Local Treasures

(4) The Lantern Festival of Nihonmatsu

Yeast “Hooray! Kimoto, it is the time of my favorite festival, the Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival!”
Kimoto “Are you already in a festival mood? As a fan of this festival, today is your big day.”
Yeast “I can’t contain my excitement. The Lantern Festival of Nihonmatsu is one of the three great lantern festivals of Japan, together with the Kanto festival of Akita and the Tenno festival of Owari-Tsushima. It is the annual festival of the Nihonmatsu Shrine with a history going back more than 300 years. It is held every year on October 4, 5 and 6.”
Kimoto “The Japanese lanterns blazing against the night sky are wonderful. Every decorated float carries about 300 lanterns and also has a big drum. Each of the seven neighborhoods in Nihonmatsu has its own float, and these are pulled around the town by groups of local young men and children. On each float sit 9 to 10 musicians playing various kinds of hayashi festival music. The tune and rhythm of the same piece differ according to the neighborhood as they compete with each other.”
Yeast “Not only the music, but also the form of the float with the drum and the temperament of the local youth groups express the different character of each neighborhood. Typical, for example, for Daishichi’s Takeda, a neighborhood of craftspeople, are ease and freedom. So the movement of our float is the most jaunty and nimble of all seven neighborhoods.”
Kimoto “There you go boasting about your own neighborhood! All neighborhoods have their pride. The pupils of primary and middle school try hard to learn the festival music before they grow up.”
Yeast “The main thing to see is the night festival (yoi-matsuri) on the evening of the fourth. This is the only time all seven floats are pulled together through the seven neighborhoods. At five in the evening they come together in the center of Nihonmatsu to receive the sacred flame from the Nihonmatsu Shrine. When the fire carriers with their flaming torches arrive, the order is given to light the lanterns. The neighborhoods compete who can first light all 300 lanterns. When all lanterns including the one in top have been lighted, a collapsible tower called ‘suginari’ is pulled up. This tower can be as much as 11 meters high.”
Kimoto “The spectators also give loud cheers. It’s magnificent to see the seven floats together. This is the time things get stirred up.”
Yeast “After the departure ceremony, the seven floats head for the end of Takene street, passing twice in front of Daishichi! That’s very exciting!”
Kimoto “After that they go up the steep Takeda Slope. Here the pullers of the heavy drum float are straining on the ropes and the young men push the float from behind as hard as they can. The festival music played at this time is the energetic ‘Shangiri.’ After passing the top and starting to descend Kameya Slope the music switches to the melancholy ‘Toyobayashi.’”
Yeast “Yes, the music is adjusted to the scene. The manner of pulling the float also changes depending on the location.”
Kimoto “The fifth is the day of the main festival (hon-matsuri). The floats go around in the daytime, so the frames for the lanterns are removed and you can have a good look at the splendid lacquered and gilded drum stands. This is also the only day of the year that a mikoshi portable shrine is carried through the wards. The young men carrying the mikoshi, with cotton cloths around their naked upper bodies, run as fast as they can. The festival music and way of pulling are different depending on the location.”
Yeast “The sixth is the day of the after-festival (ato-matsuri). On this day the neighborhoods of Nezaki, Takeda and Kakunai work together in the pulling of the floats, as do the four neighborhoods of Wakamiya, Matsuoka, Honmachi and Kameya. The group with Takeda, our neighborhood, holds a departure ceremony at the Minowamon Gate in Kasumigajo Castle Park. That’s really a great sight!”
Kimoto “When, with the lighted-up castle wall as background, the three drum floats start playing their solemn festival music, the shivers always run down my back! Before they start, a vat of Daishichi sake is ceremonially opened.”
Yeast “I think you’re also fond of the festival, Kimoto!”
Kimoto “The four other neighborhoods gather in front of the Nihonmatsu shrine.”
Yeast “At the end comes the closing ceremony. It is a pity the festival is over, but after the festival ends, we begin our sake brewing!”
Kimoto “Let’s give it our best!”