A photographic introduction to items from the collection

Mikoshi of Hakusan Shrine and Sakadari Shrine in Ushitsu, Noto

Two bodies of mikoshi
Raging in the festival worshipping Gozu Tenno
Burned and destroyed

Kiriko festival and raging mikoshi in Noto

The kiriko festivals with tall and stout box-shaped lanterns carried by people are held in many places in the Noto Peninsula, one of which is the summer “abare-matsuri” festival held in Yasaka Shrine in Ushitsu. On Friday and Saturday of the first week of July (previously on July 7 and 8), mikoshi miniature shrines and kiriko lanterns are paraded with major hustle and bustle.

More than forty large and small kiriko lanterns carried by drunken young people and accompanied by gongs, flutes, and drums circle around five hashira-taimatsu torches burning and scattering sparks and oki-taimatsu torches placed in two locations. This is a spectacular sight, but we would like to focus more closely here on the parade of mikoshi.

The mikoshi miniature shrines of Hakusan and Sakadari shrines are carried by their respective parishioners and paraded through the town from the early morning of Saturday. However, after 9:00 p.m., on the way to Yasaka Shrine, the mikoshi are handled roughly by the parishioners themselves, including young mikoshi carriers.

En-route, the mikoshi are flung on the asphalt ground, rolled, or dropped into the sea, the Kaji River, or the Kannonji River. When they finally arrive at Yasaka Shrine, they are thrown into the fire of the oki-taimatsu torches placed in the precincts. Each time, louder cheers arise, angry shouts are heard, and the excitement intensifies.

Accordingly, the mikoshi return to the shrine with their roofs collapsed and their entire surface area burned. Handling the mikoshi this way means following the divine will, hence such rough handling is actually a manner of prayer.

What we would like to consider here is the cause of this "abare-matsuri." In terms of the mikoshi, the name of "abare-matsuri" primarily reflects the acknowledgement that the mikoshi themselves are raging voluntarily by crashing into the ground, rolling, jumping into the sea, river, or fire, etc., rather than due to the violent behavior of the parishioners, including the mikoshi carriers. In other words, the excitement of people with the “raging” mikoshi is a manner of prayer.

Gozu Tenno and expulsion of ekijin

It is said that this festival was started in Ushitsu during the Kanbun years (1661 - 1673) in the first half of the early modern period when an epidemic erupted and the spirit of Gozu Tenno was transferred from the Kyoto Yasaka Shrine (Gion Shrine). Sakurai Gengo, who was an influential person in Ushitsu at the time, started the festival. Today, the mikoshi of Hakusan Shrine enters a house built in a venue which was home to the former house of Gengo on the way to Yasaka Shrine, and rests there for a while.

The festival to worship Gozu Tenno in the Kyoto Yasaka Shrine has continued as the Gion festival until today. The scene of more than thirty floats with splendid decorations of dolls associated with Chinese and Japanese classics, Persian and Belgian tapestries, etc. coming and going in Shijo, Kyoto in hot summer is well known. It originates from Goryo-e for taking the spirits of dead people on the mikoshi to the outside of the capital in the Heian period. Those spirits were of nobles having returned to the capital after perishing with grudge outside it, who were considered to be the cause of the epidemic. (See "Honchoseiki", a text written on June 27, 994 (Shoryaku 5), etc.)

This Gion festival to expel ekijin (illness-spreading demons) to the outside of the community in summer spread to towns and villages nationwide from the Middle Ages through the early modern ages and became a standard shrine festival in summer. The festival often features violent and rough manners like Hakata Gion Yamakasa, in which people compete in terms of speed.

It is considered that the manner of communal prayer, involving the expulsion of ekijin outside the community, developed amid the excitement of the urban festival, and the festival of Ushitsu with the raging mikoshi may be recognized as an example of folkloric development of such festival for expelling ekijin.

Excitement as prayer

The scene in which the mikoshi accompanied by kiriko are paraded while being destroyed seemingly first emerged during the Edo period. It is described in "Book of Fugeshi-gun, Ishikawa" published in 1923 (Taisho 12) as follows:

The June festival is one of Yasaka Shrine and held on July 6 and 7. Votive lanterns called kiriko are prepared, carried and paraded at the discretion of each town, regardless of whether day or night. There may be more than thirty kiriko lanterns, not always accompanying the mikoshi. The mikoshi are paraded from the evening of the 6th and carried into the homes of wealthy families, where people drink sake. When people get drunk, they leave the mikoshi there, and when they become sober, they carry the mikoshi to the next house. The mikoshi are sometimes left on the street. Then, on the night of the 8th, the mikoshi are returned to the shrine, and people start acting violently, almost destroying the main shrine. Not doing so will incur the wrath of God. At present, two bodies of mikoshi are paraded. One travels around the parishioners of Sakadari Shrine, and the other around those of Hakusan Shrine. ("Book of Fugeshi-gun, Ishikawa" edited by Fugeshi-gun government office, Chapter 14 "Ushitsu-machi", (1st edition, publication in 1923 (Taisho 12), reprinted edition of Rinsen Book, 1985 (Showa 60) * The bold face is by Matsuo.)

The mikoshi had no regular carriers. They traveled around from the house of one wealthy family to another in the town. The mikoshi carriers drank sake at their invitation and then carried the mikoshi to neighboring towns. The mikoshi were sometimes abandoned. In that case, the family of the house or parishioners in the neighborhood carried them to the next house or the next town. On the other hand, the mikoshi were not always accompanied by kiriko lanterns but were paraded without any limitations. It is also indicated clearly that destroying the mikoshi is following the divine will.

The scene seems less regulated than today, but has some characteristics of mushi-okuri and hitogata-okuri (katashiro-okuri), in which people parade throughout the district to gather and expel evil systematically to the outside of the community. In other words, abare-matsuri is a mikoshi-togyo festival, in which divine spirits absorb evil and return to the shrine while the whole community becomes a melting pot of excitement.

Matsuo Koichi (Folklore Studies, Research Department)