Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (91): Drenching friends and neighbors since 1228!

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 7, 2008

SUMMER, FALL, WINTER, OR SPRING, it’s a certainty that in some Japanese festival somewhere people are going to be splashing water on each other.


That’s no surprise in the summer when the temperatures are as sweltering as they are now. Running around town with a heavy mikoshi on your shoulders is hard work, so the bucketfuls of water flung by people on the side of the road are a refreshing relief.

It’s a different story in the dead of winter, when there are many festivals in which the participants, often dressed only in loincloths, are splashed with water to provide a different sort of encouragement.

In most cases, the water is tossed at close range from people standing nearby. But that’s not the case in what might be the ultimate of water-splashing festivals in Shima, Mie. That’s the Shiokake Matsuri, which was held last week on the 3rd. In this event, fishermen maneuver their craft and heave alongside the other boats in the Port of Wagu to shower seawater on each other. Some of them even use hoses.

The festival has been held for 780 years to celebrate the return of the female divinity for sea safety from the Yakumo shrine in Shima to a smaller shrine in Oshima, an island three kilometers offshore in the Kumano Sea. Legend has it that being soaked in seawater will bring safety to the home and prevent illness and disaster.

First, a fleet of 20 fishing boats leaves the port for Oshima. They are accompanied by another boat loaded with abalone and turbo shells to offer at the Oshima shrine. All the water sports happen during the trip back to port and in the port itself.

Want to bet that when the festival is over, everyone on the boats is drenched to the skin and rolling on the decks in helpless laughter?

If given the choice between full-immersion baptism and the Shiokake Matsuri, I’ll take the festival every time!

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