October Matsuri: Don’t Count Out The Festivals Just Yet


october matsuri: don't count out the festivals just yet

Aaron Pylinski | Community Writer
Just because the summer has come and gone doesn't mean it's time to stop hitting the festival circuit. The Japanese don't slow down when it comes to celebrating in the streets. The Daruma Festivals held in February every year is a great indicator of that. It's been my experience thus far in Japan that outside of June, there's at least one major festival - or matsuri - every month. The recurring theme throughout October matsuri appears to be large processions of colorful floats. Here are seven October matsuri that are worth checking out.

Matsuyama Dogo Autumn Festival October 5-7

What's a good festival without a little confrontation, right? The Matsuyama Dogo Autumn Festival is a battle royale of eight portable shrines. It takes place in front of the Dogo-Onsen station in Matsuyama City. This festival is a rather raucous event with eight local towns coming together to "battle" called hachiawase - or the clashing of shrines. Each local town is represented by a shrine, and they gather at the Dogo-Onsen station at 6:30 in the morning. The shrines are held up by selected men from the village and are pushed up against each other in a fight called kenka-mikoshi. When the dust is clear, the mikoshi mamori, those porters holding up the shrines, take their portable sanctums up a steep set of stone steps to the Isaniwa Shrine.

Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival October 4-6

Held at the beginning of October every year, the Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival is one of three grand lantern festivals in Japan. The festival takes place in Nihonmatsu Jiha in the Fukushima Prefecture. Seven large floats (some upwards of 30 feet tall) adorned with hundreds of paper lanterns parade through the town while local festival music plays. The festival is almost 400 years old and was started by a local lord who wanted to test the loyalty of his constituents by installing religious piety upon them. He opened the lantern festival so everyone could attend. The festival takes place over three days and gains intensity as nighttime sets in showcasing hundreds of paper lanterns and participants carrying torches. Each lantern float has its own drum beat and music giving festival goers a dance off-like show. What's interesting about these floats is taiko drummers ride inside and pound out melodic riffs as they proceed past the crowds.

Otsu Festival October 6-7

Started at the beginning of the Edo Period in the 17th century, the Otsu Matsuri is one of the three big festivals in the Shiga Prefecture. Beginning at the Tenson Shrine in Otsu, 13 extravagantly ornate floats called hikiyama are pulled through the streets as traditional music plays. This procession echoes throughout the town of Otsu and also begins as night falls. The floats resemble large pull-carts, and some show off mechanical complexities (think wheeled Japanese cuckoo clocks). Adding a little technical flair to a traditional Japanese matsuri identifies prosperity in the modern industrial city of Otsu.


Nagasaki Kunchi October 7-9

This festival dates back to the 16th century and like many post-summer festivals, it celebrates autumn harvests. Its prominent performance is the dragon dance reaching back to when Chinese living in Nagasaki would celebrate this same dance during New Years celebrations. The festival boasts a sophisticated atmosphere reflecting Nagasaki's history of international influences. The festival also has parades of colorful floats and eccentric dances, performed near the Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki. Usually, around 350,000 visitors go to this festival every year. A little known dark history about this festival is during the ban on christianity in the 17th century, and this festival had a "garden showing" where residents would open their houses to show they weren't harboring Christians.

Saijo Matsuri October 14-17

If it isn't clashing shrines or feats of strength and skill that you're into, then check out the grand festival held in Saijo, in the Ehime Prefecture, which demonstrates hundreds of enormous hand-crafted floats. This matsuri boasts of upwards of 150 floats all over 15 feet tall and weighing in at close to 1,500 pounds, and carried by hand, called danjiri. Each danjiri is normally named after the neighborhood it represents. Similar to the Matsuyama Dogo Autumn Festival, the Saijo Matsuri culminates with over 80 of the floats being offered to the lsono Shrine, making it the largest festival of its kind in Japan. Each float represented in the festival are decorated with intricate carvings portraying famous Japanese figures and scenes from history. The floats aren't the only focal point of the festival. Lion dances (shishimai), kagura music and dances, and yakko-gyoretsu (a traditional costume dance) are also part of the extravaganza.

Niihama Taiko Festival October 16-18

Men hoisting large taiko drums is the flavor of the day for this autumn festival. The Niihama Taiko Festival is held every autumn in Niihama on the Japanese island of Shikoku in celebration of good harvest. It's a well­known ethnocultural, sacred ritual considered to be one of the top three fall festivals on the island dating back a thousand years. If a town has been partying for a millennium, it must be something to behold. It cannot go unnoticed, though that the festival centers around some-150 men holding up a ginormous three-ton golden taiko drum that's over 15 feet tall. This feat has garnered the festival the moniker Otoko-matsuri or men's festival because of this outrageous showcase. The biggest attraction of the whole festival is called the kakikurabe, where men known as kakifu compete by lifting the large taiko drum that represents their district. I'm getting excited just writing about it.


lwakuni Matsuri October 20-21

Our local matsuri is special in that our servicemembers participate in the festivities. Though it may be a low- key version of the larger festivals around the country, it's equally as exciting. A combination of our military and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) parade through the downtown area from Fuji Grand to the train station participating in dances and a white snake procession. Twenty lucky single and unaccompanied servicemembers can sign up through the Single Marine Program (SMP) to participate in pre-parade traditional fun and march in the parade with residents from the Kinjuen Nursing Home. Registration for the SMP portion of the parade starts October 12. To learn more about the parade, stop in at Information and Referral in Bldg 411 or call 253-6161.

If you're still craving matsuri after the end of summer, now you have the info to keep the party going. These festivals are all big floats, lots of lanterns, and loud traditional music. How can one pass this up? Go experience these festivals and save the subscription TV binge watching for when it gets really cold.