Mifune Matsuri: A Festival on the Water

  • Japan has numerous festivals throughout the year with many spectators, both locally and internationally. But have you ever seen a festival done on the water? This particular festival is called, “Mifune Matsuri,” which literally means “festival of three boats.” This festival is believed to have originated in 1928, but its atmosphere is that of the Heian period.

    Mifune Matsuri is celebrated annually in the month of May to commemorate the death of Kiyohara Yorinari, a 12th-century Confucian scholar who lived during the Heian Period. He was enshrined in Kurumazaki Shrine, located in Kyoto City. The shrine is not a very large one but is well-known as it contains a sub-shrine known to help entertainers in their profession.

    The Ritual

    Kiyohara Yorinari’s soul is believed to be transported during the event from one place to the next. First, his soul will be taken for a long walk with a number of ladies accompanying him in colorful attire. His soul is said to transfer in a portable shrine known as “mikoshi.” It looks like a miniature building with pillars, walls, a roof and a veranda. Shintoists believe that mikoshi serves as the deity’s vehicle while moving between shrines. After that, his soul is said to transfer to an “otabisho,” which serves as a temporary resting point of the mikoshi. After resting, they will proceed to the Togetsukyo Bridge where they board the boats.

    Boat Parade

    The boat parade is the climax of the celebration. Here, Kiyohara’s soul is transferred to a “gozabune” or a boat. It occurs in the Oi River on which 20 boats are floating. Every boat has a role to play. For example, one boat is dedicated to musicians, another boat for dancers and so on.

    The gozabune will be taken to the center of the river for 2-3 hours. After that, that is the only time the other boats will approach it. They pay respect by playing some music, reciting poems and performing dances.

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