Okutsuhime Shrine Festival in Wajima

Bathing a portable shrine in the ocean

By Alena Eckelmann    - 4 min read
When: Late Aug 2021

Young men dressed in women's clothes and with make-up on their faces carry a portable shrine into the ocean at Sodegahama Beach. Then small children on shore pull long ropes attached the shrine back and forth. This is the Okutsuhime Shrine Festival, the first in a series of four shrine festivals in Wajima. What a spectacle to watch; full of excitement and great fun.

Late summer is a perfect time to visit the Wajima area of the Noto Peninsula to enjoy some great spectacle at the Wajima Grand Festivals. Yes, it is not one but four festivals related to local shrines that take place from August 22 to 25 each year.

The festive activities start with the Okutsuhime Shrine Festival. Here is the legend that gave reason to this festival:

A Shinto God-Princess (hime means princess in Japanese) lived on Hegura Island about 50 km off the coast of the Noto Peninsula, Her Shinto God-Prince lived on the land in Wajima. They were very much in love but sadly, they were allowed to meet only once a year.

The fisherman of Wajima wanted to help the lovers find each other by carrying giant lanterns to brighten the night. Giant candles became giant lanterns (kikiro) in the shape of votive candles. Well, it has been said that they get intimate and the meeting of the two results in the birth of a new god.

Where there is love, there is jealousy. The God-Prince got jealous of the young, healthy local men who carried the portable shrine (mikoshi) with the God-Princess. To attract the wrath of a Shinto God is a terrible thing. Hence, the local men started to dress as women, and wore make-up like women. They still do this to this day making for a fun atmosphere.

After the Shinto ritual, a group of local children and teenagers performs a vigorous taiko drumming show.

The mikoshi is carried from Okutsuhime Shrine to Sodegahama Beach, where a Shinto priest conducts a purification ritual before the shrine enters the water of the ocean.

Then the action starts for good: the young men carry the shrine down the beach lined to both sides for local nobleman, then through a Shinto gate and into the water of the ocean.

A rope is attached to the mikoshi which is held by young children who aim to prevent the men from entering the water.

Like this the mikoshi is carried in and out of the ocean many times, until finally it is taken back ashore and brought to a temporary shrine for one night. The locals must enjoy this fun event a lot because they repeat it a second time of the following day.

Let legend by legend, the locals celebrate this shrine festival at the end of the fishing season to say thank you to the Shinto-Gods (kami-sama) for helping them to catch a lot of fish, stay accident free, and bring good fortune to their homes.

If you want to search for the princess, then make a trip to Hegura Island! It is just 2 km by 1 km in size and less than 100 people live there. A ferry takes locals and guests from Wajima Port to Hegura Port in 1h30min. Beware! There is only one ferry in the morning going to the island and one ferry in the evening coming back to Wajima. What to do if you get bored of princess hunt? Locals say that Hegura Island is a good spot for angling and bird-watching!

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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Kim B 5 months ago
This would be such an interesting event to attend!