The Niihama Taiko Festival, one of the Three Great Festivals in Shikoku
The origins of the festival are not known but the mikoshi togyo (transfer of a portable shrine from its place of enshrinement) has been held every autumn for over a thousand years to pray for a bumper crop. About 100 years ago during the Meiji Era, in tandem with the development of the regional economy, a sense of rivalry increased among the local residents through taiko floats which quickly led to their increase in size and their development into the luxurious floats of today with their embroidery in gold and silver tassels. The city of Niihama is divided into 5 districts and a total of 51 floats take part with each large float weighing 3 tons with a height of 5.5m and a length of 12m supported on 4 wooden poles carried by as many as 150 men as they parade within the city. In addition, to boost the liveliness of the festival, the “Hachiawase” battles take place in which the floats are suddenly rammed into each other which has led to the festival also being called the Fight Festival or the Men’s Festival. There have been some fateful confrontations since the early days and during the festival, even the prefectural police has had to be called in.
The Kaki Kurabe, the biggest highlight of the festival
Several taiko floats gather at one place and the wheels are taken off so that they are moved solely under human power. Under the directions of the leader on top of the float, the float is carried on top of the crew’s shoulders and a competition begins with the float being raised by all hands in an action known as sashiage, undoubtedly a show of male strength and technique. This powerful Kaki Kurabe has been a popular event year after year which can be seen safely up close through paid reserved seating at the Ikkunomori Museum and reservations can be made beforehand online. The Kaki Kurabe is held every day for 3 days during the festival, and it is especially on the final day that the climax occurs when the men’s highly-charged enthusiasm comes through.