Mar 012013
 

Sagicho Matsuri in Omi-Hachiman City dates back to medieval times. It is said that Oda Nobunaga (a powerful warlord who ruled Japan in 16th century) enjoyed this festival himself.

At those times, the festival was held a short distance from current place, at the foot of the Azuchi Hill where Nobunaga’s huge castle stood. After his death and burning of the castle, the townspeople moved to the current place where general Toyotomi Hidetsugu built his fortress.

The origins

Sagicho is a pile of straw or a ceremony in shrines during which new year’s decorations (also made usually made from straw). Such events (sometimes called “tondo”) are held throughout Japan on January 15th or 18th, but in some places however the ceremony became more and more elaborate and was moved to a different day. Such is the festival of the Himure Hachiman Shrine which became a yearly festival of the townspeople of Omihachiman.

Each of the thirteen neighborhoods of the old castle town prepare their own platform. Each is decorated with an edifice of a different animal from Chinese zodiac.

Ashes to ashes

The most disturbing thing about Sagicho Matsuri is that all those decorations that took months to prepare are burnt in one evening.

Burning the decorations on Sagicho Matsuri

The festival in 2011

Sagicho Matsuri in 2011 took place the day after the Great Tohoku Earthquake. It was the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit which was supposed to bring a calm and peaceful times after the previous Year of the Tiger. It did not.

3rd weekend of March
10:00 – 22:00

Practical information

Omi Hachiman Sagicho Matsuri takes place on the third weekend of March in the old town area of the Ōmihachiman city around Muro-Hachiman shrine (牟呂八幡社). The nearest train station is JR Omihachiman which is barely 35 minutes from Kyoto on regular express train. It takes about 30 minutes by foot to reach the shrine, but you might encounter festival activities on the way.

Saturday is for parade and platform decorations contest, but there is a lot of lively dancing anyway. Sunday is when violent things start to happen. It is the day that fight “kenka” starts and decorations get broken.

The climax of the festival (Sunday evening, on the premises of the shrine) is attended by large number of people, but surprisingly very few people visit the town during the day.

The official website for Sagicho Matsuri is in Japanese only, but you might want to check the festival schedule.

Related external links

  7 Responses to “Sagicho Matsuri – fire festival in Omihachiman”

  1. The Sagicho Matsuri is probably somewhere in my top-5 list of matsuris … together with the Hachiman Matsuri that happens at the same location in mid-April (see http://www.stefansblog.com/hachiman-matsuri/ ).
    ps: nice website by the way – glad to see i am not the only matsuri otaku ;-) !

    • Hello Stefan!

      Thanks for dropping by and for the comment! I’ve been using your site as a reference for a long time (you know about it, cause I’ve been linking to your articles). But sadly, there is not much new content there. :(

      I went to Hachiman Matsuri last year and had an argument with a local to whom I said I liked Sagicho Matsuri more. He was exclaiming that Sagicho is only 500 years old while Hachiman Festival is 1200 years old and that is the true “yamato soul” :)

      • Haha! Better not argue too much with those Omihachiman guys … half of them look like they belong to the yakuza ;-) ! – Both those events have their own charm – i like both of them! Tradition is nice but new trends and things aren’t too bad either (like Yasokoi for example), Just because something isn’t old doesn’t mean it’s not as good or fun.

        About my website – nobody seems to be too interested in matsuris, so i gave up blogging about it; too much work! Still going to watch them though and shoot pictures. Actually planning on going to see the Hachiman matsuri again this Sunday .. if the weather is alright.

        It’s my last year here in Japan, so i am planning on going to see all my favorite festivals (Goshogawara Nebuta matsuri, Awa Odori, etc) one last time.

        Regards,
        Stefan

  2. We went in 2013, and it was amazing. Lots of energy (and alcohol). We did interviews with one of the teams, and made a short documentary about Sagicho: http://wherenextjapan.com/2013/04/27/challengers-of-sagicho-festival/

    It’s hard to do justice to the event on the night, but hopefully this gives some idea of what it was like ^^

    • Congratulations on your great video reportage! You put lots of work into it.

      In 2011, there were almost no foreigners at Sagicho Festival until the Sunday evening when crowds of gaijin came from Kyoto to dance naked around bonfires. :)

      I am glad to see that foreigners’ engagement in Omihachiman has increased since that time. Or maybe Sagicho Matsuri that year was different because of the earthquake?

      • Thanks for your kind comments and for watching ^^ A lot of people did go home that year, so maybe that’s true.

        What you wrote about people releasing their aggression on the rabbit icons has really stuck in my mind. March 11, was a horrific day for everyone in Japan… I think I would have taken it out on the rabbit too, if I’d gone that year :(

        • Felicity, in 2011 Sagicho Matsuri was the very next day after the big earthquake and tsunami hit. People did not have time to go home yet, they were rather in shock. And surprisingly the festival was not canceled.

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