Seihakusai Festival, Nanao

I stayed in Ishikawa for the second weekend of Golden Week because there were a lot of festivals happening- a kutaniyaki ceramics fair in Nomi, a kite festival in Uchinada, and a festival involving giant wooden floats in Nanao. I was feeling lazy after my busy weekend so I skipped the ceramics fair and it was raining on the day of the kite festival so I stayed home and watched Downton Abbey. The next day was windy but fine so I went up to Nanao with my friend Liz and her mother who was visiting.

As soon as we exited the station we saw dancers performing on the street. A few different groups danced with various props like small drums or clackers.

After the dancers we moved on to see the main objects of the festival- three massive 20 tonne wooden ‘floats’ that were being pulled around the town. I didn’t quite understand the history behind it, but every year three areas of the town construct these monoliths out of wood and rope (no nails) during the months coming up to the festival. The top of the dekiyama houses a scene from a kabuki play and children are allowed to climb up inside and sit on top.

The dekiyama are pulled with ropes from their districts to visit shrines around the town. The weight of the dekiyama is mainly bourne by the virile men of Nanao, but the ropes in front are long enough to allow anybody in the community to help pull it along. Turning the contraption requires a complex operation that involves inserting a lever under the wheels and having the men stand on it to shift the whole thing. This is all done to the accompaniment of music and singing. Young men in purple robes stand on a platform at the front of the float, and young boys in blue stand on one at the back of it, cheering on the pullers.

Apparently these are the biggest dekiyama in Japan, and on a windy day like that you worry about the stability of these things. If something like this festival were to happen in Ireland, the crowd would have been kept behind barriers for health and safety reasons, which defeats the purpose of this community-involving festival. The speed of these things going down narrow streets on wooden wheels before they came to an abrupt halt was quite astonishing.

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