Wild In The Streets

March 9th was a day for the people of Kashima City to go wild in the streets. It was organized chaos - the annual Saito Sai (festival) of Kashima Jingu.

We arrived midway through the celebrations as the participants, who parade from the shrine through the streets of Kashima and back, prepared for the return trip. The day was cloudy with even a little light rain now and then, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits. The brightly clothed celebrants were assembled a few blocks from the shrine and warmed up with some singing and dancing to an old fisherman's folk song, "Soranbushi".

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Click to hear the song "Soranbushi".

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Saito Sai dates back over 1200 years to the Nara Period (710 to 794) when soldiers called sakimori would be sent off on duty in Kyushu in southern Japan. Before leaving, they would gather at Kashima Jingu to offer prayers for victory in battle and a safe journey and people would parade through the streets to see them off.

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The festival is also to offer prayers for a successful growing season for the five key grain crops of wheat, rice, beans, awa millet, and kibi millet. The participants wear five different colored tasuki (long strips of cloth which tie back the flowing sleeves of their kimono) which represent each crop. In recent years, the costumes have come to include plush toys and wild hair styles and colors.

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Near the front of the procession, a man in battle armor blows a shell trumpet.

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A boy dressed in armor leads the way representing a taisotoku (governor-general).

The rest of participants are organized into groups of ten or more each, carrying long oak poles and accompanied by a drummer, around whom they dance in a circle as they sing "saito bayashi" and touch their poles together. A man wearing a helmet and carrying a chochin - paper lantern - leads them through the streets. He is followed by a person with that group's banner atop an oak pole. He stops and swings the banner in a circle first one direction and then another, which clears the area for the dancers.

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The symbols on the top of the banner are made of sheet metal. Best not to get in the way when this is being swung. (We saw a man get hit in the shin with one).

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The children's groups are near the front.

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Each group has a color coded bandana.

The drummers lead their group along to the next spot where they'll form a circle again and dance. The drum sticks are in the shape of a phallus to represent fertility.

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Some costumes featured traditional Japanese symbols and masks, but Disney characters are also popular, and I even spotted this pair of Pink Panthers.

This group crossed their poles to make a platform for the drummer to stand upon.

The festival finishes with everyone gathered in front of the Honden - main hall - of the shrine, singing Saito bayashi (festival songs).


K said...

The costumes are very colorful. I really feel envy to see those girls. When I was little, girls were not allowed to take part in the festival, only boys.

Martin J Frid said...

Wow, these photos should be published properly, they are so emotional and full of life energy...

How do you get so close?

PinkPanther said...

Thanks for sharing another meaningful Saito Sai in JP.
Could audience take part in the parade?

Colorful clothing for ladies and cutie children. But, why the men wore in black and grey costumes, also a kind of Kimono? What are they carrying in the 3rd pic.?

He..he...I see a pair of lovely PinkPanther. ^_^

Pandabonium said...

K - sorry you didn't get to participate. Those kids really seemed to have a good time.

Martin - thanks. This is the most colorful festival at Kashima Jingu, though they are all energetic and exciting.

I stood right on the edge of the street - in it actually.

PP - You have to be from one of the participating districts to be in the parade. It is all planned out well in advance.

Those men are wearing Hakama skirt/pants - traditional formal wear. They are carrying lanterns which identify them as part of the organizing committee.

I took that PinkPanther picture especially for you. ^_-

Elisa (Italia) said...

volevo farti i complimenti hai un sito bellissimo un abbraccio dall'Italia

Congratulations on a beautiful website
Loved everything on your site and you did a magnificent job. You should be proud of yourself

The Moody Minstrel said...

Once again I managed to miss the Saito-Sai...even though I'm in Kashima virtually every day.

What's really interesting is that I learned more about the Saito-Sai from this post than from anything else I've encountered in the 17 years I've been here. Kashima natives tend to feel very strongly about the fact that the Saito-Sai is only for Kashima natives, and whenever I ask anyone to tell me about it I tend to get just a knowing grin and a brush-off...which really irks me considering all the things I've done for this city. Anyway, I'm glad you were able to get someone to explain enough so you could tell me.

(If I sound a bit green with envy, well, I AM.)

Soranbushi...the main tune that my kids' traditional dance troupe dances to and a tune that a jazz ensemble formed of members of the Kashima Philharmonic played (badly) at last year's Pops concert.

ladybug said...

That sounds like alot of fun! I LOVE local festivals! This one looks particulary colorful, noisy and exciting! I like the history and stories behind it all too. Festivals are always nice "breaks" from the mundane world...

