There are many elements of Japanese folklore that instantly grab the attention, but at this time of year, thanks to the upcoming Setsubun celebrations it is probably the ‘oni’ – roughly translated as demon or ogre – that is the greatest focus. At the beginning of Spring you can often find depictions of these grotesque creatures, with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads, but you are unlikely to see as many of them as you do at the Toyohashi Demon Festival.
The Toyohashi Demon Festival, or ‘Oni Matsuri’, has been held in Akumi Kanbe Shinmeisha Shrine in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture since 940CE and celebrates a great rivalry between two of the more famous oni, Aka-oni (red demon) and Tengu (the long nosed demon). The legend has it that Susanoo-no-mikoto, a red demon and a god of destructiuon arrived in the high heavenly plains of Takamagahara and laid waste to the fields there, including the granary stores.
Not happy with this, a god of martial arts, Sarutahiko-no-mikoto, the Tengu oni, decided to chasten this interloper by defeating him in battle and thus correcting the world of the gods. The other oni were so pleased with this turn of events that they held an impromptu kagura dance session. This story, depicting the the defeat of one who desroyed valuable foods was coopted into this shinto festival in order to prey for a good harvest in the coming year.
The Toyohashi Demon festival runs for two days, fro0m February 10th and February 11th. The first day is the festival’s eve and begins around 8:30am and includes dances and displays by local children, and the various demons are summoned, including Kuroi-oni (black demon) and Aoi-oni (blue demon, though he is in actual fact more of a green).
On the 11th, a day that happene to be National Foundation Day, meaning most of us will have a day off work, falls the festival proper. This begins again at 8:30am with a kagura Shinto theatrical dance, with many of these performed throughout the day. At various points there is a scattering of candy to ward off evil demons, but most people will be awaiting the main event at 2pm.
The ‘Aka-oni to Tengu no karakai’ or ‘the rivalry between the red demon and the long nose demon’ depicts the aforementioned battle between the two oni, with the red demon repeatedly provoking his opponent. The fight, of course, culminates in his defeat, and he runs away casting out candy as well as grain flower in his wake, meaning that if you want to get some of the lucky candy, be prepared to get white and dusty!
The festival itself continues until 10pm, with more dances and drumming sessions throughout the evening, though it is the ‘Aka-oni to Tengu no karakai’ that most people will have come to watch.