Chigo (稚児)

Chigo has roughly the following meanings.

A baby or an infant, which is the original usage of this word.
It is considered an abbreviation of 'chinomigo (an unweaned child).'
Later the word came to cover children up to age of about six.

Chigo in large-scale temples: see the following article "Chigo in large-scale temples". It has changed its meaning to young men involved in homosexual relationships.

Chigo in a festival procession: see the following article "Chigo in a festival procession".

Chigo in large-scale temples

Since around the Heian period, young trainee monks (age 12 to about 18) who did not shave their heads began to appear at the large-scale temples of the Shingon and Tendai sects of Buddhism, and these boys came to be called chigo. There were three kinds of chigo: the upper chigo was a son of the Imperial family or high nobles left at the temple to learn good manners; the middle chigo was discovered for his cleverness and taken to a temple in order to look after priests; the lower chigo was sold by a corrupt monk, or his talent in performing art was recognized and was employed at the temple. In the Zen sect, such boys were called katsujiki.

They had long flowing hair or did their hair in chigo mage (coiffure, distinguished by two loops of hair standing on the crown of the head), putting on makeup just like court ladies in the Heian period who had already celebrated their coming of age (even applying tooth black to their teeth), and wearing suikan (the dress for upper class children) in full color.

Because the large-scale temples of the Shingon and Tendai sects of Buddhism for practicing asceticism were located in the mountains and closed to women, these chigo were often involved in homosexual relationships as 'a female role in a male society' (except for the upper chigo). Even at the Zen temples after the medieval period, chigo and katsujiki had been mainly considered male homosexuals.

Mostly, bugaku (court music and dances), sangaku (various kinds of folk performances), and ennen (entertainment) were performed at grand Buddhist memorial services, and chigo attracted attention of priests belonging to other temples.

When these chigo grew up, most of them returned to secular lives, but there were a few who became priests.

Literary works in which chigo in large-scale temples appears

The chigo mentioned above appeared in many of the classic and modern literature, and they were described as well as young ladies by the words such as sensitive, elegant, graceful, neat and clean, pretty, and fragile, while their comic remarks made by their innocence were met with priests' contemptuous laughter. Very rarely, they were described as virile young men contrary to pretty boys.

Konjaku Monogatari (Tales of Times Now Past) (anonymous)

Ujishui Monogatari (A Collection of Tales from Uji) (anonymous)

Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) (Kenko YOSHIDA)

Aotozoshi Hana no Nishikie (Mokuami KAWATAKE)

The Two Acolytes (Junichiro TANIZAKI)

Chigo (a novel) (Toko KON)

Historical characters who were once chigo in large-scale temples.

MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune (Ushiwaka maru, Shanao)
Musashibo Benkei (Oniwaka maru)
Naoaki MOMOI (Kowaka maru) (the founder of Kowaka-mai dance)

Chigo in a festival procession

(In the following text, "boy" and "girl" contain "baby boy" and "baby girl" respectively.)

In today's festivals, boys and girls (usually younger than elementary school students) who wear distinctive makeup (mostly thick makeup) and certain matching costumes are mostly called chigo.

The chigo usually wear the Heian-style costume (Shinto priest costume or shrine maiden costume) or chigo costume which is an informal Heian-style clothing, and mostly boys wear eboshi (lacquered hat) and girls wear tengan (golden crown), in addition to hakama (pleated and divided skirt made in fine stripes) which is considered essential.

Basically they wear makeup called 'kuraihoshi' putting black or red circles on their faces and painting the bridges of their noses with white, but there are many variations of their makeup: the light makeup like just putting some lipstick, the makeup as thick as adult's formal makeup, stage makeup like an actor in the kabuki dance (very rarely, chigo stain their teeth black or paint eyebrows), thick makeup like a ballerina, and so on.

It generally depends on a sponsor of the festival if these children should be called chigo or not, so sometimes they are not called chigo even though they look like chigo, for example, yaotome (eight shrine maidens), young boys in the Annual Festival of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and musicians in the Hanamaki Festival in Hanamaki City, while children can be called chigo in spite of wearing no makeup, for example, the children wearing yukata (informal summer kimono) without makeup in the Yukata Festival in Himeji City.

Classification by type
There are three types of chigo in festivals.

The yorimashi type

The dancing and public entertainment type

The parade type

The yorimashi type

Since ancient times, it has been thought that a divine spirit easily descends to a child aged under six, so chigo who had a role of spiritualistic medium appeared in a festival of the Shinto shrine. Now such children are treated as a symbol of the festival. In most cases, chigo are chosen from boys, and usually one to three at most can be chigo.

The dancing and public entertainment type

The boys and girls who perform kagura (Shinto music and dancing), bugaku, dengaku (farmers' music and dancing), and furyu (folk music and dancing) as a religious offering are usually called chigo. A girl who wears the costume of a shrine maiden in the miko dance, and 'noriko' (literally children on something) on the drum stage are sometimes called chigo too.

