Good afternoon again from the Itoigawa Global Geopark! In what is becoming a pattern as of late, today’s warm, sunny weather is the complete opposite of yesterday’s cold and rain. If the weather forecast is to be believed, spring may in fact finally be here to stay!
Today, I’d like to introduce to you an upcoming event but first, let’s check in on our sakura blossoms:
We definitely have more flowers today than we have any day, but as you can see in the background, most of the trees are still only budding. We should hit full bloom sometime next week. If we’re lucky, they will be in time for the Amatsu Shrine Grand Spring Festival.
Amatsu Shrine’s Grand Spring Festival is a centuries old tradition in Itoigawa. Held every year on April 10th and 11th, it was in ancient times locally called “The Festival of the Tenth.” More recently, it has become better known as the Itoigawa Kenka Matsuri or ‘Fighting Festival.’
The Grand Spring festival has two main events. One described as the “action,” the other described as the “serenity.”
The “action” is, as you might imagine, the biggest and most popular event of the Grand Spring Festival. This action takes the form of the kenka mikoshi, or fighting shrines.
Two teams of young men representing the districts of Oshiage and Teramachi parade into the shrine grounds carrying their home district’s omikoshi, or portable shrines, on palanquins. After receiving the blessing of the shrine’s priest, the two teams begin to chase each other in a circle around the shrine grounds, running fast with their omikoshi on their shoulders. After a few laps, the two teams meet and push their shrines into each other, each team pushing with all their might to break the other teams’ formation. After a time, one team will break and run and the chase begins again.
After this has carried on for some time, the teams will each return to their respective corners to cheer and chant in an impressive display of energy and enthusiasm. Following careful deliberation, the priest will announce the winning district. This district is said to be blessed with a bountiful rice harvest and fishing for the rest of the year.
Every year 15-20 thousand people visit Amatsu Shrine to view this festival, making it one of Itoigawa’s largest events. After the “action” ends with the declaration of the winning district, the “serenity” begins with the performance of 12 traditional court dances, or bugaku.
Check back here tomorrow for more information about the upcoming festival and its bugaku court dances.