Start of a New Winter Tradition! Nara Ootateyama Festival Where Awesome Gods Gather
The first Nara Ootateyama Matsuri
Speaking of Nara in the winter, we imagine pure white frost covering the lawn of Nara Park, white breath of deer standing quietly in the cold, and snow covered Mikasayama mountain. All of these are very beautiful, and they are symbolic winter scenes of Nara.
And a new winter attraction joined the winter of Nara from last year. It is “Nara Ootateyama Matsuri” festival held in the Heijo Palace Site.
Nara Ootateyama Matsuri Festival
Since the Edo Period (1603-1868), people in Nara Prefecture have held a tradition of shedding their misfortunes by substituting figurines to take the misfortune on their behalf, and it was called Tateyama. Based on this tradition Nara Ootateyama Matsuri festival started in 2016 as a new winter event. The festival will be held again this winter of 2017 at the Heijo Palace Site.
Shitenno, the guarding gods of four directions in Buddhism, will gather in the Heijo Palace Site, and they are over 7 meters high. The four gods of Jikokuten, Zochoten, Komokuten and Tamonten are on their floats. The enthusiasm of Nara Prefecture for this event is evident in the total project cost of 200 million yen for the first year. I heard each Shitenno represents a season of Nara and for example this Jikokuten is shown with cherry blossoms, plum flowers and a nightingale, all symbols of spring.
When the sun sets and the darkness of night start to hide the surrounding view, each of the Shitenno figures is lit up. It is finally the time for the festival to begin.
On the stage set up in front of Daigokuden Hall there was a performance of people wearing the period costumes.
These Shitenno figures are made of composite paper called FRR material and rain won’t pose a problem. They look very pretty when lights are turned on inside the figures and enhance their colors vividly. The floats of Shitenno are pulled around in Heijo Palace Site in surging spectators’ cheers and the festival moves toward the climax.
Finally 4 floats of Shitenno line up in front of Daigokuden Hall, creating a magnificent spectacle.
Many traditional events from various parts of Nara Prefecture are also held in Heijo Palace Site during the festival. In Silver-grass Votive Light Event of Kamotsuba-jinja shrine in Gose City, many groups of 10 lanterns in 3 rows each are gathered and lit. Ogawa Matsuri festival, also called as Kenka Matsuri (fighting festival) of Higashi-yoshino Village is packed with many taiko (traditional Japanese drum) everywhere. Shishimai lion dancing of Sugano is offered to gods of Shisha Jinja shrine in Mitsue Village. Different events are offered from day to day.
This festival comes with my strong recommendation as you can enjoy large floats of overpowering Shitenno gods and many traditional events in Nara Prefecture all at once in Heijo Palace Site, a World Cultural Heritage Site. Please enjoy a glittering night of the ancient capital.
<The 2nd Nara Ootateyama Matsuri>
Date & Time: January 25 through 29, 2017 (6 -8 PM on 25th and 26th, 1 – 8 PM on 27th through 29th)
Place: Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Access: Shuttle bus service will be operated from JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Yamato Saidaiji Station to Heijo Palace Site.Map
*My shuttle bus was caught in a traffic jam around the event venue last year and it took quite a long time. I recommend a 15 minute walk from Kintetsu Yamato Saidaiji Station instead.
Attakamon (Warm Thing) Grand Prix
During the period of Nara Ootateyama Matsuri, the 4th Nara Attakamon Grand Prix will be also held at Heijo Palace Site. In this contest many municipalities of Nara Prefecture compete in creative hot dishes to warm up our bodies, using their local specialty products. You can eat any of these dishes for 300 yen per serving.
It’s only 300 yen each, so let’s eat multiple kinds to compare and find your favorite “attakamon (warm thing)”! Stores will close once they sell out of food, and as popular ones are sold out quickly, be warned to carefully plan the order of eating. Grand Prix will be announced based on the poll results, and the last champion of the 3rd Nara Attakamon Grand Prix was “Takatori Gonda Nabe (hot pot with medicinal herb seasoned rice cake)” of Takatori-cho. It was delicious!
No matter how long its history, every traditional event has had a beginning. Nara Ootateyama Matsuri has only started last winter but it may become a traditional festival in Japan that will last 100 or 200 years, or even 1000 years. Please enjoy a bit more informed trip of Japan, not just one of the tourist destinations in Japan that everyone knows!