September 13, 2008

Danjiri Matsuri in Kishiwada

On Saturday we experienced a totally unique and very cool matsuri in a town south of Osaka called Kishiwada. Danjiri Matsuri was described in Kansai Time Out magazine (our trusty reference for finding interesting weekend adventures) as "a feverish race along Kishiwada's narrow alley streets and shopping arcades where the danjiri floats pivot dangerous 90-degree corners at full speed . . . As the floats are moving, spectators can also enjoy the acrobatic feats of the men who ride atop these great contraptions. In the evening, the scene will be highlighted by the glow of red lanterns." This sounded too good to pass up. And it did not disappoint. (See the videos below.)

Danjiri Matsuri has its roots in a celebration of the harvest. Three hundred years ago, the feudal lord of Kishiwada ordered the erection of the original danjiri, huge festival floats carved of wood, to thank the harvest god. Today, it is all about the danjiri. The massive ornately handcarved floats, which each stand 4 meters high and weight about 4 tons are pulled by means of rope by 1000's of people (ranging from kids to adult), all dressed in happi coats. It is actually considered to be one of the more dangerous matsuri due to the fact that these floats are whipped around corners by a large number of drunk people at pretty high speeds...But we like to live dangerously . . . .

Oh and everyone wears those awesome traditional split-toe shoes too! Love these. (We did not purchase a pair, but were tempted!)

Soon after we arrived, we went to the Information Center, where the people working there (who spoke excellent English), were all too happy to dress us up in our own happi coats and free souvenir rope headbands, give us some fans, and snap some pictures for us.

Before we arrived, it had been unclear to us when the actual parade took place. As it turns out, the 35 danjiri are in a continuous loop around the town all day. Each ward of the city has its own danjiri, and it gets pretty competitive and enthusiastic. The floats are hauled to the beating of drums, flute-playing, chimes, and the chanting of the rope-pullers.

The most exciting part to watch is the yari-mawashi (corner turning), which takes place at breakneck speeds, as the danjiri skid around the street corners to the beat of drums and much shouting. It is a great honor to be the drummer, and especially the one guy who gets to dance on top (who we hear are the carpenters). We saw these guys tearing around the corner right after arriving.

And there was a lot more where that came from. Here are a couple more videos that should give you a good feel for what it was like, including some of our favorite top-of-the-danjiri dancers:

They seemed to be chanting So-Da So-Da, which we understand is a sort of spiritual focus-type mantra. It is important to focus when you are hauling these gigantic floats around.

In between the day and nighttime part of the festival, we also got a chance to check out the floats more closely when they park the danjiri to outfit them with lanterns (and change the worn down wooden tires). The carvings on the danjiri are incredibly detailed.

Aside from the rampaging danjiri, you had your standard (wonderful) matsuri carnival atmosphere including a huge array of kids games and toys (impossible to resist), great and varied food, and much drinking (though not by us). As you walk down the main drag with all the street vendors, periodically, whistles blow and the police set up ropes and shout for everyone to make way for the coming danjiri.
In between the day and night time festivities, we got off our feet and had some dinner from the food vendors. Matsuri food is awesome - throughout the day we enjoyed yakitori, squid, little cakes shaped like Anpanman, fresh chilled fruit on sticks, and of course snow cones and cotton candy.
At night, after an hour break to rest (and keep drinking), the danjiri are adorned with red chochin (lanterns) and the energy level is taken down a notch.

At night, some passing groups even asked Jacob and Lauren if they wanted to help pull. (Usually the tiny kids go in the front, followed by the bigger guys.) They got shy and decided not to help out this time. After watching some of the night floats ease on by, we packed it in and headed home. It was a great day, and we were happy we got to stick around into the night.


Lisa said...

That was awesome! I feel like i was there...and i love you all dressed up in japanese clothing!!! soo great! It seems there is no other way to live...bring on more festivals!

Heather said...

That looked awesome. You guys always find the coolest stuff to do.