It is February and that means the glorious Warabi Hadaka Matsuri, or the Doronko Matsuri, or the Yotsukaido Mud Festival is drawing closer. On the 25th of this month the toughest men of the city of Yotsukaido in Chiba prefecture to the east of Tokyo will dress up in nothing but loincloth and wade into the freezing waters of a muddy rice field to enact a ritual that is to guarantee them good luck for the year and good coming harvest. There are several parts to the festival, chanting in the water, a game of “kibasen” (one man on the shoulder of three others who battle other similar teams) and of course the blessing of the infants! In this ceremony infants not yet one year old are carried into the water and given a symbolic drop of mud on the forehead, applied with a rice stalk from last year’s harvest. I took these photos at last year’s festival that was so cold they had to break the thick ice of the pond before the ritual could start.
The festival involves a lot of mud, so spectators in the first rows will probably get a bit of splatter so if you intend to see it in person I’d recommend leaving your nicest clothes home for the day! You can see my earlier post, with more information, here. The festival takes place in and around the tiny hill top shrine of Warabi Mimusubijinja (和良比皇産霊神社) which is said to date back to 811 A.D. The pond is naturally fertilized which makes it an even more interesting experience if you get too close to the mud!
The Yotsukaido city council festival information page is here.
For hundreds of years now, in the little city of Yotsukaido (四街道市) in Chiba prefecture to the east of Tokyo, every year on February 25th the strongest men of the town has stripped to their loincloths and braved the icy waters of a rice paddy to bring the protection of the Gods to the newborns of the city. It was bitterly cold yesterday and before the ritual could start they had to break the ice with staffs and throw the thick sheets of broken ice up onto the banks of the rice paddy. One after the other the men would wade in with their assigned baby, taking a piece of dried grass and carefully putting a dot of mud from the rice field on the forehead or cheeks of the child. Some babies were screaming, some were sobbing and some seemed totally indifferent to what was going on, a couple of babies were even sleeping! It must have been amazingly cold, as the whole festival took more than a two hours to complete. Between rounds of babies the men would dash up onto the grounds of a nearby shrine to huddle next to a fire before braving the waters again. It took a lot of concentration to make it down into the icy muddy field, some men slipped spectacularly but the babies were always safe and sound! Meanwhile priests and parents would stand to the side enjoying the spectacle! The festival was concluded by a massive mud brawl, but I’ll post those pictures later. The festival is called Waradbi Hadaka Matsuri, or the Warabi Naked Festival (和良比裸祭り). Another name is the Doronko Matsuri (どろんこ祭り). Enjoy!
As with all cities in Japan, Urayasu was originally a collection of small villages with their own administration and unique differences. You can still see the remains of these ancient villages in the common trades, place names, architecture or sometimes even (anecdotally at least) the personalities of the inhabitants! In Urayasu, in what is today the main part of the city, there was once a small fishing village called Nekozane (猫実), a name that the village took after surviving a major tsunami, most likely sometime in the 13th century. The story behind the name is long and complicated (too much for me to tell properly), so I’ll leave it for any historian passing by the blog! Remarkably, even though they’ve suffered tsunami, earthquakes and wars, many families can trace their history quite a long way back and so people tend quite proud of their deep roots and memories sometimes run deep. Nekozane for example, has a long history of fishing and there are still old families that hold tight to their ancient fishing rights by keeping the family spot in the ship canal properly occupied with some sort of water vessel (which explains many of the old semi-wrecks you sometimes see around canals and harbors in Tokyo and Chiba). In 1788 for example, three members of the village had to be killed in a territorial fishing rights dispute (or fishermen’s war) before the shogun would intervene and set the boundaries once and for all.
I took these photos of some of the people belonging to Nekozane’s Gochome (猫実五丁目), or the fifth subdivision (there are five in all) as they carried their omikoshi through the streets of Urayasu. One man at the front was spinning a very clever little machine that created a continuous stream of soap bubbles! This was during a brief lull in the rain that was to fall throughout the day and evening, you can see in the last photo their photographer protecting her camera with a plastic rain cover!
The festival is actually taking place right now, so if you have time I really recommend heading over to Urayasu right now. Even though it is in Chiba prefecture it is a mere 15 minutes on the subway from central Tokyo on the Tozai line! That’s right, excellent weather and less than 200 yen train fare, you have no excuse not to go! See yesterday’s post for more details.
Right across the river that borders Tokyo from the neighboring Chiba prefecture lies Urayasu City, with a population of about 165 000 people and a long history it also puts on quite a few large festivals! On the 16th and 17th of June this year there is the large Urayasu Sanja Rettaisai, or Urayasu Sanja Matsuri for short. Once every three four years the three major shrines of the city of Urayasu join together in one huge festival! Today, right now as a matter of fact, was the first day of the festival even though persistent heavy rain put a damper on the audience the participants didn’t seem to mind being thoroughly soaked after the first few minutes. Every cloud has a silver lining and this time it was probably the fact that very few people showed up to watch it, so photography was pretty easy and I managed to get pretty much the place I wanted. If you are near Urayasu right now I really recommend grabbing an umbrella and heading over there, or if you’d rather not be out in the rain tomorrow looks like much better weather. Expect heavy crowds though, as everyone who stayed home today will want to see it on the second day. It’s only on once every four years so here’s your chance! Here’s a route map of the procession of omikoshi!