Japanese Festival Craziness

So today we went to a shrine in the evening.

There were brightly-lit stalls along the entrance path to the shrine and at the shrine itself a traditional Japanese drama was being performed.

I’ve seen quite a few dramas but I never saw anything like this before.

There were children all around the stage holding thin branches with leaves on them and they were hitting the stage with them.

There were four musicians: one was playing a big drum, one a small drum, one had something like a hammer and was hitting something like a metal plate and the final one was playing a flute.

Then on to the stage came this elaborately dressed figure with extremely wide pants (they looked like they were attached to a giant hangar) and wide sleeves, wearing a bright red mask and having long hair.

He would taunt the children and they would taunt him. The children would also hit him with the thin branches while he would stare at them.

Then suddenly he would jump out at them and the children would run away only to return acting bold and brave and jeering at him.

He would dance a little, swishing through the air his own little branch, like a sword, and then he would taunt the children again.

And then suddenly he grabbed one of the branches that a child was holding and started a tug-of-war with that one child. After a while he stopped.

But then he grabbed one of the children and put him on his shoulder and started to dance around with him. This child was petrified and had tears running down his cheeks.

Then he jumped off the stage and all the children jumped on top of him. 

It was like a scrap with lots of kicks and bashings with the branches. I heard that the children are supposed to kick him but I think a few of the boys were overly aggressive.

I was a little shocked and was not sure if this was according to script but my wife told me it was a very traditional Japanese thing and she told me how excited the children’s faces had been when the performer was taunting them; sadly I was standing behind them so I couldn’t see their faces.

It was a bizarre event.

However, my toddler got a little frightened and started telling us it was time to go and her arm kept shooting out and pointing towards the exit.

I took some photos but I’m not sure if I’ll have a go at a painting, for now at least I’ll show you a painting from another festival.

That’s all for now, Gareth.


I originally wrote this story in July of 2014. I am editing it in April of 2021. I can still, vividly, remember this event. The Japanese are famous for their strange festivals. I hope in the near future that I have the chance to witness some other strange festivals but hopefully ones that are a little less aggressive.

Gareth Naylor

I am an Englishman living and painting in Japan. I have now been here for over 17 years and have been painting for all that time. I love to travel around the Japanese countryside and find beautiful places to paint.

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