If you are in north-eastern Shizuoka prefecture this Sunday you might be interested in visiting the tiny but fun Yoshiwara Shukuba Matsuri, with small performances of many different kinds of entertainments and local youth. The biggest attraction would be for fans of one of the world’s youngest traditional dances, the Yosakoi. This little festival gathers several Yosakoi teams and the wide streets makes for an unusually un-crowded viewing. I took these photos at last’s years festival, and you can find more photos from another event at the same spot here.
The festival takes place in Shizuoka Prefecture’s third largest city, Fuji, in the Yoshiwara district. It is pretty easy to reach by local train or Shinkansen and when I was there last year there was even plenty of parking available.
Many people who visit the mountainous Izu peninsula to the south west of Tokyo will pass through the Amagi mountain range. The mountains are actually mostly ancient volcanoes (there’s over 100 of them) and are quite popular with hikers and mountain climbers. Even for people not that interested in physical activities the Joren falls of Mount Amagi (天城山) are a very popular point to stop and rest you legs on the long drive from Tokyo to the tip of Izu. Although the best nature views are not around the falls, it is really beautiful enough to visit. The more beautiful nature around the old volcanoes are much more inaccessible but worthwhile if you have experienced hiker friends.
The Joren falls (浄蓮の滝) were formed 17 000 years ago when the volcanoes last erupted and you can clearly see the magma flows in the columnar joints making up the base of the falls. The walk down to the falls from the road is a little steep but has some good views on the way. The river valley is home to a small Wasabi plantation and there’s usually small rest house open that offers food, drinks and sweets (many with a wasabi theme). The falls are located in Izu City (伊豆市), Yugashima (湯ヶ島).
There are some old folk-tales associated with the falls:
Once upon a time, there lived an old farmer who had a field on the back of Joren Falls, near the basin of the waterfall. One day, after working in the field for some time, he sat and rested on a stump. There he found a Joro-Gumo (wasp spider) winding a web around his leg. “The spider must take my leg for a branch”, he thought and cut the web to wind it around a branch. Suddenly the earth started to shake, and the next moment, the stump was dragged into the basin with a lot of noise. Trembling with fear, he said to the villages, “The master of Joren Falls is a beautiful Joro-Gumo. It will drag you into the pool by winding its web”. Since then, no villager had come close to the waterfall.
A few years later, a lumber jack from another village entered the forest. When he was cutting of a tree near Joren Falls, he accidentally dropped his hatchet into the pool of the waterfall. He was at a loss of what to d. After a while later, a beautiful woman with the hatchet in her hand appeared and said, “You can get your hatchet back. But don’t tell anyone that have seen me or I will take your life.” Without a word he received the hatchet from her. Later he figured that the beautiful woman he met was the dreadful master of the waterfall, Joro-Gumo.
After the incident he moved to another village for work, though he couldn’t forget the fearful experience and the promise he made with the woman. One night, when was drinking with his friends, he let the word slip out about the beautiful master of the Joren Fall. After the party was over, the drunken lumberjack closed his eyes and never woke up.
There are lot of folk tales in Japan people disrespecting nature or not keeping the promises or talking too much. A common theme in many stories are also the village drinking party! It must have been an important aspect of the social life of ancient Japanese people.
Last month’s Yoshiwara Gionsai was just as exciting and fun as usual. I could only make it there for the second day, missing the huge tree procession of the day before. One of the peculiar things about this local festival is the omikoshi which is covered in bamboo grass and moved in a way that is different from most other omikoshi. It is take around the parish districts by teams divided by neighborhood and at each handover an ceremony where a bottle of sea water is emptied over the head of the headsman of the omikoshi team. Although many omikoshi teams are now unisex this one is still only open to males, for at least one obvious reason I would only discover when actually trying to lift the omikoshi: it is incredibly physically demanding and space is very limited, so you need as many of the strongest people you can fit, and preferably all of the same height! There is even several points in the procession where the omikoshi stops and is jumped up and down. I don’t know if the sense of fear is stronger than the sense of pain and exhaustion, but failure is not an option!
It is great fun to follow the omikoshi careening through the streets. In the old days it used to be even wilder and different neighborhoods would wrestle for control of it – in mid procession! But a few years ago a straying omikoshi took out a whole stand of festival food and it was decided to calm things down a bit. The women of the neighborhood are kept busy – preparing and handling the hand over ceremonies, following the omikoshi around cooling it off with water and making sure not too many innocent bystanders are caught in the procession!
All in all great fun and if you are in Shizuoka (or in Tokyo and don’t mind the train travel) I can really recommend this festival for next year!