Head to Kishidawa, located in southern Osaka Prefecture near Kansai Airport, to catch one last traditional summer festival for the year.
As summer winds down and the festival season comes to an end, there is still a unique festival at Kishiwada to enjoy. Claiming to be one of the biggest danjiri matsuri (cart-pulling festivals) in the country, this festival makes Kishiwada come alive on 19th and 20th September.
The festival was originally part of a prayer asking for an abundant harvest by the Daimyo of Kishiwada. The local people were not normally allowed in the castle grounds. However, during the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri, when the local shrines paraded their danjiri in front of the feudal lords of Kishiwada, the citizens would enthusiastically join in the festivities. The parade often turns into a competition when the danjiri race against each other, trying to negotiate the corners faster and more smoothly than their opponents.
Through the enduring support of the Kishiwada local population, the tradition has been upheld so that this festival still continues today. This year it takes place the weekend before Respect for the Aged Day.
Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri starts at 6am with the Hiki-dashi (opening pull). This is where all 35 danjiri start a mad dash around the town, which continues throughout the day until the evening.
The Kishiwada citizens all start practising weeks before the festival to prepare for taking the danjiri around the town. The danjiri that they pull are usually around 4 tonnes, 3.8 metres high, 4 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. Between 500 and 1000 people pull one danjiri.
One of the most interesting parts of the festival is watching how they turn corners. Working together as a team, they use both the front and back levers in unison to ‘skid’ the danjiri around the corners. Accompanied by great shouts and cheers, people often gather in these areas to watch as the danjiri speed around corners and through narrow streets.
Each danjiri is unique, decorated with carvings depicting historical battles and scenes. They are created by carpenters, who are the only ones who hold the right to risk dancing on top of the danjiri. They are lively and are seen as one of the main figures of the danjiri, actively jumping around and dancing on top as the danjiri speeds around the town.
At the end of the day, everyone takes a break as they load the danjiri with large walls of lanterns. The evening part of this festival involves the danjiri parading around the main route of the town at a slower pace, illuminating the way with their lanterns. This, along with a change in music, provides a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the hectic daytime activities.
The festival is free every year and always worth visiting. From Osaka, take the Nankai line to Kishiwada Station. This year the festival will run from 6am to 10pm on 19th and 20th September.
For more information, please visit the Kishidawa City website: www.city.kishiwada.osaka.jp/site/danjiri/english.html
By Meghan Bridges