Trekking with Becky

Keeping Demons Away in Uwajima, Japan

Japan, Japanese, Uwajima, ushioniHallowe’en has become incredibly popular in Japan, but keeping demons away is nothing new.  Every year, Okayama has their festival called Uraja, which is also known as Oni Matsuri (Demon Festival), but in a small city in southern Shikoku called Uwajima, where the penis shrine I found is and where the humane and natural bullfighting is, they have a ritual on the last Monday of October for keeping demons away.

 

Five years ago (already), I was there for the weekend since I was working temporarily in Imabari, the city with the towel museum about 3 hours away by train.  I got to see Japanese bullfighting, and since my weekends at the time were Sunday-Monday, I got to stick around for Uwajima’s Aki (Fall) Matsuri, during which they carry dragon-like floats around to keep demons away. Funnily enough, they’re called ushioni, which translates to bull demon.

They have the body of a bull and the head of a demon.  They are massive handmade things that require at least a dozen people to carry it on their shoulders. Before seeing all this in action, I was lost trying to find the shrine (not the penis one) where it was supposed to start.  To my luck and to my surprise, I heard taiko (Japanese drums) and people trekking up the steep road with a massive ushioni!  Yay!  They found me! ↓

Uwajima, Japan, ushioni

What a surprise this was!

 

Uwajima, Japan, ushioni

I never managed to count how many people it took to walk the the ushioni.

Anyway, groups like this go all around the city to keep demons, bad luck, etc. away.  This group let me trek with them for a while.  After a bit of coaxing, they let me, a WOMAN, carry it for a while.  It was hard since I was quite a bit shorter than everyone else, so it wouldn’t rest on my shoulder the way it did theirs.  I’d love to be able to do that all day provided that I’m the right height.

Anyway, they were astonished and impressed, and we went through residential areas, which means insanely narrow streets.  Have a look. ↓

ushioni, Japan, Uwajima

 

Uwajima, ushioni, Japan

 

If you give a small donation, they’ll scare away any negativity from your home (or business), like they did here. ↓

 

However, I really enjoyed the stop they made at this elementary school.  I’m sure they were happy to do this one for free.  This was sweet and adorable. 😀 Notice any kiddies running away in fear? ↓

 

This adorable group of kiddies eventually joined us.  Their job was to make lots of noise with their bamboo tubes. They loved making noise – letting everyone know that they’re coming and that this was your opportunity!  How often can you get away with making a ton of racket, eh? 😀

I had way too much fun with them.  Of course, the adults were busy taking care of the massive ushioni, and kid are always more fun. 😀

Japan, Japanese kids, matsuri, festival

 

They were so proud that their ushioni was the biggest in the city.  The little girl, whose face you can see, talked to me a lot.  Her name’s Hanami, which is probably written to mean beautiful flower.  She was super-dee-duper sweet! 😀

Japan, temple, festival

I left the group up in the temple grounds here, and trekked around the city more before calling it a day.

 

Shortly before we parted, we bumped into these two groups.  Notice how the first one even requires over a dozen people to support it.  The second one was about half the size of their monstrous ushioni and of course, the kids noticed.  They were quick to share their observations with each other about how theirs was much bigger…after they said goodbye, of course.

Japan, festival, matsuri, Uwajima, ushioni

Japan, festival, matsuri, ushioni, Uwajima

 

This cute pink one was the last one I saw, but this was after I parted ways with the group. ↓

Japan, festival, ushioni, Uwajima

Notice how you need a dozen people just for this small one.

 

My first weekend there, I had a bit of time to just to trek near the train station.  I wandered around the shopping arcade, and I couldn’t help but notice the ushioni presence.

Uwajima, Japan

 

Uwajima, manhole cover, sewer, JapanThere was a dragon head on every column, and I came across ushioni sewers.  This was the nicest one. →

Almost every city I’ve been to in Japan has unique sewer covers. I really miss that about Japan.  It’s just one of the great ways they break up every day monotony with art.

Uwajima also has ushioni on their taxis. 😀

 

Back in the shopping arcade, I eventually stumbled upon a goldmine; little did I know that they were for the upcoming annual fall festival. I couldn’t believe it.  I had actually found an ushioni shop?!  I asked the staff if I could take pictures, and they didn’t mind at all. 😀

It took me a few seconds to let what I had just stumbled upon sink in.

 

Japan, ushioni, Uwajima

For a customer named Okamoto.

 

ushioni, Japan, Uwajima

Hanging to dry before getting their horns finished.

ushioni, Uwajima, Japan

Final coats applied.

 

Uwajima, Japan, ushioni

Done, I think.

 

ushioni, Uwajima, Japan

If this doesn’t keep demons away, what will?

ushioni, Uwajima, Japan

An old ushioni head on display.

It just occurred to me now as I’m finishing this post, but based on what I saw on this unforgettable trek, people appeared to truly believe in this – that the ritual, tradition, superstition, or whatever is the best word to call this – is really keeping demons away.  The children, sure, but the adults?

There’s no question that people truly believed this centuries ago, but now…I can’t help but wonder just how many people participate for fun – for the sake of tradition, or to make their elders happy.  I wish it had dawned on me to ask.

 

Would you participate even if you didn’t believe in this?

 

 

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