Partying with the locals
The word for Festival in Japan is ‘Matsuri’ which translates to ‘Worship’ and refers to any activity that involves consoling and showing respect to deities, spirits and the souls of the departed.
Most local communities in Japan will have at least one festival a year and a typical Matsuri involves a lot of beer, sake, food and lots of sweat and tears and laughter. More often than not there is an activity that promotes teamwork and requires a coordinated effort from everyone in the town.
In some instances this can be in the form of synchronized dancing or groups of people carrying a very large and very heavy portable shrine (Mikoshi) around on their shoulders for anything up to 8 hours.
It can be a real test of endurance and stamina, and result in a very bruised shoulder, but there everyone comes away with a certain sense of achievement and stronger bonds in the community are formed as a result.
In many of the mountainous towns of rural Shizuoka local communities will get together and rather than carry the shrine on their shoulders it has wheels (called a Dashi) and the people in the town will join forces to pull it along using large ropes.
The festivals always start at the local shrine where prayers are said, offerings are made and the shrine is prepared for its journey around the town. When everything is ready to go the flutes and drums spark into life and all of the participants take their positions – everyone grabs the ropes and the procession begins.
A typical festival such as this will take about 2-3 hours and usually consists of 40 minutes of pulling or carrying the shrine around with 20 minute rest stops where someone from the local community will offer food and drinks (quite often including beer and sake). As the crowd moves through the neighbourhood there is music, chanting and noise which adds to the atmosphere and helps participants get immersed in the experience – as the beer and sake start to flow the procession gets louder, the strain of pulling the shrine seems easier and strangers become friends.
For visitors from overseas participating in a local festival is a real chance to not only party with the locals but also gain a much deeper look into Japan. An opportunity to understand a bit more about its people and the culture and come away with a new respect for Japanese way of life.
Some easily accessible Shizuoka Festivals:
- Hamamatsu Kite Festival – May 3-5
- Fujinomiya Sengen Shrine Festival – May – 3-5
- Haruno Akiha Shrine Fire Festival – Dec
- Fujinomiya Autumn Festival – Nov 3-5th
For more information on Festivals and Events in Shizuoka please check Shizuoka Guide
For more things to do in Western Shizuoka