Have you ever seen a “bonden” before? It is a 10-foot tall bamboo figure often relating to the animal of the year. It is considered to be a sacred wand which marks the descending of the gods into the human world. You can see a lot of this during the Bonden Festival in Akita Prefecture which is usually held on January 17.
The main purpose of the festival is to offer a prayer for good harvests, good health, and good business! In the past, bonden was made of paper or rice straw. Nowadays, they are made intricately by decorating bamboo baskets in different colors. Each bonden wand is entrusted with a prayer and mainly carried around by local children, adults and some company employees also participate.
The main event in the festival is the contest. Each district forms a team consisting of 20-30 people who will be carrying the bonden. They have to go around the city while shaking it. A few moments later, they increase their pace and race towards the shrine in order to arrive there first. The first group to arrive will be given the privilege to offer their bonden to the god of power. It is okay to push other members of the team out of the way as everyone is struggling to be more powerful than the other. It is also believed that the fiercer the team struggles, the more blessed they will be. The contest is made more intense with the spectators who are also trying to touch the bonden due to its triangular charm possessing divine power.
The festival is spread over 2 days. The first day gives everyone the chance to admire the poles on display while the second day is the race to the shrine.
If you are hoping to receive some divine power in the new year, why not head to Akita and join the Bonden Festival?