“Forest Fit for the Gods” – Doronoki (Japanese Poplar) Tree Planting Project in Iwate Prefecture
Shishiodori (deer dance), which dates back 400 years, is a traditional art form of Otsushi Town, Iwate Prefecture, an area afflicted by the Great East Japan Earthquake. This project aims to protect this local heritage and the natural environment by planting Doronoki (Japanese poplars), which are used to create the “Kannagara” or the white mane of the headdresses.
Shishiodori, which dates back 400 years, is a traditional art form of Otsushi Town, Iwate Prefecture, an area afflicted by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Dancers dressed as deer and sword racks dance to the rhythm of whistles and drums. It is a heroic, beautiful dance. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, there were concerns for the dance’s conservation, but just 2 months after the earthquake, with hopes for the area’s reconstruction, a performance was held at the “Usuzawa Shishiodori Preservation Museum,” which also served as the emergency evacuation area for the Usuzawa district of Otsushi Town. The association continues to hold Shishiodori performances.
What is especially beautiful about the Usuzawa Shishiodori is the way the white mane known as “Kannagara” sways in the wind. In recent years however, it has become difficult to procure the Japanese poplars from which Kannagara is made.
To make Kannnagara, the poplars have to be of certain width and length, and the inside must be free of any black blemishes, but it has become very hard to find such high quality poplars. When good quality poplar was not available, nylon tape was tried instead, but it did not have quite the same flare.
So with the help of the “Yokado Doronoki Cultivation Association” in Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture, and the Disaster Relief Network, “Tono Magokoro Net (Tono City Disaster Relief Volunteers),” located in a neighboring town, the Usuzawa Shishiodori Conservation Association created saplings from local seedlings and began planting poplars.
During the tree planting event held in April 2014, 200 saplings were planted on 0.8 hectares of land in Shinyama Kogen, Otsushi Town, with the help of 200 people including members of the Usuzawa Shishiodori Conservation Association and volunteers from other prefectures.
In the future, they hope to create a “Forest Fit for the Gods” with 3,500 poplars reaching high into the heavens. It will take 40 to 50 years for these poplars to grow to the size suitable for making Kannagara.
This is a long-term initiative that aspires to bequeath the Usuzawa Shishiodori to the next generation and to protect the local environment.