Ohara Hadaka Matsuri a.k.a. the Ohara Naked Festival took place in heavy rain on the 23rd of September. To clarify “naked” is clearly not an accurate description with the participants wearing far more than the fundoshi loincloths seen at the Okayama Hadaka Matsuri. As this is a traditional Shinto festival a priest gave blessings, and somewhat unusually two arrows were launched into the ocean. Teams carried mikoshi (portable shrines) down to the ocean. It was clear that the mikoshi were heavy and the teams looked exhausted as they shouldered the wooden beams. After dunking themselves and the shrine in the ocean waves they returned to the beach, and managed to raise it above their heads. All images shot with the Pentax 645Z and the 25mm lens. Glad both the camera and lens are weather sealed because they were subjected to rain for half an hour.
Chondara are clowns that encourage the performers, and entertain the crowds during Okinawa’s summer eisa dance performances. They can be young or old, but you see very few women chondara. Usually they wear a straw conical hat and a short striped basa kimono. The makeup is nearly always white with designs drawn on to the face. The designs on the face vary between the chondara, but more surprisingly, unlike western “whiteface” clowns, a chondara doesn’t always stick with the same face. Below we can see the same chondara at Ryukyu Mura with four different faces. Send in the clowns!
Riding a tree trunk as it slides down the side of a mountain is as safe as it sounds. There are injuries, and numerous participants have died. The Onbashira festival, however, has taken place for over 12 centuries. Every 6 years, tradition takes priority over health and safety, and with a heady mixture of religious fervor and adrenaline, the men go for the ride of their lives. The kiotoshi (tree falling) part of the Shimosha Onbashira takes place over three days. Friday 8th of April 2016, was the first day, with three different teams riding in the afternoon. Having shot the first team with a 300mm telephoto lens, I switched to the 90mm so that I could put the action in a little more context. When the tree trunks finally comes to a stop, all the members of the team scramble together to celebrate and then start to drag the trunk onwards. The men with white helmets and riot shields at the base of the hill are to stop dislodged stones from hitting the crowds. As …
Onbashira is a traditional log riding festival held in held in Suwa Town, Nagano Prefecture every six years. Tree trunks are dragged from the mountains to the Suwa Taisha Shrine to be raised as sacred pillars. Kiotoshi “tree falling” is where men risk their lives riding the tree trunks down a steep slope. This takes place in two locations, first there is “Kamisha” near Chino, then a few days later there is “Shimosha” near Shimosuwa. On the three days of the Suwa Taisha Kamisha the “tree falling” is followed by kawagoshi “river crossing.” A small rope is towed across the river (in one case by an ugly duckling with swans) which connects to the larger ropes that drag the tree trunk. Dignitaries are carried across the river. Then the brass band wades across! The tree trunk, bedecked with a couple of dozen men, is dragged from the riverbank. Rescue services stand by to try and prevent any of the participants from drowning. An amazing spectacle to witness.
The world’s biggest Tug-of-War was held once again in Naha City on October 11, 2015. The rope begins in two halves, stretched along the center of Highway 58. Banners are carried along Kokusai Street and then held aloft between the ropes. Representatives of the East and West sections of the rope perform karate kata. Firecrackers are lit deafening those close. After speeches from the Governor of Okinawa, and this year the Governor of Hawaii. The ropes are dragged together. The ends of the ropes are designed to loop one over the other. Numerous men with poles push the ropes as they are drawn together until they are intertwined. The giant wooden connecting pin is then brought to the rope. Around a dozen men hep lift the pin and thread it through the rope. Although it does take a little wiggling. Once the pin is in the ropes are drawn apart locking the pin in place. The kings of the East and West are carried along the rope then challenge each other to battle. Karate masters …
Last weekend was the world’s largest tug of war. It is held each year on route 58 in Naha City, Okinawa. First the two halves of the rope are joined together with a giant wooden pin. Kings of the west side and east side are then carried to the center of the rope. Thousands of spectators including Okinawans, tourists and local American military take part in the event pulling for either the East or West team. I was pleased that this year I could add to my selection of images of the tug of war . I already had a fantastic overview shot from 2010, but it was great to get some POV shots from the center of the action. The above shots were all taken with the Pentax 645Z and the 25mm lens held above my head on a monopod. The photo below was with the Pentax 645D and 55mm.
Dancing in the streets at the 33rd Asakusa Samba Festival in Tokyo. 22 teams including local Japanese and Brazilians bring Samba to the roads around Asakusa Shrine. The event is watched by around 500,000 spectators so the streets do get a little crowded. Some participants went with the iconic sparkly Carnival outfits, while others wore costumes more representative of their region in Japan. This is why you have dancing okonomiyaki. Overall, a fun event, very different from the traditional religious festivals that I usually cover. Maybe I should start checking out the prices of flights to Rio.
Fukagawa Festival a.k.a. The Water Throwing Festival held at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine, Tokyo. Participants throw buckets of water at mikoshi (portable shirines) as they are carried through streets in one of the great Shinto festivals of Tokyo. Not everyone chooses buckets of water, there were plenty of kids with their super soakers happy to join in the fun. These are shots from the Saturday, the day before the main festival. Going a day early allowed me to get a feel for the festival, work out the angles, and prepare myself for the following day.
Along with portraits I needed to get some images of groups dancing at the festival. There are several areas where they dance, but I based myself at the largest venue where hundreds of spectators watch the event from terraced seating. Organizing a press pass meant I could get much better images than shooting from the terraces, but even press are restricted to where they can go so not to impede the dancers or spoil the view for spectators. I shot hundreds of images between 6pm and 9.30pm, but nearly all the best shots came from a period of about 10 minutes during twilight just after the floodlights came on. Overall a great festival. If you’re ever in Japan between August 12 to 15, it’s definitely worth checking out.
The Soma Nomaoi samurai horsemen festival takes place each July in Fukushima Prefecture. Following the devastation of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami it was cancelled, but it restarted once again in 2013. I attended this year to document one of Japan’s great festivals, and the resilience of Fukushima’s people. Preparations for the lead samurai and his horse at the castle beside Nakamura Shrine. Breakfast of champions. Sake and cucumbers at Nakamura Shrine. Gearing up. A priest from the shrine places the helmet on a samurai rider. Time for a quick portrait. New camera, same technique of getting up in people’s faces. Priestess helps one of the youngest riders get ready. The little girl was actually the daughter of the Shinto priest. Statues at the shrine show the importance of horses to the area. The priestess like all of the other participants on horseback was an excellent rider. The mounted samurai were followed by pikemen and priests carrying a mikoshi (portable shrine). The samurai and priests then parade south from Soma to Mina Soma and the …