Niihama Taiko Matsuri

 

 

Taikodai during the Niihama Taiko Matsuri

Today I will write about the most exciting event in the town where I live: The annual Niihama Taiko Matsuri (Niihama Drum Festival).

Taiko Matsuri takes place from October 16-18 every year. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced it 3 times and after seeing it the first time, I knew that I had to see it at least one more time.

Taiko Matsuri is a 300 year old tradition to give thanks for abundant autumn harvest. There are 47 taikodais (drum floats) that parade around town for 3 days and you can hear the sound of the drum inside the float all day and late into the night. I absolutely love the sound of taiko drums and look forward to the night about 2 weeks before the festival when you can hear the drums as teams begin to practice and get ready for the big events. So, the 47 taikodais parade the streets and compete in their 5 distinctive districts for the best carrying style. The taikodais are decorated with gold and silver thread and are lifted up and down the shoulders of about 150 men per taikodai.Is quite the sight. I also refer to the festival as the “men festival” as only men are allowed to carry and soemetimes even touch the taikodai and it requires incredible physical strength to carry a taikodai because here is the impressive fact of the whole festival: the taikodais are about 5.4 meters high and weigh about 2.5 tons.

In an usually sleepy city, during festival we get about 350,000 spectators so the whole city is a buzz with all the visitors.

Niihama Taiko Festival.

The Taikodai

It is said that the tenmaku on the top of the taikodai represents the universe, and the red and white colors represent the brightness of the sun. The thick knots or the kukuri represent clouds, the tassels or the fusa represent rain, and the four vertical supports; the shihonbashira, represent north, south, east and west.
On the hanging panels on each side of the taikodai are embroidered three-dimensional figures of such things as dragons, wild birds and ferocious beasts, famous buildings and popular characters from legends. Dragons were once believed to ascend to the sky and become the gods who brought the all-important rain for agriculture. This could possibly explain why dragons are often used as a motif in the embroidery.

All the information about the taikodai and the festival was taken from the Niihama City website, including the picture above. All other pictures were taken by me during the 3 festivals I have seen.

A dragon embroidered into a side panel of a taikodai.

This year we were also lucky enough to see an event in which they carry the taikodais into barges and they float out to sea and we were able to get some pretty good seats at the final event of the festival, the parade into Ikku Shrine, our neighbourhood’s main shrine.

Taikodais parading into Ikku Shrine.