Summer 2004 I went to a pretty interesting Japanese festival called Handa Matsuri. It actually takes place in Kamesaki ( 亀崎). You can get there in about one hour from Nagoya. I have to say I am lacking details on the history of this festival, but that can be found elsewhere.
During this festival enormous dashi are pulled through the town. Many festivals in Japan use omikoshi, which are like giant portable shrines… dashi are like omikoshi, but they are on wheels and five times as tall. People can ride inside them, and during this festival, each dashi has their own song that was being played on drums and Japanese flutes from the inside. I went to the festival with a Japanese friend who grew up in the area. There were five dashi’s used. I hear that in a larger version of this festival, which only happens once every five years or so, all thirty dashi from around the area are gathered for a special event which takes place in another city. That would be a sight to see!
My friend told me that the men from the town are usually assigned to one dashi group a very young age. As the boys grow older they will move through different tasks associated with the dashi. The tasks vary between pulling the dashi with ropes, riding inside the dashi and playing an instrument, to pushing the dashi from behind, or controlling the turns. During a festival all of these roles are important for manipulating the Dashi and putting on a good performance. Apparently recently most youth have been picking up and moving to the big cities, so there is a bit of a generation gap forming between the participants (observation from 2004). There also seem to be rules so that only families originally from the town can participate in the dashi related events. Lots of retired gentlemen…
The main attraction to Handa Matsuri, is that this particular area is the only place in which the dashi are pulled out into the ocean. The final rush down to the water was impressive, as I mentioned, these dashi are huge and the men really got them moving at a good clip. At times it didn’t even look like they would be able to stop them in time. I heard that there have been accidents where one dashi was overturned.
It was a really was a cool festival! If you’re ever in the Aichi prefecture area around golden week, be sure to look it up.