Sosogi’s Kiriyama Matsuri

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Sosogi is nothing more than a hamlet comprising of a few houses on the Noto hanto coast and most famous for its glorious sunsets.

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However, every May it celebrates what must be one of the tiniest and shortest matsuri in Japan. But don’t for a minute think that small in any way means bad – it was fascinating, utterly unique and one of the best festivals I’ve been to!

The whole event was altogether odd, starting with its location – a small carpark on the side of the road and home to the 200-year old statue of Kishan Kashuki, to which the matsuri is dedicated.

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The story goes that originally villagers wanting to go further up the coast had to do a massive detour round the mountain that the tunnel now runs through, or take the perilous boat trip along the rocky coast round. A Buddhist monk, Kazuyoshi Kiriyama, accompanied by the locals, proceeded to spend 12 years sprinkling the rockbed with water until it was so soft they were able to easily drill a small tunnel through the mountain. To celebrate this amazing feat of faith and perseverence, an annual matsuri was established.

As a result, another thing that makes the Kiriyama matsuri different is that unlike most matsuri, this one is a Buddhist, rather than a Shinto, festival.

The matsuri begins with three Buddhist monks praying to the statue asking for it to bless the village

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The villagers then all line up to burn incest at the foot of the statue

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after which there is a ceremony involving the ritual burning of pieces of paper on which people have written their names asking for the Buddha for protection. One of the monks reads out the name on each piece of paper and then solemnly condemns it to the flames

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while the other two monks chant blessings.

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Although I am not religious, I always find the the religious aspect of matsuris absolutely fascinating, and the format of this one was quite unlike any other I’ve seen!

But the highlight of the festival is a performance by a group of masked local young men of one of the most primeval drumming spectacles imaginable.

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(You can actually see them perform almost every weekend in the town of Wajima about 20km down the road, but this is only one of two times a year that they perform in their home village).

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The atmosphere was almost impossible to capture on photograph, but the whole thing was really strangely unsettling, as if tapping into some deep, deep primordial fear…the kids were all absolutely terrified!

The show lasted only about 30 minutes, but involved some of the strangest and fastest taiko drumming I’ve ever seen. For much of it, the drummers’ arms were just a blur they were drumming so quickly…and all the time, those ghoulish masks…there really was something quite demonic about it…

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Attending the festival, at which there were just 34 people and lasted not much more than an hour, involved a 300 km round trip from Fukuno to go and see – and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

Foreign tourist attendance apart from me: 0

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