Kinosaki is a town built on tourism. Nearly all of the town and its events are held with visitors in mind. It may seem strange, then, that the largest event in Kinosaki is actually not so well known or advertised outside. One reason might be that the event was conceived as a day for the people of Kinosaki. Employees and students at local businesses and schools have the day off, traffic in central Kinosaki is completely shut down, and Kinosaki natives who may not even return for the New Year holidays (the biggest holiday in Japan) will come back for the Autumn Danjiri Festival.
Many autumn festivals, especially in Western Japan, feature danjiri which are wooden carts designed to appear like ornate shrines. They vary in size from small, child-sized versions to extremely large danjiri that require many full grown men to move. The use of the danjiri varies from festival to festival, but in Kinosaki the danjiri take on a very entertaining role… they actually “battle” each other in the streets.
In most festivals, danjiri are organized by groups of men from a particular neighborhood. In Kinosaki, the groups are organized into three different divisions. The rigor and the seriousness with which group members approach their duties are unlike most standard festivals. Groups are structured based on years of service, with strict discipline enforced inside the group. Lower members are subservient to higher members, regardless of position and relationship away from the festival. It is not uncommon to see roles in everyday life (boss and worker) reversed for the festival. Danjiri groups are very tight-knit, with members often participating in events with other members outside of the festival, such as marriage and funeral ceremonies.
On the day of the festival several “stations” are setup across Kinosaki which act as a kind of headquarters for each danjiri group. They also provide a rest area to help withstand the grueling effort required throughout the day. The basic flow of the festival is as follows.
A portable shrine (mikoshi) is carried around to the seven public hot springs where at each prayers are offered for the prosperity of the hot spring. One danjiri follows the mikoshi, acting as its protector.
When the mikoshi and its guard danjiri approach the Ichino-yu public hot spring (central Kinosaki) a rival danjiri appears and the guardian and rival begin to battle each other.
Excitement fills the air as the danjiri literally ram into one another amidst the shouts of participants and onlookers accompanied by the sounds of bells and taiko drums. The frantic and rousing scene is very different from the image of most Japanese as reserved and subdued. The area where the shrine battles occur is somewhat narrow, so spectators get a very up close view of the action!
The Kinosaki Autumn Danjiri Festival is a unique experience located in one of the most unique towns in Japan. Do not miss your chance to experience this very special tradition!