The neat thing about small towns, is that each one comes with their own set of festivals and traditions. We were lucky enough that one of these festivals overlapped with one of precious our days off, so we got the chance to experience it!
And of course, since we seem to be a walking spectacle, we became the unintentional center of attention during this festival.
This festival was the Oni Matsuri, or Ogre Festival, of Toyohashi which takes place each February. Someone said it snowed last year, but this year it was a balmy 52 outside. It was the perfect temp for wandering around the food stall lined side streets that encircled the shrine.
This is an old festival. It began the year the temple was built, which was in 940, so this is not only a local event, but a historical one as well. From my brief research on this, the festival helps usher in the arrival of the spring season as well as good health, but it goes about it in an interesting way.
We first meet the red ogre doing a funny little dance down the middle path, which was very symbolic I’m sure, but the meaning was lost on us. The crowd was maybe 150-200 people and of course we were some of the only foreigners in the mix.
One of the highlights of the event is a battle based on a story in Japanese mythology. Its fought between a red ogre and a long nosed goblin (in Japanese, they’re called Tengu) which takes place in the shrine. The goblin defeats the ogre and the ogre runs out of the shrine throwing white powder and candies as he flees.
For the running of the ogre, the staff marked off a runway leading from the shrines main entrance, down through the middle of the grounds, and all the way out onto the street. Luckily for the ogre, he had an entourage of townsfolk who helped him throw candies and flour into the crowds. And they were not shy with who they hit with their projectiles.
And naturally we got ourselves situated at the front of things because (1) everyone here is too polite for their own good and will leap out of the way at the whisper of an “excuse me” (2) sometimes people don’t like to stand too close to us foreigners and (3) we’re just a little bit pushy.
Once the flour throwing, people erupted into yelling and laughing! There was a hazy white cloud sitting over the crowd and people all had their hands up, trying to reach for the bags of candy being launched through the air. It was complete chaos for about 7 minutes, but it was so much fun to be part of the energy.
Its believed that if you catch a candy and get some white powder on you, then you will have good luck and good health in the upcoming year.
I think we got hit with enough flour to last us until 2025.
I took a direct hit right to the side of my face and for the rest of the day I was scraping flour out of my ear. Personally, I think they were aiming for us…
After the flour procession was all said and done, we were breathless from laughing so hard and absolutely covered in flour. I managed to snag a few pouches of the flying candy as well (it didn’t taste like much, but the tradition says to eat it, so we did!).
While we were attempting to brush off our outer coating like the rest of the crowd, we still seemed to stand out. Locals with cameras were watching us trying to clean off and came over to ask for a picture. We just shrugged and said sure. But it was like ants swarming a dropped piece of fruit at a picnic; one person after another, after another, after another kept coming over to snap a few pictures and then thank us and leave. It was funny, a little strange, and quite the experience.
But I think my favorite part came after that morning. A few of us decided to go out for lunch at this tiny hole in the wall, mom and pop restaurant nearby and all the regulars inside took one look at us and started laughing! One person in our group speaks Japanese and explained to everyone the cause of our current state.
The older Japanese lady running the register disappeared into the backroom and returned quickly, bringing with her a box of wet wipes and depositing them down right in front of me. Poking my cheek and telling me to finish cleaning up. Trust me, we all tried to brush off before we went into eat, but we gave up as it didn’t seem like we were making much progress! Its simple acts of kindness like that that always make me smile.
New experiences, friends, and good food – that’s the recipe for a perfect day. And to top it off, this all took place on a Tuesday, instead of working, we were out adventuring!