Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Giant Japanese Snake Festival

To honor this year’s Chinese Zodiac animal the Snake, I offer this look at an interesting unique festival from the small town of Sekikawa in Niigata prefecture where they parade an enormous snake made of bamboo and straw. The snake is 82.8 meters long or about 271.6 feet and weighs about 2 tons requiring 500 people to carry it and is in the Guinness Book of World Record as longest snake made of bamboo and straw (wasn’t aware there was such a category).

The festival is a type of Obon celebration – a time when the Japanese remember the spirits of the dead. It also is reminder of a terrible flood which hit Sekikawa in 1967 costing a number of people their lives. The date was August 28th which is why the snake is the exact length of 82.8 to reflect that.

As to why a giant snake, one has to dig further back into the misty past of Sekikawa. Legends say the area was troubled by a giant snake which had been a cursed woodcutter’s wife.

Some centuries ago, a local woodcutter was attacked by a giant snake while he was out gathering woods. Giant snakes have been a common theme in myth and legend and perhaps represent a memory of large snakes which once lived in Japan long ago. The woodcutter killed the snake and deciding on not letting a chance meal go to waste brought it home to eat.

The woodcutter told his wife not to eat any of the snake meat till he returned from gathering more wood. The wife disobeyed him and ate a little of the snake meat. It was so delicious she couldn’t stop eating of it and she ate the entire snake. Then she developed a powerful thirst. No amount of water could quench it. She drained all the water supply at her home and then the village’s supply too. She went to river to slake her unnatural thirst but to no avail. It was there that the wife transformed into a giant snake herself. She left her family and the village forever – or so it seemed.

Some time later after her family had passed away a biwa player was passing through the area. He stopped to rest and while he did so he decided to practice his skills. The snake wife heard his music and was charmed by it. She approached the biwa player and praised his skill. The biwa player being blind as many biwa players were in those days thought he was being addressed by one of the local women. There was a strange musty smell in the air but he thought nothing of it.

The snake wife asked him where he was going and he told her to the village which is now Sekikawa. She warned him not to do so. She revealed to him what she was and that she planned to destroy the village. She only told him this because she was enchanted by his music and wished to spare him. The snake wife then told him not to warn the villagers or he would pay with his life.

The biwa player left very afraid. However, instead of running off he decided to go to Sekikawa and warn them. He told the chief of the village his tale. Some say the biwa player vanished because he was a helpful spirit but others say he died from the snake wife’s magic for having told her secret.

The villagers eventually were able to kill the snake wife and they enshrined the biwa players personal effects in the local temple.

Centuries later in modern times it was thought after the flood that perhaps the old snake wife’s spirit was restless so the festival was held to appease her possibly angry spirit.

The festival began in 1980s and every year they parade two large snakes around the town. A smaller one is carried/dragged by children while the principle snake of 82.8 meters is carried by 500 people.

I was fortunate to bump into a local prominent citizen of the town who told me the story in his own words. He says he remembered the biwa player’s items being on display when he was boy though they aren’t now. I later had dinner with him and wife and several friends of his from Niigata City. Apparently for people of the town there are those who believe the story to be true – to a degree. It is interesting though the number of giant snake stories that abound in the ancient myths and the old legends of times closer to now.

Who knows? But as to the moral of the story with the woman who was changed into a giant snake for eating the snake her husband told her not to, I guess it would be -“Women, don’t eat a man’s snake without his permission” or something to that effect.

For more photos check here

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Giant Japanese Snake of Bamboo
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The woodcutter who killed a giant snake then his wife became one
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February 2, 2013 Posted by | festival, japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, japanese folklore, matsuri, travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fuji Fire Festival

At the end of August at the foot of Mt Fuji the town of Fujiyoshida puts on a festival in order to save the inhabitants of Eastern Japan from the wrath of Fuji’s resident goddess. It’s believed that if the Fujiyoshida Himatsuri (fire festival) is not done properly that the mountain goddess will become enraged and Mt Fuji will erupt. 

The festival is over 500 years old but its origins stretch far, far back into a dim and misty age when gods walked the earth and man was but a dream. In those distant times, Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu-omikami, came down from the heavens to control the area that would be one day be Japan. He took the daughter of a mountain god as his wife whose name was Konohanasakuya-hime. Konohana became pregnant in one night which made her husband suspicious. She took offense at this and had a doorless hut made which she placed herself in. She claimed if the children were not Ninigi’s they would harmed by the fire she would set. She then had the doorless hut set on fire but delivered three healthy children thus proving her innocence and her children’s divine lineage. 

 At Fujiyoshida’s fire festival one of the main elements of the festival are the taimatsu torches which symbolize the fire Konohana lit to prove her innocence. The other elements are the mikoshi (portable shrine) which carries her spirit and the portable shrine which is shaped like Mt Fuji itself. 

Another name for the festival is Chinka Taisai which means “to  extinguish fire.” The purpose at the end of the festival is to ensure that Mt. Fuji will not erupt for another year.

Despite its serene appearance, Mt Fuji is actually an active volcano. Not active like a Hawaiian volcano but not dormant either. The last time Mt Fuji erupt was 300 years ago. According to the latest research, the pressure in the magma chamber is higher than the last eruption. Whether this means an eruption will occur soon or not remains to be seen.

For more photos:

http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2012/09/fuji-fire-festival.html

September 21, 2012 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, japanese folklore, travel | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Demon’s Arm (Ogre of Rashomon)

Summertime is ghost-time in Japan. It’s time to tell scary stories in order combat the summer’s heat with the cold chill that only ghost stories can bring.

This story is a version of the Ogre of Rashomon as the story is named in Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales. I however refer to the titular creature as a demon based on the Japanese word “oni” which is demon/devil.

Hirosaki Neputa Festival shows Watanabe fighting the Demon of Rashomon Gate

Rashomon is a gate that once stood in Kyoto that lapsed into disrepair and became a place of ill repute. According to legend a demon took up residence there and snatched up passer-bys. Eventually it bit off more than it could chew when it tried to grab a samurai.

The photos were taken by me of the temple gate of Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo, a shot of a float from the Nebuta festival of Aomori showing a samurai fighting a demon (Raiko and Shuten-doji), and a depiction of the story on a float at the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture. The other images are 19th Century woodblock (ukiyoe) prints.

Check out my other ghost stories:

Japanese Ghost Stories

July 29, 2011 Posted by | demons, devils, folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese folklore, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, Japanese Horror, Storytelling, supernatural, weird | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Tree Spirit

Stories of ghosts, monsters, and things that go bump in the night were the favorite past time of Japanese in olden days as a way to cool down on hot summer nights.

This story is about a greedy woodcutter who encounters a tree spirit.

Trees are or were believed to become alive after a thousand years or so.

September 9, 2009 Posted by | folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese folklore, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, nature, Storytelling, trees, video, vlog, weird, youtube | Leave a comment