Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (73): Climbing up the greasy pole!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, February 24, 2008

IF ANYONE STILL HARBORED ANY DOUBTS about the richness of the Japanese imagination when it comes to festival rites, the Kinekosa Festival held jointly by seven Shinto shrines in Nagoya should dispel them. More than 1,000 years old, the festival is held to drive away evil spirits and pray for the prosperity of one’s descendants, peace, and a good harvest. The festival date is January 17 according to the lunar calendar, which fell on February 23rd this year.

The main event does involve loincloth-clad men getting dunked in cold water in the middle of winter, which is a common occurrence in Japanese festivals, but the Kinekosa Festival has a fascinating twist—or perhaps bend is the more accurate word. Ten men, all 42 years old, and two boys stick a 10-meter long bamboo pole into the river. Then, one of group skinnies up the pole. The direction in which the pole falls predicts the fortune for that part of Nagoya in the year ahead.

This year, the climb was complicated by strong winds, but that wasn’t enough to put a damper on the proceedings. Luck was with them, as the pole fell to the southeast, the best possible direction for good fortune.

This site is all in Japanese, but that won’t stop you from looking at the photographs and a three-minute video of the event. Click on the arrow just as if it were YouTube. If you have the sound turned on, you can hear the wind blowing into the mike. Watching the pole climber take his good old time getting set, I could imagine the other participants thinking to themselves, “Let’s get a move on!”

But they probably didn’t. Part of their preparations for the event included three consecutive early-morning cold water baths for purification!

One Response to “Matsuri da! (73): Climbing up the greasy pole!”

  1. j2ficarbon said

    It’s a shame I missed this. It would have been fun to see a festival this weekend.

    Well … perhaps I can catch one in Gifu later this year 🙂

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