Before coming to Seika, I had the chance to peruse around the internet to see what the town would be like. Although most of the stuff wasn’t surprising, I kept running across pictures of a festival where what looked like a giant flaming log was being carried around. The festival was called “Igomori Matsuri,” and is apparently one of Seika’s more famous happenings. The festival looked like a lot of fun, and has been something I’ve looked forward to since coming to Seika. And on January 18th, I finally got the chance to go.
The festival is held yearly at Hosono Shrine in Seika, and consists of taking a huge torch made from bamboo trees and bean stalks, and then lighting the thing on fire and carrying it around the city streets. Though they’ve never weighed the torch, people at the festival told me it was about 80 kilos. And though it’s passed off between the parishioners now, apparently in the good ol’ days the torch was carried by only one man at a time. According to legend, the tradition was started to appease the vengeful spirit of Emperor Kaika’s brother Takehani Yasuhiko, who was killed for treason over 2000 years ago.
The festival had yet to start when I got there, but food stalls were set up, and people seemed to be having fun just milling about and talking. I started talking with some local kids, and basically became their buddy for the night. I told them jokes, taught some English and repeatedly explained that no, gorillas, lions, and giraffes don’t roam wild in America.
Soon the festival got under way, and the men tasked with carrying the torch started a fire inside Hosono shrine. Now, I knew there would some flame and such, but I was not prepared for the fifteen-foot high inferno that burst out, with flames licking the roof of the wooden temple. It seemed unsafe at the time, but somehow I made it back alive. After letting the flames die down, the torch was carried out and started on it’s journey around Seika. The torch is followed by a compartment containing the god of the shrine, and it took them about an hour to complete the course. By the time they finally got back, the torchbearers looked beat, but really happy to have taken part.
It was nice to see people of all ages at the event. These kinds of festivals are fun, not only because I got to see a huge burning torch this time, but also because you get to meet people from all age brackets and lifestyles. I spoke with everyone from elementary school kids to octogenarians, and learned a lot about the Igomori festival, and Seika’s history. Like town fairs in the States, Japanese festivals are a great place to meet people who, though you all live in the same town, might never run into otherwise. Admittedly though, American fairs usually don’t have giant burning torches, so this was a fun treat to see.