One of Yamatsuri’s unique annual events, the Tennosai Festival, took place this past Sunday, July 15th.
During the day there are a variety of events that people can watch. These events generally consist of yosakoi (dancing), hula, and wrestling. Events generally loop so you can catch the performances earlier or later in the day. There are also booths that serve food and drinks or have games for kids to play. As this is a small festival, there are only around a dozen booths in the parking lot of the local train station. One can make their way through quiet quickly. The real draws during the day are the various performances.
The best part, however, is at night. I have been to quite a few festivals in Japan and I think this one is quite unique. The night event begins with a procession of drum carts, a mikoshi, and officials. People drum as the men carrying the mikoshi first walk around then break out in to a zigzag run. This is repeated multiple times near the station before the entire precession begins up the street. There will be occasional stops to focus on the drum carts and zigzag runs as the procession goes across town along the main road to the local shrine.
All those in attendance follow the procession into the shrine where the mikoshi is placed down and the drumming continues. Once the officials go through their ceremonies, the attendees can have a sip of blessed sake and get a batch of sacred rice to eat. As soon as the last guest has received their rice the drums will stop and, after a large cheer, everyone makes their way back home.
I feel that this festival is worth attending because it is so unique in comparison to the others.
To start, I have never been to a festival where they run with the mikoshi the way they do in Yamatsuri. It is very exciting to watch. It also keeps you on your toes as you have to be careful to stay out of the way lest you get trampled.
Another reason is the size. Many people make it a point to go to large festivals because there are more booths and a variety of things to do or see. Yamatsuri is the opposite. However, the lack of activities are more than made up for with the atmosphere of the event. Most of the attendees are residents of the town. You can feel the camaraderie, see the happiness on all the faces, and listen to all of the joyous laughter. You don’t feel as if you are watching something great, you feel as if you are a part of it.
If you ever have the chance to go, I highly recommend it.
Photos and Captions
Yosakoi dance group at Yamatsuri’s 2018 Tennosai Festival. Yosakoi groups typically choreograph their own dances to music using traditional Japanese dance movements. Dances are usually highly energetic, involve costume changes, and often have at least one large flag waving. There are two yosakoi dances that are generally done before and after all of the yosakoi groups perform (sometimes also as a half-time performance). All of the yosakoi groups and sometime the audience participate in these dances.
The mikoshi and festival participants holding lanterns. The men holding the mikoshi run in a unique zigzag pattern up and down the street with the drum carts.
Townspeople gather around the drum carts to watch and listen to the vibrant beats. The drums are beat nonstop and when the drummer is tired another drummer takes his or her place to continue.
The procession goes from the train station to the shrine across town along 118. There will be occasional stops to change members, focus on drumming, and to make the zigzag runs. Traffic is carefully directed so the procession can proceed without disturbance.
Once at the shrine, the mikoshi is carefully placed and the officials participate in a short ceremony while the drums continue to beat on either side. When the ceremony is complete, you can go to either side and receive a sip of sake and sacred rice to eat.