I’ve always thought parades were kind of boring. That is, until I came to Japan, and the first parade I went to involved pitched ninja, samurai and gun battles in the streets of Nagoya. So when I heard about Kishiwada Danjiri Festival, a festival thats main purpose is to pull massive shrine carts on wooden wheels through the streets and around corners as fast as humanly possible, I had to see it.
You know a festival is going to be good when your Japanese coworkers warn you in all seriousness, “don’t die.” Considering lists of the world’s most dangerous festivals like this one often feature disproportionate representation from Japan, such a warning is not necessarily misdirected, either. But not to worry, if I had died at the festival last weekend, I wouldn’t be writing this, would I?
The thing that makes Kishiwada Danjiri Festival so dangerous is the speed at which the large shrines are made to take tight corners. You don’t need a degree in physics to figure out how this can go wrong. Consider this video of a shrine cart biffing it around a corner last year. This is how people die: either falling from the shrine as it rounds a corner, or getting crushed by it as it falls on a crowd. After telling me not to die, my coworkers all gave the same advice: don’t stand on a corner!
While I didn’t witness any major crashes – which I’m personally okay with because the thought of actually witnessing someone’s death doesn’t really appeal to me – I did see and hear several ambulances throughout the course of the day. The most dangerous thing I witnessed was one guy, jumping around the top of one of the shrines, fail to land his jump on the shrine as it took a corner and fall straight down below. From my vantage point I couldn’t see what happened, but unless he was really lucky, I doubt he escaped completely unscathed from that height, unfortunately.
Somewhat haphazardly, we made our way around much of the area covered by the festival. We started at the castle to orient ourselves (and take advantage of the air conditioning), then made our way down to the crowds. Some words of advice to anyone reading this who may brave this festival in the future: give yourself LOTS of time to get anywhere you need to be, even if you only need to go a few blocks. The festival staff guarding the intersections may force you to stay in one spot for a long period of time, then suddenly herd you quickly down a street in any direction they choose to get you out of the way. In this way it took us about 1.5 hours to get from the mall to the train station, only a direct distance of several blocks, but at least we got to see lots of action along the way.
After waiting out about 20 minutes of constant, assaulting rain, we made a break for it and rushed across the street, sans umbrellas, to the station. I was initially a little disappointed that I hadn’t planned to stay in Osaka that night with the others I was with, to watch the lantern-adorned shrines continue their journeys at a more leisurely pace, but once the rain stopped and didn’t let up I felt better about my choice to return home that night. Plus, I had to save my energy (and money) for this coming weekend, fulfilling one of my dreams at Tokyo Game Show!