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Visit Japan at any time of year and you will surely encounter matsuri – festivals. There are thousands of matsuri – many with sacred or historical origins, and others with more recent, often commercial foundations. The unique Kebesu Festival is one of the former type.
Nobody knows how the Kebesu Festival originated or even when it started. However, it is now the most recognized festival in the Kunisaki Peninsula. Taking place once a year on the 14th October, the Kebesu Festival is essentially a re-enactment of an ancient story, in which two sides – the touba and the kebesu, battle one another.
Touba: originally believed to be gods of protection. It is the name touba is given to the neighborhood in charge of running the festival for that year. The touba changes every year to another area.
Kebesu: the god of harvest.
Shida: fern branches that are set alight
Nengaku-no-retsu: a chorus of people in the background playing traditional musical instruments
2:00pm on the festival day, the assigned touba depart to the Kushiku Shrine where the festival will take place.
6 :00pm, the chosen kebesu immerses himself in the sea to spiritually purify his body.
7 :00pm, the newly purified kebesu arrives at the Kushiku Shrine.
The priest masks the kebesu’s face and, using his fingers, traces the character for ‘win’ on the kebesu’s back. The priest then hits the kebesu’s back with the palm of his hand, at which point the god kebesu supposedly enters and possesses the body of the chosen human representative.
The kebesu then moves towards the fire accompanied by the nengaku-no-retsu, and tries to get into the fire. The touba stop him, pushing him back towards the nengaku-no-retsu. The actors repeat this a total of nine times before the kebesu pretends to finally enter the fire.
At this point, the touba set fire to their shida branches, before running around in a sacred frenzy. The performance ends with the touba hitting the branches on the ground and reciting the fortune for the next year’s harvest.
People believe that if any of the sparks from the fire come into contact with your body, you will heal any ills and remain healthy!
You can watch the performance from the moment of the kebesu’s entrance to the shrine at 7pm. I highly recommend you wear a hat or other protective clothing – and take extra care to avoid flammable clothing or fabrics!
With over a thousand years of Buddhist history, the Kunisaki region is first and foremost famous for its beautiful temples. Tucked away amidst lush, natural surroundings, the Futagoji and Rurikoji temples are perhaps the area’s most well-known and are well worth a visit.
For food and gift shopping, I suggest a stop at the ‘Michi-no-Eki Kunisaki’ rest area, by the station. The complex has restaurants, a picnic area, lovely local souvenirs to buy, and if you’re an outdoorsy type, you can even rent bicycles to get the most out of the area’s stunning surroundings. For lovers of Japanese food, the locally caught tachiuo (hairtail fish) at the Gintachi-no-Sato seafood restaurant is simply a must-try!
14th October 2018 (Sunday), from 7pm.
Kushiku Shrine:〒872-1406, 1562 Kunimimachi Kushiku, Kunisaki-shi, Ōita-ken 872-1406
Directions & maps available from the Kunisaki Tourism Office:
TEL: +81 0978-72-5168,
It’s often the lesser-known places we visit that we remember the most, and I certainly think this is true of the Kunisaki area. With fairy-tale natural beauty, great food, and one of the most mysterious matsuri in all the country, what more could you possibly want from a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun?
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