Views Japan’s Local Festivals: Spirit and Ceremony
Building a Dragon God (Photo Gallery)

Munakata Satoshi (Photographs)[Profile]

[2016.09.29] Read in: 日本語 | ESPAÑOL | Русский |

It takes a day and a half to construct the giant dragon god used in the Suneori Amagoi Festival. See how it happens with our photographs.

Old and New Residents Come Together

In the Suneori Amagoi Festival, participants carry a giant model of a dragon god through the streets, making a new one from scratch every four years before the event is held. In 2013, the Japan Center for Regional Development awarded the festival—held in Tsurugashima, Saitama Prefecture—its grand prize for local events. Once every four years, a special ritual on the day of the festival transforms the beast into a dragon god.

Residents supply the materials for the dragon, which is 36 meters long and weighs 3 tons. This includes 70 mōsōchiku bamboo poles for the framework, 570 bundles of straw for the body, and kumazasa bamboo plants and other greenery to represent the scaly skin. The barley for the straw is now cultivated especially for the festival, as local farmers do not grow it any more as a cash crop.

As the festival was revived after a hiatus of over a decade and is only held once every four years, the required techniques can be hard to pass on to later generations. An additional problem is that many current residents have moved in from other locations. The festival committee tackles these issues with special training sessions, bringing longtime and new citizens together to mingle and learn the traditions.

It takes a day and a half for 300 residents of all ages to construct the dragon, which lives just half a day as a dragon god before being demolished and symbolically ascending to heaven. Yet, although brief, the two days that local people spend together every four years to pass on a time-honored tradition help to strengthen community spirit and pride.

Constructing the body with bamboo poles and straw.

The gaping mouth is more than 1.5 meters long, so the poles must be firmly lashed together.

The straw ears are tightly woven to prevent them from folding easily.

For the eyes and other parts requiring more detailed work, participants look at past photographs and get advice from experienced locals.

Residents work on the fearsome mouth of the dragon.

The completed nose waiting to be fixed in place.

The golden jewels said to be the source of the dragon god’s rainmaking power.

On the morning of the festival, children help to attach the bamboo plant scales.

After a day and a half of effort, the dragon god is complete.

Participants drink sake in the traditional kagami-biraki (opening of the mirror) at Shirahige Shrine before the festival begins. Here the dragon is transformed into a dragon god.

Shouldered by 300 local men, the dragon god really seems to be alive.

The Suneori Amagoi Festival is a spectacle that strengthens community ties.

  • [2016.09.29]

Born in 1947. Has worked as a freelance photographer since 1976. Member of Japan Professional Photographers Society and the Japan Society for Arts and History of Photography. Takes photographs from a base in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, with a principal focus on folklore-related themes. Works include Munakata Satoshi shashinshū: Kawagoe 3-maki setto (Munakata Satoshi Photograph Collection: Kawagoe 3-Volume Set)

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