Autumn means the biggest event of the year for the southern Osaka city of Kishiwada – the Danjiri Matsuri. Danjiri are large wooden carts inside which religious tenets declare gods reside. The point of the festival is to honor the gods by having fleets of neighborhood men pull the carts – some of which can weigh four tonnes – through the city streets. The carts are ornately decorated, especially with elaborate wooden carvings, as neighborhood guilds compete for glory in their street performances. The festival is over 300 years old, having started by the lord of Kishiwada Castle, praying for an abundant harvest.
There are danjiri matsuri in towns across Japan but Kishiwada’s is the most famous as competing participants attempt to whip their carts through the city streets as fast as possible. The festival always kicks off in the early morning with a prayer for everyone’s safety as accidents happen if the massive carts tip over. The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri is actually celebrated over two weekends: the weekend of the Respect for the Aged holiday in September and the Sports Day holiday weekend in October. For spectators, the second festival is larger but the first is considered more exciting.
Taking it to the streets
There are usually approximately 35 neighborhood teams that race their danjiris through Kishiwada in pursuit of burnishing the neighborhood reputation.The competing neighborhood guilds work all year in preparation for the festival, adorning the danjiris in local warehouses. The team leader is always a master carpenter as traditionally the competition was among the city’s carpenter’s guilds. The leader stands atop the danjiri floats, shouting directions and performing acrobatic – and dangerous – dances. The danjiri is pulled through the streets by team members handling heavy duty ropes.
In the danjiri’s wake are musicians on foot playing drums and bells. Each team has its own rallying chants and special songs are composed to honor the spirits of the danjiri. The procession lasts more than four hours and concludes with a nighttime group religious ceremony. The festival concludes as the rituals are turned over to the neighborhood children who learn to perpetuate the tradition of the danjiri.
Kishiwada Festival 2017
September 16, 2017
October 7,8,9 2017
If you miss the spectacle
A short walk from the Kishiwada Castle stands a shrine to the festival at the Kishiwada Danjiri Hall. The multi-story museum features artwork created by festival fans dedicated to the racing in the streets. A second floor includes a film focused on the frenetic street scenes, a danjiri laced with red chochin lanterns that is hauled out during the night parade, and a recreation of a Kishiwada castle town neighborhood from the early days of the matsuri. The third floor is given over to exquisite miniature models of danjiri floats past and present. On the fourth floor visitors get a chance to board a danjiri or play some ceremonial instruments. Throughout the museum are videos, interactive quizzes, and selfie opportunities.
Kishiwada’s Danjiri Museum is a short walk from Takojizo Station on the Nankai Line. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and admission is charged.