Oi festival is celebrated every year on October 16th. The festival’s roots go back to the year 866.
This year was the first time in four years the festival was held. The past three years were canceled due to coronavirus.
The day starts early. At 7:30 a.m., I and all the other participants from our area go to the neighborhood meeting house. We listen to speeches, eat edamame, and drink a little sake. Then, we go to Oi shrine. We get there a little before 8:30 a.m. Now, there is nothing to do for a long time. We all stand around talking and shivering in the cold morning air. (The main topic of conversation is why do we need to arrive so early?)
Eventually, more people show up and we start putting together the omikoshi, or portable shrine. This is what we will push around town. We tie the portable shrine to two long wooden beams. While we are doing that, the shrine’s priest holds a ceremony that includes a traditional dance to bless the festival. After that, taiko drummers play.
When we finish putting the portable shrine together, everyone picks it up on their shoulders. We heave it up and down several times to get into the ‘festival spirit.’ Then, we carry it down the steep stairs that lead out of the shrine. This part is very difficult because it is really heavy. When we get it down the stairs, we set it on top of a square metal frame with wheels. This allows us to push the omikoshi instead of carrying it. After that, everyone eats lunch, which is provided by Oi shrine.
Finally, it is time to go. It’s about noon now. All of the participants (this year about 80-90 people) work together to push the portable shrine to all the different neighborhoods around town. The taiko drummers drum in the back of a big truck that drives ahead of the omikoshi. We also have some police to help with traffic. Each neighborhood has its own community meeting place where they set out food and drinks for us. Some neighborhoods are famous for the food they prepare every year. For example, one place prepares sabazushi; my neighborhood prepares oden. We stop in each neighborhood for about ten minutes to eat and drink and talk to people we haven’t seen since the last festival. Maybe you can imagine how drunk everyone is getting as they have sake and beer in each neighborhood! Before we leave each stopping point, everyone thanks the people of the neighborhood for the food and drinks.
The day is finished when we come back to Oi shrine. It’s getting dark now. We take apart the portable shrine and everyone goes home. Everyone says, “See you next year!”