As a new JET, I was really excited to get involved in some of the unique festivals in Japan. Higashiyama Onsen is one of the most popular onsen villages in Tohoku for its outdoor hot springs by the riverside and waterfall. お湯かけ祭り means “water tossing festival” where a mikoshi (portable shrine) is carried around all the onsen lodges, and hotel guests are encouraged to splash buckets of their hotel’s onsen water on the mikoshi. Standing on the mikoshi are two girls throwing 5 yen coins, threaded with different colored yarn, representing luck in love, health, and fortune. The girls and mikoshi are carried by a bunch of drunk people, including JETs tall enough carry the bars. Being short, I was only able to touch the mikoshi carrier for maybe 2 minutes before feeling almost trampled. For non-mikoshi handlers, the other option was follow the mikoshi and respond to “Seiya!” (or was it “Shoya”? or maybe “Sorya”?) with the same. Whatever the call and response was, it was a great opportunity to shout at the top of your lungs and let out that genki spirit. Before heading out, everyone is offered a can of beer. This is so you enjoy the moment rather than getting annoyed by all the hotel guests who splash buckets of water at you because they missed the mikoshi. Or because they just want to splash the gaijin. You can even break rank and throw a couple buckets of hot water on the mikoshi (or your fellow JETs) yourself! With the humid summer heat, it was great getting soaked and cooling off on the way to the next onsen.
The Higashiyama Hot Springs Water Splashing Festival (known in Japanese as the Oyukake Matsuri) is one of the traditions of the summer season in the Higashiyama Area of Aizu Wakamatsu City. Locals, as well as portable shrine lovers from various parts of Japan, come to carry the shrine through the streets of this Hot Spring Village. Guests at each of the hotels (there are over 20 in the village) splash shrine-carriers with warm hot-spring water. Those riding on the portable shrines, mikoshi, toss lucky 5 yen and 50 yen coins bringing good luck for money, long life, and love, to spectators. The action starts after a Shinto ritual is performed in front of the Higashiyama Hot Spring Tourism Association’s office, when both a portable shrine for kids and one for adults are marched around the village.
This year, the Aizu Wakamatsu International Association will join and help other groups to carry the portable shrine. Participants get to wear festival costume (happi coats, headbands, and more) and will be treated to refreshments like rice balls and beer. Afterwards, those who helped can soak in one of the hot spring hotel’s baths for free. The festival will take place from 6:00PM to 9:00PM on Saturday, August 10, but those helping to carry the shrine should assemble at the Higashiyama Hot Springs Cooperative Parking Lot at 4:45PM. Reservations are required in advance, so please contact the Aizu Wakamatsu International Association to apply (Email: email@example.com TEL: 0242-27-3703). The deadline is August 6, but there may be spaces left after that, so please inquire. Full details are available here.
The Water Splashing Festival is just the first of a week of obon events at the Higashiyama Hot Springs. Every night from August 13 to 16, there will be a bon dance performed around the tower over the Yugawa River at the Higashiyama Hot Springs. On Thursday, August 15 from 7:00PM, foreign residents and tourists are invited to try on yukata (for free) and join in the dance. Afterwards, those who tried on the yukata can soak in the hot springs at the Harataki Hotel in the village. Reservations are requested so that the organizers can prepare enough yukata. Please apply to the Aizu Wakamatsu International Association (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org TEL: 0242-27-3703) by August 8. Full details are available here. Participants will meet at the Harataki Hotel at 7:00PM. See a map of the village for details.
-Andrew Chapman, CIR with the Aizuwakamatsu International Association