Bonden Festival

Bonden Festival (Bonden Matsuri)

February 16-17
At the Bonden (or Bonten) Festival at Yokote in the Akita Prefecture of Japan, each district of the city has a team of 20-30 young men to carry its bonden in a race to the Asahiokayama-jinja shrine. The bonden is a ten-foot bamboo pole, draped with heavy cloth and topped by a circular platform holding a figure of the Animal of the Year, a custom inspired by the traditional east Asian calendar in which each year is named after a particular animal (the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, monkey, cock, dog, or boar). As the groups make their way through the city, several from each team carry the bonden, passing it to teammates when they tire. Those carrying the bonden shake and spin it as they go, gradually increasing their pace until, at the end, they are running. The steep incline that leads to the Shinto shrine constitutes the last leg of the race. Here the racers begin to jostle one another, often pushing members of competing teams to the ground in a frenzy to be the first to the top. The team that arrives first wins the privilege of offering its bonden to the kami, or god.
There are bonden festivals elsewhere in Japan. At the Kawawatari Bonden Festival, for example, the bonden must be ferried across the river to a shrine on the far bank.
CONTACTS:
Japan National Tourist Organization
1 Rockefeller Pl., Ste. 1250
New York, NY 10020
212-757-5640; fax: 212-307-6754
www.jnto.go.jp
Daily Yomiuri Online (Japanese online newspaper)
Japan
81-6-6366-1896; fax: 81-6-6366-1897
www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy
SOURCES:
IllFestJapan-1993, p. 23
JapanFest-1965, p. 128
YrJapanFest-1974, p. 29