Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (20): Mud in your eye at a Japanese festival

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 24, 2007

THAT’S NOT an Al Jolson imitation the reveler in the accompanying photo is performing—he’s taking part in an event that reportedly began about 400 years before Jolson’s birth. That’s the Doronko Festival in Kochi Prefecture, which was held for a three-day period earlier this month. Doro is the Japanese word for mud.

There are several stories about the festival’s origin, but the most common is that it started during a visit by Yamauchi Tadayoshi, the lord of the Tosa domain in the early 17th century, that coincided with the planting of the rice paddies in the spring. As the feudal lord and his retinue were walking along a ridge next to a paddy, two women working in the fields accidentally splattered muddy water on the lord’s clothes. This angered his attendant, who was ready to whack the bumpkins for their impertinence. The daimyo stayed his hand, however, saying they were at fault for walking so close to farmers while they were working. He added that they should encourage the farmers rather than punish them. When the people working in the paddies heard this, the story goes, they were so overjoyed they started slinging mud at each other.

Regardless of the story’s veracity, that’s just how the people in Kochi enjoy themselves during the first week of April. The festivities start with a rice planting ceremony in front of the local temple. At the sound of the taiko drums, the rice planting maidens in period costumes gather mud into wooden buckets and then randomly slather it on the faces of the men. Legend has it that the men who receive this mudpack will enjoy good health for the coming year.

I don’t know if it’s effective for bringing good health, but it sounds like fun–if not good clean fun!

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