Kamiyamada Onsen is overlooked by the centuries-old Habeshina Shrine. Every year, the shrine holds an Autumn Festival that usually takes place on the autumnal equinox, 23-Sept. However, this year the Fall Festival has been moved to the weekend and will be held on Sunday 26-September.
Habeshina Shrine’s Fall Festival is a unique opportunity to see a small local festival here in the Japanese countryside. It is a time for the locals to give thanks for the harvest and enjoy some traditional fun. The day’s schedule varies by year, but is generally something like this:
8am: Opening banquet at a nearby community center
10am: Ceremonial Procession departs the center.
12noon: Procession arrives at Habeshina Shrine
1pm: Adults sumo
2pm~: Kids sumo
Evening: Karaoke contest
8pm: Ending ceremony featuring an “okagura” shi-shi lion dance
The kids sumo is very entertaining to watch, and for the adults sumo, often times there are not enough participants. I have twice had the dubious honor of joining their ranks. You drink your way through the 8am banquet, parade around town in your ‘fundoshi’ g-string, then when your name is called, enter the ring and hope your opponent had more sake than you did.
(If you, too, are interested in being a sumo wrestler for a day, contact me here at Kamesei Ryokan and I can see about getting you an invitation.)
There are a few food and toys booths set up for the festival, and a lot of drinking goes on (sake is an important part of Japanese ‘matsuri’). After it gets dark, at some point the sounds of the shi-shi flutes and taiko drums can be heard, as the okagura lion dance troupe finishes up its tour of the town and arrives back at the shrine. The elders gather in front of the shrine’s main building holding ‘chochin’ lanterns, and the lion dance takes place in the center.
The lion dance by lantern-light is a pretty powerful experience. I was really moved by it when I first saw it right after moving here. Later, when the the leader of the troupe invited me to join, I was honored to accept. I’ll be there this year trying to keep up with the other flutists.
Habeshina Shrine is located on the southeastern edge of Togura Kamiyamada Onsen. Follow Koen-Dori street past Joyama-dori up the hill and you’ll see the ‘torii’ arch on the right.