elucidate the meaning and function of ōtaue through such analysis. In other words, it is an attempt to describe this custom considering its connection with the local community. In Chapter 2, the ceremonial procedure of ōtaue and representations in it are introduced. The following five distinctive features are pointed out: (1) ōtaue was thought of as a memorial service for cattle; (2) the tanushi (the sponsor of ōtaue) paid its costs and provided his house for meetings; (3) the tanushi's dignity was emphasized by participants' speeches and actions; (4) the tanushi's house was described as a point of contact between this world and the spiritual realm including the traveling routes of the gods; and (5) the ceremony included many elements of amusement or recreation. In Chapter 3, the mode of livelihood in Kawahigashi around 1935 is explained. In those days, inhabitants of this area got substantial income from the cultivation of cash crops (tobacco, konjaku) and cattle raising aimed at producing calves. Especially cattle raising was very important. Such common sayings as "ushi-no-sakidachi" (the ups and downs of farming households are caused by the results of cattle raising) reflect this importance. The characteristics of this livelihood were caused by an environment unsuitable for paddy cultivation in this area. In Chapter 4, the social organization and social structure of Kawahigashi around 1935 is analyzed. Through this analysis, the following two points become clear: (1) Kawahigashi consisted of four autonomous kin groups called myō, and (2) each myō was a stratified organization in which one head family (shinozuka) took the leadership. In addition, it is argued that the primacy of konjaku and cattle in this area maintained such a soicial structure. In Chapter 5, the distinctive features of ōtaue in Kawahigashi, which were pointed out in Chapter 2, are considered on the basis of the facts elucidated in Chapters 3 and 4. Through this consideration, the author draws conclusions concerning the meaning and function of this custom. For one thing, some important representations in the ceremony reflected the inhabitants' everyday lives. For instance, its purpose as a memorial service for cattle was a reflection of their livelihood. And the persons acting as tanushi, who were respected by the participants in ōtaue were men who had high social standing in the stratified organization (myō). They took the leadership in the ceremony. Also, it can be thought that ōtaue in Kawahigashi functioned as a device which maintained the system of local community. The emphasis on the tanushi's dignity, and the many elemeats of amusement or recreation, are the grounds for this argument. Ultimately, this mutual relationship between local community and ōtaue is the key to understanding the meaning and function of the custom.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJapanese Journal of Human Geography
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2007


  • Hiroshima Prefecture
  • Local community
  • Myō (autonomous kin group)
  • Social structure
  • Ōtaue (rice-planting festival)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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