I’m going to lend the video to someone within a week anyway… just in case.

Japan is home to all kinds of festivals from snow festivals and lantern festivals to fight festivals and naked festivals. But none of them are quite like the Sleeping Festival (Nematsuri) in Taharashi City, Aichi Prefecture… At least, I assume that’s the case because hardly anyone has ever seen it to know for sure.

The oldest record of this Sleeping Festival is from 1707 but even back then it was stated that the origin of the festival is unknown, making it potentially much older. The rituals involved have changed somewhat over the centuries but essentially consist of Shinto priests and/or others carrying something between Kobe Omiyashinmeisha Shrine and Hisamaru Shrine on certain days that correspond to the Lunar New Year. In its current form, a procession of about 10 people carries a sacred object in a box from Hisamaru to Omiyashinmeisha and then back again.

▼ The shrines are only about 550 meters (0.3 miles) apart but the procession takes about half an hour to make a one-way journey.

There are also rituals held when the object leaves Hisamaru, arrives at Omiyashinmeisha, leaves Omiyashinmeisha the next day, and returns to Hisamaru, as well as a final ritual to confirm the successful movement of the object. However, none of this should be seen by anyone and that is one detail of the Sleeping Festival that has hardly changed for centuries.

In fact, the reason it’s called the Sleeping Festival is that when it’s happening, everyone stays home and keeps their doors and windows shut, so it appears as if everyone is sleeping. The shrines even put up signs during the time of the festival to warn everyone not to come near the premises or even look in its general direction. This is because it is said anyone who sets their eyes on this festival will meet with serious misfortune.

“Hi! Name’s misfortune. Seriously nice to meet ya!”

A few decades ago an elementary school principal went to visit his friend who was a priest during the Sleeping Festival and suffered a stroke which required a year to recover from. In 1929, a man building a smokestack for a factory looked down and saw the Slumber Festival, mocking it and the gods for not striking him down then and there. The next day he fell to his death. In the 1930s, a Korean person who was unfamiliar with the festival saw it while hanging some laundry out to dry. They then developed a fever which they recovered from only after an exorcism was performed.

It was also said that during the Meiji Restoration, when traditional Japanese customs were falling out of favor to more modern Western trends, the viewing restriction was lifted. However, after someone who saw the festival died, they strictly enforced it once again.

Granted, these anecdotes all have a very urban-legend vibe to them, but people still take it quite seriously. Teachers tell kids not to go out when its happening and most of the locals have never seen the Sleeping Festival for their entire lives. Accidents do happen from time to time, however, so a special forgiveness ceremony is held afterward for those who happened to have caught a glimpse of it to reset their luck.

Now that everyone’s up to speed on the Sleeping Festival and the dangers that simply setting your eyes on it might hold, let’s all take a look at it! For the first time ever, the shrines have allowed a TV crew to film the festival.

▼ The festival itself can be seen about two minutes into the segment.

According to the organizers, only looking at the real thing in person is bad luck, and watching a video doesn’t hold the same accursed potential. The reason that they wanted their forbidden-to-view festival to finally be viewed is that its future is in jeopardy. Turns out, when you forbid everyone from seeing your festival and no one knows what goes on in it, it’s really hard to find new people to carry it on. This begs the question, why even bother carrying on a festival that brings bad luck to people?

Although the exact origins of the festival itself are unclear, it is known to be based on the story of Prince Hisamura who was forced to flee a major civil war during the 14th century. He ended up in this area and was taken in by the local nobility and townsfolk. He spent the rest of his days dressed as a woman to avoid capture, and his skin was afflicted with a purple rash by whatever he used to make it look whiter.

His appearance was so sad that when he took his daily walks around Omiyashinmeisha the townsfolk averted their eyes out of pity. It could also be said that looking at him was bad luck in that whoever did might be accused of harboring a fugitive and face the penalty should the prince ever be discovered.

▼ The story of Prince Hisamaru and the Sleeping Festival, which unfortunately is only in Japanese.

So, in that way, the Sleeping Festival serves as a reminder of the community’s ability to band together and help someone out in need. And while its future might be in danger now, they’ve somehow managed to keep it going this way for longer than anyone knows, so perhaps they can find a way.

I’d personally recommend they get some of those avatar robots that work at Family Mart to carry the sacred objects and let people help via VR or remote control. That way the tradition can continue and no one has to look directly at it ever again!

Sources: TBS News Dig, Kobe City Minkan
Featured image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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