A traditional festival in which men from the Nijo Fukae region pray for the safety of their families as well as an abundant crop, the Momote Matsuri takes place at Yodogawa Tenjinsha/Tenmangu Shrine on the Sunday closest to January 25.
The highlight of the festival, the rice-eating contest, comes after each man has fired an arrow from a homemade bow to predict their luck for the year. Heaping bowls of rice are then traditionally eaten with four dishes (sea lettuce miso soup, boiled whale with Japanese parsley, sardines, and a dish of raw fish and vegetables seasoned in vinegar), and the strategy of the eaters and their servers as well as the sight of participants holding their stomachs in pain yet continuing to eat incites the crowd.
The name “momote” was derived from a kind of archery, exhibitions of which were the main attraction of the festival when it began in the Edo Era (1605 - 1868), but now the rice-eating contest is the main event loved by locals as a new year tradition!
The Ueki Market heralding the return of spring to Kumamoto is a feature of this city, which dates back more than 400 years. We display, and garden tree or bonsai, flower of 1 million points are sold on the spot by approximately more than 120 exhibition suppliers and fans about 300,000 gather every year from the prefecture outside and show bustle.
As Japan’s oldest form of dance with a 700 year history, “Kowakamai” is said to have been the prototype for Noh and Kabuki. Oda Nobunaga himself supposedly performed the dance, which incorporates the use of fans and accompanying narratives. Kowakamai was popular during the Muromachi Era (1336 - 1573) and was supposedly originated by Momonoi Tadanobu (from whose childhood name, “Kowakamaru”, the dance originated) from Echizen (Fukui Prefecture).
After the Meiji Restoration, Kowakamai declined in many areas throughout Japan; the tradition was kept alive in Oe, however, and is now a Government-Designated Intangible Folk Cultural Asset!
Kowakamai is performed in dedication to the gods on January 20 of every year at the dance hall on the Oe Tenman Shrine grounds, attracting sightseers from all over the country. In addition to this performance, the dance is performed two to three times a year at folk performing art festivals throughout Japan.
Hamayumi-sai — shooting three arrows to commence the ceremony.
Matobakai — loin-clothed youths scrambling for a round straw mat, 60 cm in diameter and 6 kg in weight.
The fight for obtaining the mat is continued on Kaigan-dori Street and finally in the water of Ariake Sea. The winner of this fight is believed to be saved from misfortune and blessed with good luck for the year.
Decorated boats are rowed out into the harbor by young men who offer a prayer for safety at sea and large catches. At this point men from both sides of the shore dive into the sea and swim to the opposite shore.
The Heto Mato Festival which occurs in Goto Town on Goto Island is held to pray for a good spring harvest and fishing season.
From children to adults, a number of performers deliver a variety of powerful pieces at this brass band concert that rings in each new year!
Men and women perform purification in front of the shrine and go to the shrine to worship. Young people where swimming wear. This event is associated with the story that local residents welcomed Hikohohodemi no Mikoto without wearing any clothing because they did not want to waste time putting on clothes when he returned from the Kai Jingu Shrine.
The busiest time of year for Toka Ebisu Shrine (which houses the Shinto god Ebisu) is during the “Toka Ebisu Festival (Taisai)”, which takes place around January 10. During this four-day festival, about one million worshippers visit to pray for good luck and commercial success in the New Year, and nearly 300 stalls line the shrine grounds! Toka Ebisu Taisai starts on January 8 with “Hatsu Ebisu” and is followed by Yoi Ebisu, Seitaisai, and Nokori Ebisu.
Among the festivities, the “kachi mairi” (where beautiful female performers called geiko from Hakata visit Toka Ebisu Shrine) on the afternoon of the 9th is particularly spectacular. The ladies wear elegant kimonos called “montsuki seiso” and style their hair in an old-fashioned coiffure accessorized with an ornamental hairpiece. The sight of the ladies making their way to the shrine to pray accompanied by the sounds of the shamisen (3-stringed Japanese banjo), flutes, and drums never fails to attract a crowd!
Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine’s “Oniyo” is a “tsuina” (a ceremony to drive away evil spirits) fire festival. It has been a tradition of the shrine for about 1,600 years and is also one of Japan’s Three Major Fire Festivals! At 9pm on the seventh day that a “devil fire” has been guarded at the temple, it is transferred to six enormous torches measuring one meter in diameter and 15 meters (49 feet) in length. These torches are then carried around the shrine grounds by a crowd of men in loincloths and burn up in the dark. Onlookers are said to be blessed with good luck if some of the embers or ash from the torches falls on them!
*About the Festival: Government-Designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset
*The festival takes place even in foul weather.
Held every January 4 and 5, “Batabata Ichi” is the first bazaar of the new year at Mt. Kanboku’s Anchoji Temple. The tradition is said to have started with the bartering fair begun by imperial estate administrator and founder of Anchoji Temple, Amagi Yasunaga (for whom the region was also named), while the name “Batabata Ichi” is rumored to have come from the name for a spinning drum toy (“Amagi batabata”) that was sold on the temple grounds and supposedly warded off smallpox.
Toy drums are still sold today and come in two patterns (the faces of a young boy and a young girl), which are customarily bought as a set. Even now when the fear of smallpox has been virtually eliminated, many people praying for their child’s healthy growth buy them!
Held in the afternoon on January 3 at Hakozakigu Shrine to predict a bumper crop and good catch for the year, Tamaseseri is a traditional festival of Hakata’s New Year season! “Seseri” means “to touch” or “to compete”, which is just what competitors clad in loincloths do! They are divided into the Land Team (farmers) and the Sea Team (fishermen), and then scramble to capture two 8kg (nearly 18 pound) balls while being drenched with cold water. Tamaseseri was originally the Tamahayashi festival held at Ebisu Shrines throughout the country.
Every year on December 31st at precisely midnight, a taiko drum group performs several pieces leading up to the rousing final act, which is a recital of the story of the gods.
An exotic port town, Mojiko Retro District is decorated with fantastic illuminations in December. About 300,000 light bulbs are lite up on 100 trees, and retro buildings such as the Former Osaka Shosen Mercantile Steamship Co. Building and the Former Moji Mitsui Club Building look fantastic. Don’t miss the “Mojiko Retro Night Fantasy” light show by a famous illumination designer!