The summer festivals have passed, the post-equinox cold is setting in, and thoughts inevitably turn to autumn’s choice offerings. In Osaka, the festival fever is prolonged by the sight of intricate four-ton floats being lugged around the city. I refer, of course, to Kishiwada Danjiri, the float festival said to date back some 309 years.
According to local sources, the event stems from the Inari Matsuri held in 1703, created at the behest of Lord Kishiwada to pray for a decent harvest. A fiercely competitive festival subsequently unfolded which saw common people attempt to show off their craftsmanship and raw strength by pulling their floats in front of the watching feudal lords (one of the precious few occasions on which traditional Osaka’s classes mixed).
Even today, the event is described as a test of “strength, endurance and celebration” as teams race around the city with their floats to the sounds of drums and shouts. Especially daring Danjiri carpenters (daiku-gata), accorded the most privileged position in the festival, will actually stand atop their floats and perform an attention-grabbing dance, at times precariously balanced on a single leg. The evening, meanwhile, sees the festival take on a luminescent character courtesy of the bright red lanterns attached to the spectacular floats as Danjiri teams tread the main parade route.
Most people associate the event with mid-September, just before Respect for the Aged Day. Less well known among tourists, however, is that the festival is split in two, and that the Kishiwada October Danjiri Matsuri is even bigger in scale than September’s! Whereas only 34 floats grace the former, 47 participate in the latter.
This year’s second leg of float pulling will be held from 7am to 10pm on Saturday October 7th. Train travellers should disembark at Higashi Kishiwada station while locals should head to Ota-chiku 5th street and take a walking tour of the various events from there. A word of warning, though: don’t stand too close to the street corners, because these multi-tonne floats sway dangerously when turned in ceremonial fashion at breathtaking speed!
By attending Kishiwada October Danjiri Matsuri you will sample an experience that 95% of tourists woefully miss out on. When your friends insist that “this festival is in September,” you can confidently reply that they literally “only saw the half of it!”