Gion Festival in Narita

Let me just start by saying, I am now convinced that no one else knows how to chuck a festival like the Japanese do. So let me do a quick introduction of this ‘Matsuri’ (Japanese for ‘Festival’) first.

The Narita Gion Matsuri Festival is held annually for 3 days around the first weekend of July, and is the biggest in its prefecture. It is held in Narita, more known for its International Airport than its rich agricultural harvests in the area. It is only approximately 1 hour by train from Tokyo, and suddenly you get rice fields, and plantations everywhere! This festival is a celebration or a tribute to Buddha if you like, by local farmers, to ensure successful harvests.

So, exactly what makes this festival so big? To begin with, it is a celebration that goes from morning until the night NON-STOP. So what is so great about that? Well, what about that the streetscapes are lined with festival food, that range from Takoyaki (Octopus balls), chocolate bananas, to Omatsuriyaki (Japanese pizza), to alcohol on the streets…

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This chocolate banana store even offers a deal where if you beat them in “Paper, Scissors, Rock”, you get another chocolate banana free of charge!! Unfortunate, my Finnish friend did not win.

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But you are still not that impressed? OK.. how about people dancing on the street in funky or should I say ‘traditional’ clothes:

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But, what is so great about that!? OK.. these dancers are followed by these massive so-called ‘Floats’ that resemble a stage on wheelbarrows, that feature dancers on the rooftop, and instrument players under them!! There are about 10 of these, each with different colours, size and shape, from all 10 towns in the prefecture.

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Still not impressed? Ok.. these floats are not motorised or just standing around. They are being pulled by perhaps 50-100 people out the front with say 500m of rope like this!

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People of all sizes ranging from men to women, and even kids, are not just towing these heavy ‘floats’ on flat roads, but they are also pulling them up steep slope and turning corners all in unison!! It’s even more impressive when they are all chanting what sounds like ‘Oyster’ or occasionally “Orea” to me, while running! Visitors get to stand right by the roadside within touching distance of the ropes, and get a real close-up view of the action. It can seem dangerous at times with these ropes brushing against sightseers by the roadside! To understand what I mean, have a look at this short YouTube video I edited, and also decide for yourself if they are really shouting “Oyster! Oyster!” 🙂

This goes on all day and until midnight. Since it is not so hot at night, the night event just becomes even more crowded and the show even more spectacular with pretty lights.

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Still not impressed? I think there is something wrong with you. Did I also mention free alcohol? With a small donation, you get to have some sake (Japanese rice wine). For the stingy ones, you can just drink a cup and walk away! It’s definitely the cheapest alcohol I have had since I came here! Now surely you are impressed!!

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The whole combination of performance, food, drinks, show and atmosphere of this festival , is simply amazing. I am surprised it isn’t as well known or emphasised in guide books like Lonely Planet as it should be. I would certainly come back here again next year if I happen to be around!

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