Matto Hi Matsuri

The Matto Hi-Matsuri took place last Sunday evening (8/5). I mentioned this in an earlier post. It was more or less what I expected. I hope that doesn't make it sound like I was unimpressed. It was definitely something to behold. Again, I'm certain my words are a poor subsitute for the actual experience, but I will share what I can. I will also share a few pictures, but their quality is not at my usual standards.

This festival was held in the middle of a large park in Matto, Japan. It is actually where I first saw the Extasia taiko festival back in 1999. Being a fairly large festival, parking was scarce and we had to park quite a ways away and walk back. As we approached the entrance to the park, we could hear the beating of taiko drums in the distance. Walking towards the field where the events were taking place, the drums grew increasingly louder and the wind began to blow the smell or smoke in our direction. Occasionally we could see sparks rising up into the night sky. I thought they might have started in on the main event (burning the huge hay barrels) earlier than we had thought. But when we reached the steps down into the field, we could see that they had not reached that point. There were four large bonfires around the field. In a large circle in the center, there were about ten large taiko being played. Each taiko was part of a smaller group of players, and each group was playing their own song, so there was no unison in what they were playing. As this was going on, groups of 20 - 50 people (or more, I'm not good at estimating numbers of people) carrying around the hay barrels that would be burned. The one pictured here is one of the larger ones, which weighed several tons and I think I hear that it was 7.5 meters long. It is pretty much all hay and wood, imagine how fast it goes up in flames. The people riding on the top stayed there until the very last minute, meaning that probably at least 60% or more of the thing was burning before they jumped off.

After parading the 5 or 6 hay barrels around the field, the taiko groups each took a turn playing a short song. After each group had played, they began playing all at once again as the hay barrels were brought back onto the field and into the middle, making a star shape and lit on fire. I was only able to get a couple pictures of the start of this before my card was full. I did get some pictures on my film camera of the inferno in its full glory, but I'll have to wait and see if they came out and post them at a later date. Anyway, here is the last picture I took:

When they first lit the fires, I was probably about 100 yards away. Once it got going, I could feel the heat from that far away. I did move in closer once it got going and that was extremely hot. As the fire was burning at its brightest, the groups that had been carrying these hay barrels were running around the fire with various banners. The drums were playing the whole time, of course. I was describing this all to a friend of mine here, and she said that it all sounded wonderfully primitive. I did feel something ... primeval about the whole thing as well.

This whole event was part of something called "Mushi Okuri", which I believe happens all over Japan, especially in agricultural areas. What Mushi Okuri means is "send bugs". It's getting to be late summer, and fall is approaching. Most people have probably noticed that the amount of bugs increases at this time of year. I always notice an increase in spiders and bees/hornets/wasps. Here, in Kanazawa, there are spiders all over the place, and the cicadas are practically flying into our apartment. Fall is also a time for harvesting crops, and bugs/pests are usually not good for agriculture. These mushi okuri festivals were meant to make a lot of noise and commotion in order to scare away, or send away the bugs before the harvest. That is why taiko were/are used in these festivals.

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