The first rule of fight festival is: No fighting!

This year has seen the return of many events and festivals across Japan, and one such restarted event was the Niihama Taiko Festival, held every autumn in Niihama City, Ehime Prefecture. From 15 to 18 October, the festival ran for the first time in three years.

Like many Japanese local festivals, large wooden floats known as “dashi” are carried through the streets by dozens of people. However, the Niihama floats, known as “taikodai” are somewhat distinct in that they’re roughly five meters (16 feet) tall and gold-colored.

▼ The Niihama floats were showcased at a special regional festival show held at Tokyo Dome in 2019

Another unique feature of this festival is that it has roots as a “fight festival” (kenka matsuri), a type of festival in which floats often aggressively bump into one another. The way this is done varies from festival to festival, but for all intents and purposes, no actual fist-fighting takes place.

For example, one of the more famous fight festivals is the Nada Kenka Matsuri held in Himeji City. Here, teams carry floats in an area of Matsubara-Hachiman Shrine and attempt to destroy each other’s dashi while others help prevent the floats from tipping over with long sticks…or is it “to tip over other floats with long sticks?”

▼ This could just be a Thunderdome-type thing with no real rules.

Another style of fight festival frivolity is the “hachiawase” which involves two teams, each carrying a float, running straight into each other as fast and hard as they can. NFL fans in particular will probably get a kick out of this one.

▼ Hachiawase is still done with gusto at the Matsuyama Local Festival, also in Ehime Prefecture

The Niihama Taiko Festival phased out the hachiawase 12 years ago and has been gradually distancing itself from that style of event, but it appears you can take the fight out of the fight festival but you can’t take the fight festival out of the…fight, or something like that.

The point is that this year saw periodic brawls break out among paraders and spectators during the event and other aggressive behavior such as throwing empty beer cans at people and someone fighting with their kid on their shoulders was caught on video. Local fire and police departments reported that 30 people were taken to hospital over the three days.

▼ Although not a full-on hachiawase, floats do still intentionally collide at lower speeds during the Niihama Taiko Festival

For comparison’s sake, scouring news reports from festivals of past years, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of hospitalizations due to actual fights. Even this video from 2018 shows the same two groups of people ramming floats, with the very noticeable lack of anyone taking swings at each other. Oddly enough, this slice of chaos looks downright organized by comparison.

▼ The ramming begins around seven-and-a-half minutes in

So, it would seem that this year’s incidents did mark an uptick in violent behavior at this fight festival. This has dismayed residents who would like to bring their families to watch the very decorative floats without having to worry about getting caught in the middle of a brawl.

Perhaps it’s just a side effect of the lost time from the pandemic, and everyone’s pent-up passion got out of hand. If so, hopefully, we can expect things to calm down next year at the Niihama Taiko Festival, so if it’s your first time at a fight festival, you won’t have to fight.

Source: FNN Online
Top image: Pakutaso
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