Onsen Festival: wild horses, demons and tons of water!

Last weekend I attended my first ever festival in Beppu and one of its biggest events – the Onsen Matsuri (hot spring festival). This is a festival held to celebrate and give thanks to Beppu’s numerous hot springs (Beppu has the largest number of hot spring sources in the whole of Japan, and these sources discharge the highest volume of hot spring water in Japan as well) . This year there was a large variety of festivities – the Onsen Matsuri actually ran from around the 1st to the 7th April, culminating in the main events at the weekend. I only attended the Sunday events, but this was arguably the highlight of the week.

In the morning there was a performance from APU’s (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University) “Arauma Chiyo” – a group that focuses its efforts on the traditional Arama Odori (lit. “wild horse dance”) performed in Aomori prefecture, to the north of Honshu – the main island of Japan. In this dance, male and female dancers dance in pairs, the males dance with an interesting kind of cage belt type construction with a body and head representing the wild horse, and the females take the reins of the horse and also dance with fans, while other members play traditional instruments such as the taiko and flute. Since APU’s student body is half Japanese students and half international students, it was really nice to see a mixture of nationalities come together to celebrate such a traditional aspect of Japan.


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After this performance, there was the Ushi-Oni, the main feature of the Warei Festival of Uwajima. The Ushi-Oni is a float that measures between 5 and 6 metres tall – it has a demon-like face attached to a long neck, a body covered with red cloth or wool, and a tail resembling a sword. It is carried by dozens of people, who make the Ushi-Oni come to life – shaking its head and walking around, then poking its head into buildings (or in this case, under the roof of the bus terminals outside the train station) to scare off demons. It’s certainly an impressive sight, and must be super heavy!


A little later on, there were folk dance performances in the street, as well as a parade through the streets, that I suddenly ended up being a part of (thanks to our fun-loving mayor, pictured below), and some mochimaki (ceremonial throwing of mochi).


The highlight of the Onsen Matsuri though, was without a doubt the Yu-Bukkake Matsuri, in which 60 tons of hot spring water was sprayed onto the parade spectators before everyone danced together in the street (while still being drenched with water). Everyone got soaked, but no-one cared, because they were all enjoying the festival atmosphere and dancing as one. Later on I even got to go up on one of the stages and splash some water on the festival-goers myself, which was great fun!~


All in all, it was an amazing event and I’m so glad I got to be part of it, in various ways!
Definitely my best festival experience so far!

I hope you enjoyed it too if you went along, or if you couldn’t go, I hope you get to go someday!


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