I sat on a lawn facing a man-made beach. I had takoyaki in a plastic container and a small bottle of Coke. I wished I brought a book to read while I waited for the event to start. It was 19 degrees Celsius on a windy day in Kamezaki. Sometimes the sun would show up, sometimes it would hide behind the clouds. I still had 45 minutes to wait before the event started.
It was the 4th of May and the last day of Shiohimatsuri in Handa City, Aichi. I was waiting for the five parade floats that would be drawn to the beach. Each float has intricate sculptures and embroidered curtains. According to a legend, the Shiohi beach is the area where the first emperor of Japan set foot on from the ocean. The tradition of the Kamezaki Shiohimatsuri has been passed on for more than 300 years.
I heard chanting from afar which was a signal for me to get up from my waiting spot and head on to where most people had been standing. I saw men in traditional garment. This is actually an all-male festival. I noticed that almost all of them were wearing the jika-tabi footwear. On top of the floats, there were some children aboard. It took a long time before all the floats came together. When all five were in view, the main event started.
The drawing of the floats to the beach was the main attraction. The men assigned to each float started pulling it to the beach. At one point, the men couldn’t get it to the sea border as the bottom part of the float got stuck deep into the wet sand. The other groups rushed to the rescue. The crowd cheered when the float successfully made it.
The shiohimatsuri floats have been considered a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. The unity the men showed drawing the floats to the beach was an attractive sight. Most of my travels would usually focus on sightseeing, but this time I kind of missed watching Japanese festivals and seeing the locals in action. Witnessing this kind of festival gives me a deeper look at Japan’s traditional culture.