The Local Matsuri

I finally had some time to download the few photos of the local festival that I had on my camera.

No matter how many times we go I always find the annual festival interesting. Every May on Mother’s Day weekend the Itoda Town festival is held with gusto! Itoda is a small town tucked into the Tagawa-gun area. One of those blink and you miss it kind of places. Nothing much really happens in Itoda so when the annual festival rolls around you better believe people get excited!

The “float” building starts about a month and a half ahead of time. Every night and on weekends the float builders get together to put these huge things together. There is a lot of creativity, manpower and I think beer and BBQ that goes into making these. I say beer and BBQ because the float-building process seems to be a festival in itself!

Some of them have wooden wheels on them and the float handlers pull and push the thing along the streets. Then there is the tough-guy group who omit the wheels and install huge logs that they actually carry this entire thing by. This is a photo from the last post but if you look carefully you can see the scratch marks on the road. You can also see that some of the men have triangle shaped pillows hanging cross ways on their bodies. These pillows are shoulder cushions. They put these pillows on their shoulder and then slide their shoulder under the carrying “log”. I wonder how much the cushion actually helps though. The yama in this photo is being carried.

The floats are built in various locations and then brought to the main festival grounds by either pushing and pulling them or carrying them.

You always know where the floats have been (actually called “yama” in this area) because the streets are all scraped up.

There are always a variety of interesting characters to see at the festival grounds. We like standing in one place and just watching everyone.

I love all the colorful costumes.

We have been coming to the festival for about 18 years now. Before we actually lived in Japan we would plan many trips to Japan around matsuri time. Generally the matsuri is peaceful and everyone behaves. Some get pretty drunk but even the drunks are mostly peaceful.

On occasion a fight breaks out but the local security force is always around to make short order of any trouble.

Last year there was a bit of excitement when a fight broke out but it was quelled by a few men that had witnessed the incident-my husband of course had to jump in and lend a hand to stopping things before they got out of hand. He was a “fighter” in his day and still thinks he can do what he used to do. Thankfully the younger guys watch out for him. 🙂

At night is when the action starts. The yama are electrified and look beautiful when they are illuminated.

The yama musicians sit on board! Can you imagine carrying one of these PLUS the musicians? In the middle is a little space where the drummer sits.

Notice the little one sleeping on his granny’s lap? He must have been really tired because the event is pretty noisy.

These kids were excited to be on my blog!

It is a fun event. There are concession stands selling yakitori (BBQ sticks), cotton candy, Japanese sweets, roast corn and other typical Japanese festival foods. There is of course a beer tent. There are no open container laws here so walking around with an open alcohol container isn’t against the law – however public drunkenness is not ok- although I think they only arrest drunks who make trouble. Surprisingly most people behave.

We had a short but fun time. The folks tire quickly so we didn’t spend a lot of time here. But that’s ok…I’m so glad my MIL and FIL were able to get out a bit. We were surprised actually because it has been a while since they wanted to try and walk up to the festival. Years ago there was a terrible accident so my MIL doesn’t really like to attend.

As fun as it is, it is also a bit dangerous. At a certain time during the evening things start getting a little rowdy and the floats begin to “tease” each other. The float handlers on the wheeled floats begin to violently push and pull the floats back and forth and then rock them from side to side. After that they spin them crazily around in a circle.

I know- I can hear you thinking…what??? Yes- they do this and they compete with each other to see who can get the craziest. They line up on opposite ends of the street and charge towards each other stopping just inches away from one-another. All the while the musicians are sitting calmly on the sides playing their flutes and drums. When the accident happened things got out of hand. There was too much beer that had been consumed and instead of stopping they smashed right into each other. One of the float handlers slipped….and his head was crushed between the ends of the two logs.

They stopped the festival for three years after that. This was many years ago when my husband was a teen.

When I see them try to maneuver through the narrow streets I’m always amazed. Some of these yama are so tall that someone has to ride on the very top. The top-most rider has a rubber covered pole that he uses to carefully “lift” the power lines out of the way. Japan is a spaghetti of power lines. I always hope the top most man waits until AFTER the matsuri to enjoy his beer.

The streets are so narrow that they sometimes scrape house gates and such going by.

It is an interesting event to attend! Thankful that another year went by and there were no injuries.

7 thoughts on “The Local Matsuri

  1. Does this festival go on in most cities or is it just in Itoda? Janine often shows festival floats on her blog.
    Years ago, we also had an unfortunate accident at our 4th of july parade (Canby Days), where a horse got spooked from fireworks and ran amuck injuring several people. One, who was kicked in the head, was hospitalized and in recovery for a long time. It was many years before horses were allowed back into the parade.


  2. Hihi! I enjoyed reading this. It’s very difficult to get information like this about Japan, so your posts are fascinating peeks into the “inner life” of an equally fascinating country. The pictures are amazing.


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