When we hear or see the word “Himeji,” the first thing that comes to mind is the beautiful white facade of Himeji Castle. Every autumn, a fierce fight takes place in the same city as this castle. Behold the battle of mikoshi and yatai at the Nada Fighting Festival!
The Nada Fighting Festival, or Nada no Kenka Matsuri (灘のけんか祭り), is a fighting festival held annually on October 14 and 15. It takes place at Matsubara Hachiman Shrine in Shirahama, Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture.
On the first day of the festival, each of the seven villages of the Nada neighborhood displays their yatai or decorated floats in the area. This is referred to as “Neri-Dashi.”
Neri-Dashi is followed by Miya-Iri where the decorated floats representing each district are brought to Matsubara Hachiman Shrine to receive blessing. Each yatai is carried by around fifty men while four men play the taiko (Japanese drum) inside it. The words, “Yoyasa, yoyasa,” are chanted loudly as they approach the shrine to encourage and cheer each other on.
Following the Miya-Iri is the Neri-Awase (練り合わせ), a carrying competition that gives a preview of the main event to be held the next day.
The men carrying the yatai are dressed in fundoshi and wear headbands representing the color of their village. Each color has a different meaning. Higashiyama (東山) uses pink as it gets rid of spirits, Kiba (木場) uses green to embody power, Matsubara (松原) uses red representing fire that melts metal, and Yaka (八家) uses orange for sweat. Mega (妻鹿) uses vermilion for passion, Usazaki (宇佐崎) uses yellow symbolizing noblemen, and Nakamura (中村) uses blue for the ocean.
On the second day of the Nada Fighting Festival, in addition to the seven yatai, three mikoshi or portable shrines take center stage. The day begins with a bathing ceremony where the mikoshi carriers purify themselves.
The three portable shrines have different weights and are carried by men of three age groups. The lightest mikoshi is carried by men under 26 years old wearing red headbands, the next is carried by men aged 26 to 35 wearing yellow headbands, while the heaviest is carried by men over 35 years old wearing white headbands.
Before leaving Matsubara Hachiman Shrine, the yatai are once again blessed. All the mikoshi and yatai are then carried to the foot of Otabiyama hill. This is where the fighting takes place, beginning with the Mikoshi-Awase. Each strike of the mikoshi against each other is with the intent of breaking the other. Every clash resounds in the grounds that serve as their battlefield.
Following the Mikoshi-Awase is the Yatai-Awase where the yatai are pitted against each other. The mikoshi and yatai are brought up the hill after their respective fights and brought back down illuminated.
Matsubara Hachiman Shrine is one of the many shrines all over Japan that is dedicated to the Shinto god of war, Hachiman. The god is believed to have sent kamikaze or divine wind to protect Japan from invaders. Hachiman is also associated with Empress Jingu and her son, Emperor Ojin, and was revered by the Minamoto clan.
From the JR Himeji Station, walk towards the Sanyo Himeji Station on the Sanyo Electric Railway Main Line. Take the train bound for Sanyo Suma and get off at Shirahamanomiya Station. Matsubara Hachiman Shrine is a five-minute walk from this station.
Witness this unique fighting festival in Himeji and experience the thrill of battle firsthand at the Nada Fighting Festival.
Nada Fighting Festival Website *Japanese only