The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 13 July 2007

Matsuri Time! (Abare Part 1)

This last weekend, hubby flew back to the Noto from Tokyo for the much-anticipated Abare Matsuri, dubbed as the "Fire & Violence Festival" - he has waited one year for this event! My friend R from Perth and fellow Perth JET H (situated in Kobe) also came for the festival, so it's also a busy weekend of driving around the Noto Peninsula, showing them where I live. R came after spending the previous week in Tokyo, and Holly lives near Kobe city, so they really appreciated the peaceful and tranquil inaka-ness of where I live. They also got to experience the exciting and crazy matsuri (festival) not experienced in the more populated city areas of Japan. (I don't even want to begin to think about crowd control for a similar type of matsuri in a huge city like Tokyo!)

A bit of info on this festival: The Abare Matsuri is held over two days in the town of Ushitsu, which is where my school is located (~10mins north along the coast from my apartment in Ukawa). It is perhaps the most famous festival in all of Ishikawa prefecture, and for good reason too - it's even better and more crazy than the Wajima Taisai! Reputed as the most 'fierce' festival in Japan, Abare Matsuri marks the start of over 100 Kiriko Matsuri held during the summer in Ishikawa (a kiriko is a mikoshi (portable shrine) lantern as tall as 7 metres). There's a Kiriko Hall in Wajima that displays many of the prefecture's kirikos. The Abare Matsuri features about 50 kirikos, each representing the individual chonaikai (neighbourhoods) of Ushitsu. People from all over Japan visit the Noto for this festival, so it wasn't just a crazy hectic weekend for the residents of Ushitsu, it was also a busy (and lucrative) weekend for the Noto tourism industry.

This matsuri is a chance that comes only once a year where the residents of Ushitsu can get drunk, play arson and be violent all in the name of culture and tradition. It's truly quite a sight to behold men, women and youths in jinbe (a type of yukata) carrying over 50 huge kiriko up and down the street and around huge bonfires and tall poles of fire to the cheering "yasai" chants, trilling notes of the flutes and beats of the taiko drums. It is even more spectacular to witness drunken men throw a mikoshi (portable shrine) into the river, jump in after it and proceed to bash, whack and do all sorts of violent and destructive acts to it. It is rescued from the river, but later meets its fiery end when it is lit on fire. There is also one other mikoshi that meets this same fate. I doubt that many of the youths even know the meaning behind this festival - to them (and us), it's party time!

On the first (Friday) evening, shortly after arriving in town, we bumped into the instructors from our judo class. Despite it being only around 7:45pm in the evening, these guys had already primed themselves well with alcohol. The main street of the town was lined with many yatai (stalls) selling the typical festival junk food and various knickknacks. The judo guys were on their way to one of the judo sensei's house for some "sake and biiru" and invited us along. We arrived, and the hosts were delighted at having gaijins visiting their home. We found the tables full of yummy matsuri food surrounded by merry (drunk?) people. I kinda wished we hadn't eaten dinner already, because it must've seemed rude how little we ate. The men around the table kept trying to get hubby to drink alcohol despite him declining offers several times. And hubby with his apparent gaijin (foreign) appearance was very popular at the table.

Hubby and the guys from judo (this one's for you, Amy & Chrissie ;)); and the spread on one half of the table:

We excused ourselves around 8:45pm and left to watch the action. We'd missed the fireworks at 8pm, and there was already a huge bonfire going by the sea near the townhall. Four or five poles about 10m tall were lit with fire, and you could feel the heat from these fires even standing 50m away from them. The road was crowded with spectators, police (to keep people behind barricades) and people carrying kirikos up and down and around the fires. It was a pretty windy night, so many people near the fires were christened with showers of fiery debris and ash. Like at last year's Wajima Taisai, hubby gave some of the residents a hand with carrying the kiriko. I have tried carrying them before, and being made from wood, they are very heavy and awkward things to manoeuvre, so no thanks for me this time round.. :P

One of the many kirikos, and the huge bonfire by the sea:

The tall fiery poles:

Things started winding down around 11pm, an early night perhaps in preparation for the next day's festivities, which we heard would conclude around 4am the following morning.

(Night-time photography is not my forte, and although I snapped over 200 shots, only about 10% of them came out decent. Using my tripod on this occasion was not too practical since we moved around a lot.)


  1. Oh wow!! It's just like the festivals they have in anime. I've always wanted to see what those were like... did they have lots of edible things? Dancing people? music?

  2. Yeah, it's not just a treat for the visual senses. The streets were noisy with singing/cheering, taiko drumming, bells ringing, the shrill sound of flutes. And there were teenage girls dancing at the front of each kiriko as they lead their group forward. Pretty awesome stuff..

  3. Were they hot? hahah jk. Sounds awesome, wish I was there... *sigh*