Monday, September 17, 2007

Danjiri Matsuri - more dangerous than the bull run of Pamplona and the outrage of Irish rugby fans

This weekend was a holiday weekend which meant that we had Monday off...thank Christ. A firend of mine from back home (the masterful Master O'Laoi) visited for a night and the craic was had. On Saturday morning, I went to the Danjiri Matsuri,(float festival) in Kishiwada, a small hamlet of South Osaka, famous for it's Yakuza element and dodgy dealings. A stubbornly traditional community who take pride in coming from this town. The Danjiri Matsuri of Kishiwada is said to have its origin in the "Inari Matsuri" held in the 16th year of the Genroku era (1703). Created by the Lord of Kishiwada Castle to pray for an abundant harvest, the festival, from its very beginning, enjoyed tremendous local support.

The Danjiri Matsuri quickly grew in significance for the people of Kishiwada. Gates normally barring townspeople from entering the castle grounds were thrown open on festival days. Feudal Lords of Kishiwada looked on as each danjiri was pulled in, and each danjiri pulling team staged various, high-spirited performances. Over 300 years of tradition and all of Kishiwada behind it. 34 danjiri teams bring their sacred float on a recklessly swift tour of this castle town in a race of strength, endurance, and celebration.

The wood that the danjiri is constructed from is Japanese zelkova, sturdy, expensive, harvested from Osaka, Nara, Wakayama and thereabouts. It dries for two years before carpenters build the danjiri. Then for five years artists carve scenes on the wooden vessel. Kishiwada features some of the world's premier woodwork and a well built danjiri will outlast the men who made it and their children.

The privilege and risk of dancing upon the upper roof of each danjiri belong to Kishiwada's local carpenters, or Daiku-gata. The most visible, popular and the most likely member of the danjiri team to die, each daiku-gata creates his own style of performance. "Hikoki-nori", (the Airplane dance. below) performed with arms spread wide and standing on one foot, is particularly famous.
Daiku-gata and his hikoki-nori
The most exciting aspect of the Kishiwada Danjir Matsuri lies in the skill of Yari-mawashi (Corner turning). The teams working both front and rear levers in unison, literally skid their heavy floats around each street corner. Done quickly to the beat of drums and shouts of the pulling team, corner turning is one of the most dramatic elements of the festival. In fact, it is this at this particular stage of the races around the city where people get seriously hurt, and most often than not, killed. This has earned the Kishiwada Danjiri festival the reputation of the most dangerous festival in the world (yes, even more dangerous than Pamplona Bull Run). In fact, it is said that if a memeber of the team dies or someone from the public gets killed by a danjiri, that neighborhood will reap the rewards of a bountiful harvest. The team members and bystanders alike are reputed to believe that they the risk of injury is a consequence of courage and accept a dramatic death as a consequence of a dramatic life (I kid you not...this is serious shit).
Yari-mawashi (The Turn) The pre-empt for this dangerous part of the race around Kishiwada is the sudden blowing of whistles, the raising of ropes by the police and organizers and the appearance of young kids in happi (jackets with the logo of their neighbourhood shrine association) and jikatabi (rubber-soled boots with with a separate pocket for the big toe - they look weird). Attached to the kids arms is a long, thick, braided rope. The kids march in order of age, so little by little, you notice the average height increasing as the procession passes. The kids and adults alike are chanting a mantra. Then, suddenly, you hear a whistle and a lantern on a long pole is waved. The kids break into a trot, then a run, then the teenagers pass, pulling larger ropes, then a full-on sprint as, from around the corner, the danjiri dashes, loaded down with elders, flute-players, taiko drummers, and young men tempting fate and defying gravity by jumping and dancing on top of the rumbling, skeetering danjiri. Then, as it clears the corner (or doesn’t), it dashes past. It's a sight to be believed so I hope you enjoy this selection of photos. More can be found on my Flikr.

A certain highlight of my weekend and I am glad to have gone to see it.

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating walnuts

Carmo's Birds: A nice few waders added to the season list this weekend and a new JP tick...I'll keep you all in dreaded suspense as to what it could be...

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Uma Thurman


Blogger S.C.E. said...

We don't have any crazy dangerous festivals like this up here but we did have a fatal police/yakuza shootout last week.

The first winter vistors have already arrived in Hakodate..............still hot and sticky though.

Useful point in Porto. The CL is always boring as hell until the knockout stages anyway.

September 20, 2007 10:41 PM  
Anonymous col said...

fella - sounds like you were lucky to survive! Just as well they don't let pudgy gaijins up on top to do the old michael jackson moonwalk eh?

Just back from a week in Brittany, which was nicely chilled. A frustrating weekend here tho - missed 4 seawatch year ticks at galley and a citrine wag & garden w at mizen (lucky for you eh?) but got the barred there! thats football kevin!

worse again - did ya hear de langer had a fea's off blanan on satday? thats gotta hurt!

September 24, 2007 6:21 AM  
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