lizaka's Kenka Matsuri Holy Belligerence
One of the Autumn's annual festivals, the lizaka Kenka
matsuri is held to give thanks to the gods for the years rich harvest
of cereals. The event is also a chance for the shrine parishioners to
pray for continued vitality in their lives and worship.
Held every year at the start of October, the kenka (literal meaning:
a fight/argument) is by far the most spectacular point in the proceedings.
Two mikoshi (sacred festival floats), each supported by approx.
70 men, deliberately run towards each other and collide, much to the
delight of the assembled throng.
festival is held over three days, and the middle day, the fifth of October,
is the appointed day for this amazing organised belligerence. As far
as the participants go, this is no festival for the faint-hearted. Of
the six mikoshi involved, three are borne by human enthusiasm,
the remaining three being pulled round town by car. The six teams would
have already spent two to three days constructing the mikoshi,
which, when completed, weigh approx. 1.5 tonnes, or about the same as
a saloon car. It may surprise you to learn that this festival, together
with similar festivals in Osaka and Akita are regarded as the "big three"
kenka festivals in Japan.
The three man-powered mikoshi are carried on
the shoulders of, in the main, young men, largely due to the fitness
levels required for the gruelling affair. The six "competing" teams
come from differing areas of the city with the UWAMACHI, TAKINOKAWA
and WAKANISHIKI group, and the TACHITSUNA, SAIHANA and
YOKOMACHI areas responsible for the human and automobile powered
mikoshi respectively. The names of the districts concerned are
proudly displayed on lanterns adorning the mikoshi, and within
the structure, two drummers beat out a rhythm on traditional "Temple-entrance
taiko", whose historical origins lie in Kyoto.
approximately 6:30p.m. the mikoshi-bearers gathered in
the early evening dusk, and having consumed some energy-supplementing
onigiri (rice dumplings), an inspirational speech from their
team organisers, known as SEWANIN, sent them on their way.
The six teams, based in their respective parts of lizaka
Town, firstly gathered at a pre-arranged meeting place, from which they
would start their two-hour, 2km tour round the streets of the town,
culminating in their arrival at the Hachiman Shrine at 9:00p.m. The
normally serene Shrine has been transformed into an arena, and the spectators
are vociferous and legion.
Having completed a few "parade" laps of the Shrine,
the kenka would commence. After two or three sturdy collisions,
the seemingly bound -Ready to collide less energy of the participants
would be called upon again to transport the mikoshi around lizaka's
charming lanes once more, back to their previous "bases" to be dismantled.
The history of this festival is known to stretch back
over 300 years. The origins of the kenka are unclear, but it
is said that the end of the festival was marked by one of the mikoshi
entering the shrine. Obviously, with several mikoshi participating,
they would fight at the entrance of the shrine for this honour. In years
gone by, the participants would get a little too enthusiastic, resulting
in several deaths and injuries. Thankfully this is now not the case.
Steps are being taken to preserve this unique event
in the years to come. Since 1977, the pupils of the lizaka Elementary
School have been taking classes in the traditional drumming that is
so central to the character of events such as this, with an aim to continue
the traditions of their hometown for future generations.