We have many here, of course the Rose Festival is the most widely known;
but also the Oregon Country Fair (big hippie fest going on almost 40 years),
the ubiquitous County & State Fairs (corn dog and curly fries anyone?),
the Astoria ScanFest,
Corvallis' Davinci Days (where they make up fanstastic human powered flight/bike creations), so many more I can't even name them all...

QUASAR9 said...

Awesome Pandabonium.
Love the colourful pics!
I always get the feeling that Japanese Tradition is full of vibrant Ritual & Discipline.

Sure, I dare say the modern age has introduced the chaotic need for speed and produced some disenchanted or disenfranchised youth - but the discipline and Ancient Tradition seems to pervade - at least as a Nation symbol

K said...


Yeah, I know how you feel. I couldn't join even my district's turn came!

Those Saitosai rosters (two districts) come around every 20 something years, so I"m afraid there were not so many people who could explain about it well.

After Kashima Town (Now City) suddenly became one of the popular towns in Japan because of the Kashima Antlers' winning the J-League Championships, people here are learning more about Kashima.

About Soran-bushi, the dance tune is called "Yosakoi Soranbushi" and is quite well-known throughout Japan, because of, you know, "Kinpachi-sensi", the popular school drama on TV.

Pandabonium said...

Elisa - grazie molto. Thank you for visiting.

MM - because of the weather we almost didn't go this year. last year we went early and had to wait around quite a while before it started. This time, starting in the middle turned out to be good. Anyway, I'm glad we decided to go.

Ladybug - it's always cool when a community comes out to have fun together. Davinci Days sounds really neat.

Quasar9 - if a society can retain its identity as it moves forward, I think that's good. Not easy to do, and Japan is quite a mixed bag in that regard. It makes me happy to see a festival like this one carrying on a tradition.

Hill said...

Simply stunning photos. The gorgeous & vibrant colors are breathtaking! I love pixs that focus on people, and you did a marvelous job.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Both my children belong to a Yosakoi Soran dance troupe based here in Namegata City. They've been going around performing at festivals in Hokota and Itako as well as Kashima Soccer Stadium in addition to their home "turf".

No chance of doing either of the big, old Kashima festivals, though.

I'm happy to see Kashima becoming a place with more than just an obscure, historical name, though I have to say I'm not happy about all the changes to the area's character.

The weather is always rather chaotic this time of year, but it seems to be especially nuts these days. Oh, well. I'm glad you got to see the festival and teach me a thing or six about it.

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

One of the many amazing things about Japanese - how they keep the old tradition alive, and most of all how people involve, participate, share. I saw few photographer in those photos, one being our wonderful Panda :p

Don Snabulus said...

Gorgeous pix! The luck of the Irish to Kashima then. ;)

Pandabonium said...

Hill - thank you much. Hard to miss at that event. I just kept taking pictures.

MM - don't miss it next time.

Low - there were a lot of people taking pictures. The shrine has a team of photographers and a videographer of its own as well.

Snabby - they were wearin' the green for sure.

Swinebread said...

Now that looks like FUN! Great pix!

Frederick said...

Looks like fun! No snow or nothing!

Swinebread said...

Hey, is that a guy in blackface?!

Pandabonium said...

Swinebread: Yes, it was fun to watch and the participants were obviously having the most. And yes, that guy was in blackface!

Frederick: No snow. A few rain drops. lots of fun.

YD said...

I just realized March 9 is my mum's birthday! She would be happy to know that the whole Japan celebrate her birthday with such extravaganza! cooL!

I noticed a Pooh+Pikachu hybrid near the Pinkpanther! Cuteness overload~~!

Pandabonium said...

YD - happy birthday to your mum. Actually, it is just Kashima that has this festival, but that makes it more special.

Cute overload is right. A lot of people here have plush toys in their cars - on the dash board, hanging from the mirror, etc. !

YD said...

... and defeats totally the purpose of having the dashboard in the first place! haha...

My friends would comment that the car I drive in have "no decoration" of any sort in it. But I think I would sacrifice the cuteness for safety driving, don't wanna glance into the rear view mirror only to find some hello kitty staring back at me. :-P

Pandabonium said...

YD - I agree. I'll do a post of that some time when I can sneak some pics of cars without the owners seeing. Even K has some animals, one in the back window, an Elmo on a rear side window. and a bunch of Snoopys on the back seat. I tease her about it, but at least none of them obscure her view for driving. Oh, and a big plush Panda in the middle of the back seat.