Like this post? Help us by sharing it!
Intrepid tour leader Richard Pearce likes to get involved in Japanese culture stuck out there in rural Japan. Here is one of his latest little adventures….A tug o’ war – Japan style….
At the invite of the town council, myself and a group of English teachers headed to Misasa, a beautiful spa town, to take part in a particularly special festival. Think tug-of-war, crazy Japanese style!
The name “Misasa” (三朝町) literally translates as “three mornings”. This stems from the belief that if one was to spend three mornings in the town’s famous hot springs, all ailments will be cured. Nestled in a mountainous river valley, Misasa is one of my favourite places in this beautiful country. Bubbling, steaming spas, young couples wondering the streets hand in hand dressed in robes and wooden slippers, wonderful traditional architecture dating back hundreds of years, dragonflies skimming across the surface of the numerous natural springs… it all makes for a very ‘Japanese’ experience. The town’s festival is equally as special.
The Hanayu Festival has taken place every May for more than a hundred years and is essentially a time honoured battle of East v West. On the east of the river that bisects the town, are the farmers and other agricultural workers. On the west, are the other businesses owners, merchants and tradesmen. The festival takes place over two days, culminating in the grand finale, a tug of war, on the evening of the second day.
The rope however, is no ordinary rope. Constructed in two parts from branches of an unknown (to me!), freshly harvested tree, the final rope weighs a massive 4 tons and stretches about 80 metres! One of the most refreshing aspects of Japanese life, from an Englishman’s point of view, is the absense of the ridiculous health and safety culture we have in the West. Of course basic safety precautions are met, but if you take part in an event where injury is a possibility, you do so at your own risk. If someone is injured, no one thinks of suing whoever they possibly can. You just brush yourself down and deal with it.
On day one, not really knowing what to expect, we rocked up to the festival area to help make the rope. On arrival, we were all presented with a large cup of sake with which we were advised to drink with a pinch of salt. I was informed by the gentlemen pouring them out that they were for “health and safety purposes”. Now that’s more like it!! After a few hours of bashing and twisting, made less strenuous by the application of health and safety fluids, the ropes were ready. By sliding sturdy branches under it, the beastly rope was hoisted on to our shoulders and carried to their temporary resting places. Being tall is definitely not an advantage with this task, as the marks on my shoulders suggested. The scariest part of the whole process was when the ropes were dropped to the ground. Dropped at the head end first, it’s a matter of getting it off of your shoulders and getting out the way as quickly as possible. I escaped with a minor scratch down my back, much better than some unfortunate souls. However, no one will be seeking legal action.
On the second evening, after enjoying some grilled meat from the festival stalls and an impressive firework display, it was time for the main event. The two ropes were dragged into position and with great effort, joined together. Due to the huge bulk of the rope, the tug-of-war is more of a drag-of-war. On the starters mark, the battle commenced. About 20 minutes later and after much to-ing and fro-ing, my team, the east, emerged victorious. Traditional belief is that the east will have a good and productive year. I presume, for the farmers, the opposite is true. Exhausted, exhilarated and not a little bit sweaty, it was time to head to the hot springs to soak in the soothing waters and reflect on the evening’s exertions.
A great experience and a great festival for the spectator.