Once April comes around, spring finally visits the mountain town of Yaotsu. The Yaotsu festival really marks the beginning of spring season in Yaotsu. It’s held over two days on the second Saturday and Sunday of April every year and is based around Ofune Shrine, which is said to house the guardian god of Yaotsu.
The Danjiri floats of Yaotsu are unique, consisting of three different Danjiri that are carried separately, then combined to create one ship. They represent the history of Yaotsu, which had once flourished as a town with river ports.
Even people who have left Yaotsu for work or other reasons come back to town for this festival, showing how important this spring event is to the people here.
When there are no festivals, these three Danjiri floats are stored in large warehouses and protected by the Ashiwata group, Hongo group and Kurose group. Then, once a year, for two days only, they make their appearance to the people.
The Ashiwata Danjiri float makes up the front end of the ship. Made to resemble a military ship, the flag of the rising sun is raised on the bow of the ship.
The Hongo group Danjiri float makes up the middle of the ship. Consisting of a square stage on tires, this is where the Ohayashi music and taiko drum performances take place. This stage stands 2 meters above the ground. The Danjiri float in the Hongo group’s charge is known for its elaborate decorations. It’s definitely worth taking a look at the winding dragon, carved by the famous artist called ‘Chobe in the Owari area'. (Owari is the old name of the Aichi prefecture area.)
Finally, the Kurose group’s Danjiri float forms the stern of the boat. It’s modeled on a merchant ship. A Japanese cleyera plant decorates the shaft. Gold foil, Japanese lacquer and other items make up the gorgeous float.
Yaotsu’s Danjiri are unique in that the tires on all of them are small compared to the top parts. This is because the roads they are paraded through aren’t very wide and this shape makes it easier to maneuver even the small roads. This shows the wisdom of the people who have been involved in the festival, doesn't it? Also, none of the Danjiri floats in Yaotsu use nails and instead are bound with wisteria vine. I have heard that people go to the mountains to collect wisteria vines right from the winter.
Each of the three Danjiri are paraded through the streets and then put together to form one large ship, on the Yaotsu Ohashi Bridge on Saturday and at the Yaotsu Town Office on Sunday. The highlight is on Sunday when the three Danjiri, after being put together into a ship, are vigorously rushed up the stone pavement that leads to the Ofune Shrine. This ‘rushing up’ is the most exciting part of the festival so you won’t want to miss it, and Danjiri carriers should pay more attention not to get pushed or fall down in the momentum.
In recent years the groups of men carrying the floats has gone down and so the students at Yaotsu High School have joined in, adding youth to the festival.