Monday 20 October 2014

My first Japanese festival! - Oeshiki festival at Ikegami

Back in September last year, a friend and his wife, Mauricio and Satoko, offered to show me around an area south of Tokyo that they like called Kamakura.  I spent an excellent day at Kamakura and took lots of photos in order to write a post about it here. He also invited me to go to Ikegami and enjoy the Ikegami Oeshiki festival, which was the largest festival in the area As fate would have, before I had a chance to write the post and less than a week before the festival, I had a bicycle accident that put me out of action for a while.  I missed the festival and when I finally got around to writing the post about Kamakura, I found that I had forgotten a lot of information about the day, so I couldn't write the post either.  Fast forward one year and Mauricio recently contacted me and reminded me that it was festival time again.  I gave a definite yes that I would go this time (and so stayed away from my bicycle in the time leading up to the festival!).

The Oeshiki festival is held at many places over Japan, but the biggest and most important is held at Ikegami from the 11th to the 13th of October.  The festival is held to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Saint Nichiren who was the founder of the Buddhist Nichiren sect.  He passed away 731 years ago at Honmonji temple in Ikegami which is why the largest festival is held there.  Honmonji temple was founded shortly before Saint Nichiren's death in 1282 AD.

The highlight of the 3 day festival is held on the 12th of October.  On this night, 100 mando (which means 10,000 lanterns) mikoshi (portable shrines) along with many more matoi (traditional firefighters poles) and 3,000 followers make their way along a two kilometre route from Ikegami train station to Honmonji temple.  The mando, and the followers, come from all over Japan from all of the different temples in the Nichiren sect.  Mando are carried by people or wheeled along on small carts and and are built in the form of a 5 storey pagoda.  The are light up from inside and artificial cherry blossoms cascade from the top of the mando like an umbrella.  They use cherry blossoms as a symbol because it is said that when Saint Nichiren died (in Autumn) the cherry trees started blooming out of season (this happens each year in Spring!).  This is an extremely popular festival which is attended by over 300,000 people each year and this year I was going along to join them!

I arrived at Ikegami about one hour early as I had thought the trains affected by the number of people who would be going to the festival.  I was wrong, and even was able to get a seat on the train (those who have ever used the trains in Tokyo will know that it is rarely the case!).  Walking out of the station, the beginning point of the festival, What appeared before me is difficult to put into words.  The sounds of drums and flutes filled the air as the mando were carried and pulled along the streets.  The people playing instruments were walking along in front, beside and behind the mikoshi dancing and singing as they walked along the streets.  And the people, the incredible number of people!!

As I was early, I decided to have a wander around the area near the station by myself before meeting with Mauricio and Satoko.  I took a couple of backstreets and met up with the parade a couple of blocks away where the crowds were not as bad!

The parade continued past me and the speed that the people carrying the matoi were spinning them with was amazing!

Making my was back to the station I saw a nice sight.  Some of the musicians had stopped where a group of elderly people in wheelchairs were sitting on the side of the road watching the parade.  They handed over the drumsticks and asked the group to start playing the drums along with the rest of the musicians.  I think that would be a highlight for anyone in the crowd, and they were loving the chance to get involved!

Back at the station again, the parade was still passing by and the crowds were still there!

Luckily Mauricio and Satoko were soon able to find me and we set off in the direction of the temple, the finishing point of the parade.

The walk to the temple was the same path that the parade was taking so we had the enjoyment of watching the parade the whole time.  Sometimes we would be walking faster than the parade and sometimes (because of the sheer number of people!) we would slow right down to a crawl and the parade would start moving faster than us.  We seemed to have the same few mando near us the whole way.

The blue mando especially would appear alongside us from time to time the whole way.  A little further on another of the musicians had stopped to allow a couple of young kids the chance to join in!

This group also was to be a common sight for us as we walked to the temple.

As with every festival or large public occasion, yatai (food stalls) play a big part.  I mean, someone has to feed the hundreds of thousands of people who flock to the area for the festival each year.  The variety is great too!

Skewered meat,

okonomiyaki (savoury pancake......tastes amazing!),

yakisoba (stir fried noodles),

takoyaki (battered balls of octopus).

grilled corn (I'm sure it has a Japanese name, but I don't know what it is.....)

more okonomiyaki,

and smoked turkey legs!

Turning our attention back to the parade, one of the groups, who were always not far away as we walked, caught up with us

and he stopped and handed over the drumstick and told me to start playing!

I am sure my rhythm was terrible but he kindly said that I was doing a great job!

The beautiful blue mando caught up to us again as we approached the temple.

And finally we had arrived.

This was not the end of our trek, however, as we still had to climb 96 steps to reach the temple.  It was at this point I suddenly wondered how the lovely blue mando moving along next to us was going to get up.  Maybe it would be left at the bottom I thought.  No!  Suddenly a whole group of men came up to the mando and struggled to get it off the ground,

lifted it onto their shoulders and proceeded to carry it up the 96 steps to the top!

Yes, that's how crowded our side of the steps was, they were moving faster than us!

Arriving at the top, we walked around admiring the temple buildings and gardens.

Making our way back down to the city again, we walked past the tomb of Saint Nichiren and Mauricio was surprised that the tomb doors were opened.  He said that it was the first time he had seen them open like that!

We then went and finished off the night at Mauricio and Satoko's favourite Chinese restaurant.

Many thanks to Mauricio and Satoko.  I really appreciate them taking me around and telling me all about the festival.

This blog post was a year in the making, but it was a very enjoyable one to experience and write about.

I hope you enjoy the read and the pictures.  Thanks, as always, for reading, and see you next time.


  1. Hi Jason,as always great pictures and comments.I bet you enjoyed those okonomiyaki.Matsuri it would seem are very popular throughout Japan at this time of the year and and night, with the lanterns and little food stalls(yatai) and throngs of people,all add up to a lot of fun.I expect that one of these days,you will get involved yourself and don a costume.Perhaps,you can promote Adelaide/Port Lincoln as you take part in a parade!Big concert tonight, with the Rolling Stones at the Adelaide Oval and many people have taken up positions on the grass outside the stadium.The weather is Adelaide perfect.All the best..dewa mata...noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      I would love to get settled enough into a community to then take part in the local festival. I think that is not where I am currently living though. Here is just a temporary stop before I move to another more interesting area.
      I am always bringing up pictures on the internet in class about Port Lincoln and Adelaide. All of my students know that Lincoln is famous for tuna and the areas around Adelaide are famous for wine!
      Enjoy the warm weather before it gets too hot!