Kenka Matsuri, one of Itoigawa’s biggest annual festivals, is underway today and tomorrow at one of the oldest shrines in town, just minutes from the station! The highlight of the festival is the clash between the omikoshi, or portable shrines, belonging to two rival neighbourhoods, Teramachi and Oshiage. The portable shrines are dragged and carried round and round a circuit, facing off at intervals like bulls locking horns in a battle of strength and wills. The climax is a race round the full circuit, with the crowds cheering on their neighbours and relatives from the stands set up specially for the occasion. It is said that if Teramachi, a farming neighbourhood, wins then the harvest will be good the next year, while if Oshiage, a fishing district, wins then there will be a good catch.
There is more to the festival than the battle of the shrines, however. Children and adults perform a variety of sacred dances, representing everything from old men to butterflies and demons. Several red lion-dogs chase children and adults round the grounds, trying to bite their heads; but no-one runs away too fast, because having your head “bitten” is thought to make you clever! The elementary school children have the day off school for the festival, and stalls selling fish-shaped pancakes, fried noodles, or chocolate-covered bananas do a brisk trade.
Kenka Matsuri is always held on 10 and 11 April, regardless of the day of the week. If you are planning to visit Itoigawa at that season, why not come along and find out what all the fuss is about?