Fall Festivals in Japanese Tradition: Mikoshi, Happi & Dashi
“Wasshoi, Wasshoi” chant the Mikoshi carriers while carrying the portable shrine.
With vigorous chanting, we are introducing “mikoshi” portable shrines today that appear in Japanese festivals.
Purpose of Fall Festivals
Carriers shake the mikoshi vigorously with the shout of “wasshoi wasshoi”, and they say it is to exalt the spirituality of god and to pray for good harvest and good catch.
Gods are enshrined in Japanese shrines. When going around the town during the festival, gods ride in carriages called mikoshi or omikoshi. As the top photo shows, the common style is to carry it on the shoulder.
Also small children are carried on mikoshi, as shown in this photo, and this type is called “kodomo-mikoshi”. Sometimes kodomo-mikoshi may refer to smaller mikoshi for children to carry, depending on the region.
“Happi” is worn by village people at the time of festival. The most common color is blue and the kanji “祭 (matsuri: festival)” adorns the back.
Haori, Photo by wikipedia
Happi is a coat similar to “haori”, a kind of short-length kimono, and it is a traditional costume of Japan worn at the time of festival.
Happi also resembles the “hanten” with its marks. Hanten were used as uniforms worn by members of the fire brigade and carpenters, as well as craftsmen in the old days.
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“Mochi maki (throwing mochi rice cakes to the crowd)” may be done in some fall festivals of villages. In this event mochi are first offered to gods, and then thrown to worshippers to treat them after carrying mikoshi.
While mikoshi is the portable shrine commonly carried on the shoulder, another type comes with wheels and they are pulled like parade floats. This type has different names, and is called “dashi” or “hoko”.
The characteristics of dashi and hoko are their gorgeous decorations. Gion Matsuri in Kyoto is particularly famous for magnificent hoko. As shown in this photo, villages in rural area also have their own dashi and they are stored carefully.
A Sight of the dashi matching beautifully with the rice field before harvest, Photo by flickr
In recent years with development of agricultural machinery and other crops to grow, rice planting and harvest are done earlier in the year compared to the past. As a result, fall festivals, which are originally meant to offer prayer for good harvest, are increasingly held after harvest. In that sense this photo shows a traditional view that is in line with the original purpose of the fall festival.
There are indeed many festivals in Japan that have been handed down and still remain. It’s autumn outing season now, and if you have a chance to visit a festival being held somewhere, please take a careful look at mikoshi, dashi, and happi.