Japanese festivals can be loud, bright and packed with people, but they’re not usually described as rough. That’s one of the things that makes Yaizu’s summer festival, the Aramatsuri (literally “Rough Festival”) so unique. The small town is located on Shizuoka Prefecture’s coast and is home to the Yaizu Shrine which conducts the festival each year.
From August 12-13th residents and visitors are able to visit the shrine to partake in games and treat themselves to food from stalls set up nearby. You’ll know if you’ve stumbled into town while it’s occurring because of the non-stop cries of “Aneiton” which expresses the hope that the town will prosper and grow richer.
On the second day of the festival a large parade is held and runs through the entire town and finally ending at the ocean. Shinto deities are taken along in two mikoshi, portable shrines. These gods like their trips out of the shrine to be exciting though, so those carrying the small shrines rock them wildly back and forth during periodic stops. Discerning gods always prefer their outings shaken, not stirred.
Other important aspects of Japan’s Shinto religion are also on display during the parade. The striking visage of the Ōkami, great god, Sarutahiko is worn as a mask to scare away bad spirits. A young tree is also carried, which is later divided up and taken home by believers as small branches and leaves to bring good fortune. Those not wearing white in the parade are dressed in often elaborate costumes symbolizing different parts of Japanese history and religion. Perhaps most impressive are the young ‘princess’ and ‘prince’ who ride on horseback and end the parade.
Although it may not be wild by Western standards, the Yaizu festival is a unique and rural experience. The reverence to Shintoism seen in the festival is especially striking when coming from an urban Japanese city. It may not be quite as exciting as the famed Penis Festival held in Kawasaki, but it makes for a great summer time outing to the countryside.