Today was a little different to most days so far. It was like a day-trip. We packed up and left the quiet michi-no-eki at Waizumi and drove in to Kishiwada City for a festival that is frequently regarded as one of Japan’s most dangerous/exciting. We were coming anyway, but luckily I noticed (via facebook) National AJET were advertising the festival. I got in contact with them, and arranged to meet with the 20 or so local-ish JETs who were also going to the festival. They had arranged a visit to a foreign language visitor information centre, to help us understand more about the danjiri festival. They gave us information sheets/maps, dressed us up in a festival happi (festival gown), gave us a hachi-maki (head band) and lined us up for a photograph.
The festival has quite an interesting history, starting over 300 years ago when (it is said) locals wanted to impress the local feudal lord with their various accomplishments, be it meat, vegetables or seafood produced (as well as their carpentry skills creating their elaborate danjiri). The tradition is carried on due to children being introduced to the festival, and over time they get to progress closer to the danjiri (and therefore closer to the honour) as they get older. If you believe the information, it’s the most important day of the year for Kishiwada residents. It is said that their calendar starts/ends with September (we found a few that did).
From here we left as a group down past all the food vendors/side-show carnivals where I had an odd burger, with fried ramen for bread, and bacon/egg as filling. Amazingly I didn’t think to photograph this weird/unique creation…
We went down towards the main area near Kankan-ba to watch the danjiri rush past. It was another hot/humid day, and we were roasting standing in the partial shade. The first few danjiri that went past left little to impress us. It was a big wooden cart, being pulled by hundreds of people, with a guy dancing on the roof with fans. It was impressive-ish, but we’d kept hearing about how dangerous/impressive this festival was. We just couldn’t see it.
Slightly disheartened, we left that location, searching for more ‘dramatic’ vantage points. We’d heard that the excitement came from watching the 4ton danjiri navigate the narrow corners at high speed, so naturally, we went to try and find a narrow corner. Seems everyone else had that same brilliant thought, we couldn’t get near the action, so we just started walking around, hoping to find somewhere exciting. Anyway, yeah, we did. We stopped at one intersection for a while, and although it was quite wide, the danjiri were flying round the corners, one after the other. Best of all, the area wasn’t crowded so we didn’t have jerks pushing infront of me with their little point-and-shoot cameras in the way of my shot. Yes, my shot.
We watched for a while, but the sun/heat was too much and went in search of cooler locations, eventually ending up inside an undercover mall (that is specially built to consider the dimensions of the danjiri. The mall was narrow, so we were close to the action. That coupled with the acoustics of the covered mall made all the yelling so much more intense. Now, when the danjiri were flying past us, it felt impressive. Comfortable, we stayed here until the end, watching several danjiri enter the mall from different angles (and in between, we killed time chatting to an interesting Zambian man, in Osaka to export used cars/parts home).
About 5:30PM the danjiri stopped racing around our part of town, so we headed towards the shopping mall to eat/regroup. I realise that a festival isn’t the best place to sample the local food, but we tried Osaka style takoyaki and okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki was gooood, takoyaki burnt my mouth, and was kinda runny/gooey.
At 7PM, the second (and much more sedate) part of the festival began. The energetic rushing of the danjiri had been replaced with a relaxed ‘victory-lap’ of sorts around town by the now illuminated danjiri. Everyone was much more relaxed now. Almost everyone had a (alcoholic) drink in their hand. We waited a while content to just watch, before being invited to help pull one of the danjiri. It’s not that they needed the help to pull it (there were plenty of people), they were just being social. And social they were, we had good fun chatting with them.
A lot of the other JETs from the area were heading into Osaka for a night out, but since we’re going there again tomorrow night, we saved our energy (and more importantly our money) for then.