Some of them follow the tradition of public entertainment performed by chigo (young trainee monks who did not shave their heads) mentioned before.

Moreover, there are some regions where the kabuki (Japanese classical drama) performed by amateur boys and girls are called chigo kabuki.

The parade type

This type of chigo can be seen most.

They appear not only in the shrine festivals accompanied by a shrine maiden and a historic pageant, but also in a flower festival at a temple (birthday ceremony, kanbutsue (the Buddha's birthday festival), Shakyamuni's birthday ceremony), days consecrated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion and Fudo Myoo, the anniversary of the death (memorial service) of the founders, such as Honen and Nichiren, grand Buddhist memorial services held once in decades or hundreds of years such as a celebration of completion of a main hall or the inauguration ceremony for the head priest of a temple.

Chigo is often invited from the public, and sometimes more than two hundred chigo are collected in the large-scale festival.

The boys and girls who perform Tekomai (float leading dance) are sometimes called chigo, too.

There is an urban legend that a child who has taken part in the chigo parade three times will be happy, which is particularly believed in Aichi Prefecture (it is restricted to girls in Aichi Prefecture).

Festivals in which chigo appear

*See each article as to Setsubun (the day before the beginning of spring), Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival), Kanbutsue (the Buddha's birthday festival), Oeshiki (a Buddhist memorial service), and Tekomai.


Respect-for-the-Aged Day (the third Monday in September): Chigomai (Teine-jinja Shrine, Teine Ward, Sapporo City)

Tohoku region

February 17-20: Enburi Festival (Hachinohe City)
July: Chigomai at the Kumano-jinja Shrine (Nanyo City) (the Kumano-jinja Shrine in Nanyo City)

Northern Kanto region

Early March: Ishidan Hinamatsuri (The Stone Steps Doll Festival) (Ikaho hot spring, Shibukawa City)
Early March: Annual spring festival (Sasamori Inari-jinja Shrine, Kanra machi)
Early March: Saito-sai Festival (Kashima Jingu Shrine, Kashima City)
Late March: Hatsuumatai-sai Festival (Kanmuri Inari-jinja Shrine, Ota City)
April 1: Annual spring festival (Sakisaki-jinja Shrine, Annaka City)
Early April: Annual spring festival (Suwa-jinja Shrine, Tomioka City)
Early April: Gogyo Dance (Chikata-jinja Shrine, Oyama City)
Early April: Aoi Festival (Serada Tosho-gu Shrine, Ota City)
April 9: Annual spring festival (Susanoo-jinja Shrine, Takasaki City)
April 19: Annual spring festival (Kuragano-jinja Shrine, Takasaki City)
April 29: Ryuha Festival (Numata City)
October 15: Annual autumn festival (Yamana Hachiman-gu Shrine, Takasaki City)
Late October: Taisho Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) (Chuo Ward, Saitama City)

Southern Kanto region

January 15: Chakkirako Festival (Miura City)
January 28: Hatsu Fudo (Takahata Fudoson, Hino City)
Late February: Katsuura Big Doll Festival (Katsuura City)
Mid-March: Enoshima Spring Festival (Fujisawa City)
Early April: Tsurumai Flower Festival (Tsurumai, Ichihara City)
Mid-April: Ooka Echizen Festival (Chigasaki City)
Mid-April: Kusari Daishi Shomieikutai-sai Festival (Shoren-ji Temple, Kamakura City)
Mid-April: Annual spring festival/Chigo Parade (Takaosan Yakuo-in, Hachioji City)
Late April: Bride Festival (Takataki-jinja Shrine, Ichihara City)
Mid-May: Kanda Festival (Kanda-jinja Shrine, Chiyoda Ward and Chuo Ward, Tokyo) (Grand festival is held biennially, and next will be in 2009)
May 28: Soga no Kasayaki (literally burning umbrellas) (Jozen-ji Temple, Odawara City)
Mid-June: Sanno Festival (Hie-jinja Shrine, Chiyoda Ward and Minato Ward, Tokyo) (Grand festival is held biennially, and the next will be in 2008)
July 15: Summer Grand Festival (Inage Asama-jinja Shrine, Inage Ward, Chiba City)
Mid-August: Annual festival (Fukagawa Jinmyo-gu Shrine, Koto Ward) (the grand festival is held every three years, and next will be in 2009)
November 3: Tokyo Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) (Taito Ward)
The second Saturday in December: Tokyo Flower Festival (Higashikurume City)

