This festival lantern costs well over a month's worth of hard work and late nights, mentions a 60-something woman who just befriended you. It also took reams of crumpled washi, and swaths of clothing stained red with food dye, she informs. Thanking her for the information, you join your new friend's team at the behest of everyone in it as they parade their boast-worthy lantern through town.
Along the way, you see another lantern-toting group, and another, and yet another. The lanterns must be over five meters tall, and you're just now getting to wondering why they all have other multiple meters' worth of thick tree trunks jutting out from the bottom. Taking a closer look at the other teams as you pass them by, you realize that each group's happi and hairstyles are a little different, the songs and chants they are shouting, the drumbeats they are playing, the dances they are performing, unique to each.
These groups represent different areas of Oyabe City, a rural community in western Toyama. The lanterns they are pulling around are the physical manifestations of their hopes for plentiful crops, and their nod of respect to a 360-year-old summer tradition. Truly, the finished products are a sight to behold. Their creators sure think so. You can tell by the way they invite you to look at and listen about their work as they pour you a glass or ten of sake.
Your team meanders toward the festival's main square, and sets their lantern down on one end of the long event plaza as evening sets in. More sake is poured and stories are shared, but you notice the shouts of every team getting louder right as an energetic announcement comes over the loudspeaker. As the crowd's volume reaches a new height, a confused glance around the event space unexpectedly notifies you of a very prominent, and very centrally located fire station with fighters at the ready.
Answering the loudspeaker's call, the majority of your team moves swiftly to their lantern's tree trunks. Grabbing ropes, many line up in front of their masterpiece. Others climb up the lantern, some to the top and sides, the leader to the front. You're hurried to a place on the side of the lantern, and it's then you realize that across from you on the long event plaza strip is another group going through the same procedures.
Shouting increases and your lantern is now bouncing with the jumping pulls of your very excited, and very inebriated, team. You jolt forward, the lantern's speed suddenly increasing at a startling rate. Someone, somewhere, commands everyone to grab onto something and hold tight. You're thrown back as the front of your lantern – unimaginable weight of tree trunks, teammates, and all – rears up into the night sky, and swiftly approaches the opposing team.
Another command is given but impossible for you to hear through all the commotion. Still hanging on tight, you're pushed forward as the lantern front falls. There's a satisfying crunch, and bursts of light and flame, as lantern bulbs explode under the crushing attack. It soon becomes quite clear that your team has successfully maimed the opposing group's hard work. There are cries of celebration, and shouts from firefighters putting out small blazes here and there, as the master of ceremonies calls an end to the round. The energy is high, and the night has just begun. This is the Toyama Fighting Lantern Festival, or the Tsuzawa Yotaka Andon Matsuri.