Now is the time of Autumn festivals, when happi coats, danjiri floats and mikoshi fill the streets across Japan. The largest one Osaka is held in Hiraoka on the 14th and 15th of October, during which 20 taiko drum stands of various sizes are paraded up to Hiraoka Shrine through the steep and narrow streets of the town.
Hiraoka is on the Kintetsu Nara rail line, at the foot of Ikoma mountain(Osaka side), it’s a tiny station so only the slower trains serve it. I arrived around 2.45pm and it was already heaving! I’d caught a glimpse of one of the stands as the train pulled into the station, and rushed to the exit, worried I’d missed everything – I was quite wrong!
Unlike Danjiri floats, these stands have no wheels, their full weight must be carried – which would be a challenge on flat ground let alone these hills.
Seeing as the line isn’t elevated, there was a lot of waiting to let trains pass. Once the barriers came up, myself and a wave of people followed the stand across the tracks.
On the other side, I perched up on a wall for a bit to get some shots of the stands moving uphill.
Despite the fact it’s mid-October, today’s weather rivaled a summer’s day back in the UK, these guys had their work cut out for them.
I watched a few groups go by, then decided to follow one of them up the hill. As you can see a “few” people had the same idea
Further up the hill, the road’s were barely wide enough for the stands to move through, so I ended up stuck between two groups. It was a great chance to see the stands up close though. The detail, especially the intricate wood carvings are really amazing.
The larger stands required so many people to lift them, as many as 40 in some cases!
On the move again!
The next right-turn led off the road and into the shrine entrance, here the stands paraded up and down in pairs.
It’s quite a wide path, but considering it was lined with food stalls on both sides things got a little tight and dangerous! At one point a stand lurched towards us suddenly, causing everyone to jump backward!
Apologies for the less than amazing video quality, turns out my Ricoh only shoots video in SD. You can still get a pretty good idea of how crazy it is though!
Once the stands had paraded up and down a couple of times, they moved over to a side area for a well earned rest while the crowd applauded their efforts.
The shrine itself was up a large flight of stairs, I figured I couldn’t leave having a quick look.
The main building had been beautifully decorated, scores of people were lining up to offer prayer.
A Miko(shrine maiden) was arranging offerings outside the shrine building, much of the shrine complex was closed to visitors – not sure if it’s always like this or just during the festival.
Quick look complete, I headed back down into the thick of it with a plan to head for the train station.
This was a real highlight, in a tremendous show of strength this team held their stand at arms length above them – the crowd went wild!
This float was standing just outside the shrine entrance, it looked a lot like a danjiri float, but much larger and grander.
Once again, the wood carvings were incredible.
I saw groups of people removing the gold lanterns from the stands and carrying them back down the hill. I’m not sure why, presumably to attach them to the stands about to make the journey up, but I could be wrong.
Just as I was leaving, two more stands filed in. I left around 5pm and I’m certain the ceremony continued long after dark.
The platform as Hiraoka station is ridilculously narrow, I’m glad no express trains went past while I was waiting!
So that was Hiraoka festival, it’s a great chance to see things up close – so often you’re corralled behind a barrier, here you can literally reach out and touch the stands if you wanted(but don’t). And be sure to keep you wits about you, it gets quite crazy!