This is an unusual festival designated as an intangible folk cultural asset by Saitama Prefecture. Even in Japan, it is a rare celebration: plain wooden portable shrines are brought to gardens sprayed with water and rolled around vigorously until covered in mud. The spectacle of the youths rolling the shrines as they become slathered in mud is certainly a satisfying one—just watch out for flying mud!
The origins of this event are not well known; however, a banner dated with the year 8 of the Bunmei era of the Edo period (1825) suggests that there are about 200 years’ worth of history behind it. The festival, held in mid-July, is believed to carry the same meaning as many other summer festivals, which is the wish to ward off epidemics. Yaeda Shrine, which celebrates the festival, is a shrine to the deity Gozu Tenno¹ and has been known as a Gozu Tenno shrine since before the Meiji period. One festival held in honor of Gozu Tenno, famous nationwide, is the Gion Festival held by Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. Because the Gion Festival is held as a prayer to ward off epidemics, it is believed that the Doro Inkyo, which is also celebrated for Gozu Tenno, carries the same meaning. (Doro, by the way, means “mud”!)
1,Gozu Tenno is said to be the Indian god Gavagriva.
A characteristic of this festival is the plain wooden portable shrines, which are called Inkyo shrines. These shrines visit several homes that are treated as Mikisho², or drinking halls for the gods, as they make their procession³ through town.
Large quantities of water are sprayed in the yards of the Mikisho homes and the soil there becomes muddy. When the plain wooden Inkyo shrines arrive at each house, the bearers dump them into the mud, and they become steadily muddier. Thus, the rolling of the Inkyo shrines is called Doro Inkyo and is the highlight of this festival. The bearers roll the shrines round and round in the mud, stand them up vertically and shove them over, and mud flies in the air—it is a sight to behold! Once the shrines have visited each Mikisho, they return to Yaeda Shrine; this is called “Oyama Osame,” or “mountain finish.”
2,Mikisho are sites at which food and drink are offered to the gods during the procession.
3,Togyo (procession) is the patrol that portable shrines and festival floats are taken on.