Water Splashing Festival and Bon Odori at Higashiyama Hot Springs

Water Splashing Festival and Bon Odori at Higashiyama Hot Springs

Higashiyama Onsen Bon-odori, photo by Yochiro AkiyamaThe 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.

higashiyama_mikoshiThis 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: mail@awia.jp 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: mail@awia.jp 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

Suwa Shrine Festival in Yotsukura 2013

Suwa Shrine Festival in Yotsukura 2013
The 2013 Mikoshi Team
The 2013 Mikoshi Team

On May 4, I and some other Fukushima JETs and friends participated in a festival where we helped to carry an omikoshi (portable shrine) around the streets of Yotsukura, Iwaki.

We met up at a community hall and got changed into our festival clothes, most important of which was the happi, a jacket that is fastened at the waist with an obi or cloth belt. We then headed to the shrine and bowed our heads before beginning the fantastic ordeal of carrying the omikoshi. Some of our team were seasoned omikoshi carriers but many of us, including me, were completely new to the experience. By golly, it was heavy! But it was a lot of fun to be join the locals in this traditional festival. We marched and stamped around town while locals threw coins wrapped in cloth or tissue at the shrine we carried. We also got traditionally unsober as we went along!

At the end of the day, sunburnt and sore, we went back to the community hall for a good old-fashioned Japanese nomikai. A great experience all round, I reckon I’ll give it another go! You should try it sometime!

//this article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of the Lucky Island newsletter//