Koshinetsu region

March 3: Urasa Bishamondo Hadaka Oshiai Taisai (The Naked Jostling) (Fuko-ji Temple, Minamiuonuma City)
April 10: Amatsu Jinja Bugaku (court dances and music) (Amatsu-jinja Shrine, Itoigawa City)
April 24: Annual spring festival/Hakusan Jinja Bugaku (court dances and music) (Nou Hakusan-jinja Shrine, Itoigawa City)
April 25, July 28: Kawaguchi Chigo no Mai (dancing) (Kawaguchi Sengen-jinja Shrine, Fujikawaguchiko machi)

Tokai region

January 27: Futotamabashira-sai Festival (Gokoku-jinja Shrine, Naka Ward, Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture)
February 10-11: Oni Matsuri (Ogre Festival) (Akumikanbe Shinmeisha Shrine, Toyohashi City)
April 3, 5: Chigo Festival to Pray for Health (Mishima Taisha Shrine, Mishima City)
May 4-5: Annual spring festival (Myogon-ji Temple, Toyokawa City)
Mid-July: Yamanashi Gion Festival (Fukuroi City)
Late July: Owari Tsushima Tenno Festival (Tsushima City)
November 3: Nonindo Festival (Toyokawa City)
Early November: Mori Festival (Mori machi, Shizuoka Prefecture)
November 22-23: Annual autumn festival (Myogon-ji Temple, Toyokawa City)
November through March: Flower Festival (Shimotsuki Kagura) (Toei cho and others)
January 4: Toyohashi Flower Festival (Toyohashi City)

Hokuriku region

April 17: Marumage Festival (Himi City)
The third Sunday in April: Akebi no Chigomai (literally chigo dancing next day) (Hofuku-ji Temple, Kurobe City)
Early May: Chigomai (Kashima-jinja Shrine, Asahi cho, Toyama Prefecture)
August 25: Chigomai at Kumano-jinja Shrine (Kumano-jinja Shrine, Toyama City)
September 4: Chigomai at Kamo-jinja Shrine (Kamo-jinja Shrine, Imizu City)
November 3: Ecchu Chigomai/Tateyama no Mai (dance performance) (Oyama-jinja Shrine, Tateyama machi)

Kyoto Prefecture

May 15: Aoi Festival (Shimogamo-jinja Shrine and Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, Kyoto City)

Early May: Mifune Festival (Kurumazaki-jinja Shrine, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City)

Mid-May: Imamiya Festival (Imamiya-jinja Shrine, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City)

May 18: Goryo Festival (Kamigoryo-jinja Shrine, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City)

The fourth Sunday in May: Saga Festival (Kanko-sai Festival) (Nomiya-jinja Shrine and Atago-jinja Shrine, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City)

July 1-31: Gion Festival (Yasaka-jinja Shrine, Shimogyo Ward and others, Kyoto City)

Before dawn on September 15: Iwashimizu Festival (Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine, Yawata City)

Late September: Saigu Parade (Nonomiya-jinja Shrine, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City)

September 22-23: Annual Festival (Seimei-jinja Shrine, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City)

October 1-5: Zuiki Festival (Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City)

October 22: Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) (Heian Jingu Shrine, Kyoto City)

Other prefectures in the Kansai region

March 25: Kawachi no Harugoto (Natane Goku (Offering of Colza Seeds) Grand Festvial) (Domyoji Tenmangu, Fujiidera City)

April 4: Kagura Festival (Sabi-jinja Shrine, Tondabayashi City)

June 14: Sumiyoshi no Otaue (rice-planting ritual) (Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City)

July 24-25: Tenjin Festival (Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine, Kita Ward, Osaka City)

July 31: Sumiyoshi Festival (Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine, Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka City)

Saturday or Sunday close to August 15 of the lunar calendar: Tsukimi (Moon Viewing) Festival (Mozu Hachiman-gu Shrine, Kita Ward, Sakai City)

October 13-14: Autumn Festival (Sone Tenman-gu Shrine, Takasago City)

Mid-October: Autumn Festival (Takasago-jinja Shrine, Takasago City)

Chugoku region

Late March: Noji Spring Festival (Tokiwa-jinja Shrine, Mihara City)
May 3: Sentei-sai Festival (Akama Jingu Shrine, Shimonoseki City)
June 17 of the lunar calendar: Miyajima Kangen-sai Festival (musical festival of wind and string instruments) (Itsukushima-jinja Shrine, Hatsukaichi City)

Shikoku region

Early March: Big Hina Matsuri (doll festival) (Katsuura cho)
March 15: Nehan Festival (Kosho-ji Temple, Uchiko cho)

Kyushu region

February 11: Hina Doll Hajime-sai Festival (opening festival) (Yanagawa City)
Mid-March: Hina Doll Water Parade (Yanagawa City)
Early May: Hakata Dontaku (Hakata Ward, Fukuoka City)
Mid-July: Kagoshima Summer Festival (Kagoshima City)

[Original Japanese]