Hiroshima Grand Inoko Festival

ByMatt Mangham
Oct 29, 2018

Hiroshima Grand Inoko Festival

Inoko Festivals are a familiar feature of autumn across western Japan. Hiroshima has been running its own Grand Inoko festival since 1990, although there was a 17-year hiatus prior to 2013. This means the 2023 festival marks the 10th anniversary and so should be extra special.

What Are Inoko Festivals?

With roots in ancient Chinese harvest festivals celebrated in the tenth lunar month (the month of the boar), Inoko celebrations were observed in Japan as early as the Heian period. Over time, they developed into several distinct expressions — from the festival of the court down to that of the common folk. It’s this latter version that still leads crowds of children in red or blue ‘happi’ through the streets of their neighborhoods each autumn. Following the sound of drums, they carry a stone or heavy wooden weight supported by ropes. At each crossroads, the children pause to raise and drop the stone repeatedly, hammering the ground rhythmically as they chant ‘Inoko, Inoko, Inoko Mochi Tsuite, Hanjose, Hanjose!’ This means, roughly, “Month of the boar, month of the boar, make rice cakes and prosper, prosper!” At the end of the procession, the adults in charge pass out snacks and the children go home tired and happy.

The festival has ritual elements associated with harvest, continued fertility, and protection from fire. But if you ask the children what it all means, they’re no more likely to have an answer than a child elsewhere might start to pick apart the strands of Celtic lore and medieval superstition lurking behind Halloween. The point, from the children’s perspective, is the noise and the fun and the bag of treats. And that noise and fun, as well as a wish to revive the spirit of childhood on a grand scale, is the impetus for Hiroshima’s Grand Inoko Festival.

About the Grand Inoko Festival

In place of the tired grandfather wheeling a drum up and down the street, the music at the festival in Hiroshima includes both traditional koto and flute as well as drums and more avant-garde performances. The festivities also last longer and there’s generally a lot more sake around. But, most importantly, the stone at the heart of inoko has been reborn as a one-and-a-half-ton rock suspended by ropes from 88 bamboo poles, each 13 meters tall and arranged in a circle at the center of Fukuromachi Park — a short walk south of the Hondori shopping arcade. When the chanting begins and that boulder starts leaping up and down as the bamboo thrashes overhead, the child in you will be completely thrilled.

What to Expect

On Saturday, November 4, a children’s Inoko parade will kick things off from 11:00 a.m., moving through Hondori and Kinzagai. At 3:00 p.m., kids and parents are invited to lend a hand at the first raising and dropping of the stone. They can even pose for pictures atop the thing — that’s my own daughter at the top of this article. Children also have the chance to try their hand at making traditional bamboo toys like dragonflies and flutes or roasting marshmallows on bamboo skewers.

Adults will get funny looks if they ask for a marshmallow. Don’t worry. If you’re hungry, you’ll find plenty to satisfy you at the festival’s food stalls. They sell udon, wild boar, okonomiyaki, a “specialty grill,” and the aforementioned sake, served (naturally enough) in bamboo cups. The food stalls open around the same time the parade begins.

To finish the celebrations on Saturday, there will be a ritual dedication called Omote-Syukusai, which starts at 6:30 p.m. This is a fusion of music, dance, art, and more. In previous years, this has finished at 8:10 p.m.

The festivities will continue on Sunday with more events. There will be a second raising of the great stone at 1:00 p.m. — this one for the locals rather than for kids and their families. This is followed by another parade (this time with a drum performance) from Hondori to Fukuromachi Park at 5:40 p.m.

Things wrap up on Sunday evening. At 6:00 p.m., there will be another ritual dedication, called Ura-Syukasai. Attendees then receive traditional mochi cakes before the Tsunakiri (the grand finale), which features the ceremonial cutting of the ropes at 7:30 p.m.

Whatever time you drop by, you’ll find something to do, eat, listen to, or watch. It’s worth rolling it into a day downtown and wandering to and from the festival over the course of a long afternoon and evening. You’ll find the festival is great fun and offers a real sense of community in the middle of the city.

Put it on your calendar! 


Additional Information

Location: Fukuromachi Park, three blocks south of Hondori and one block west of Namikidori.

Time: Saturday, November 4 and Sunday, November 5 from 11:00 a.m. to about 8:10 p.m.

Access: Nearby parking is all paid. Since the park is in the heart of downtown, public transportation to Hondori is far and away the easiest option.

Admission: The food stalls charge. Otherwise, this event is free.

Telephone: +81-(0)82-545-7611

Website: (Japanese) www.cetra.jp/ooinoko/index.html (English, limited information) www.cetra.jp/ooinoko/en_index.html

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