Hana Festivals are a treat of traditional dances, rituals, ceremonies, and visits by demons, ogres, spirits, gods and mythical beasts. The Hana Matsuri is a lively winter solstice festival known for the “Tehohe! Tehohe!” chanting that goes along the shamanistic dances that characterizes it, and that in most cases runs through the night. Virtually a must-stop for tourists seeking to further deepen the insights about the livelihood of the Japanese mountain dwellers.
The Hana Matsuri was first brought to the Oku-Mikawa region (Eastern Aichi) about 800 years ago by the warrior monks of Kumano and Kagahakusan. Back then the festival was a grand event called Okagura, and took place over seven days and nights and featured some 130 ritual dances and performances involving villagers from around the region. The amount of time, effort and money required to stage the event was enormous, and so it was only staged every seven or 20 years, using 100 gold Ryo coins (about 3.75 kg) and 100 bales of rice (about 6,000 kg), with more hidden in the forest in case they ran out.
About 400 years ago, the festival arrived at its present form, shortened to a one-day, one-night localized festival featuring up to 16 varied traditional dances, rituals, ceremonies, and visits by ogres, spirits, gods and mythical beasts. The Shinto rites and the dances remain essential parts of the festival, although the names and styles of the dances may differ according to location. Taking part is easy. Turn up, and you’ll be more than welcome to join in.
The reason for the name change from the Okagura to the Hana Festival has been lost to history, and there are a number of explanations floating around as to why and how it became the Hana, or Flower Festival. The children’s dances have a certain cuteness, while some of the demon dances featuring huge red devil masks may seem comical. The youth and adult dances represent a more traditional style of festivity. At the climax, boiling water is splashed around using straw brushes, and being sprayed is seen as most auspicious, bringing good health for a year. Although some of the rituals may seem strange or pointless, the traditions are adhered to in an effort to invoke the powers of the sun, and provide a traditional entertainment for all who come to enjoy.