With the changing of the seasons comes much of the hustle and bustle of Ikata. The air is a bit drier and the breeze is a bit cooler (the daily average has dropped about 10 degrees Fahrenheit) and walking about at night will most often find you wishing you had put on a light sweater.
In the face of all this, the people of Ikata show their full colors as outdoor activities come to a crescendo (it’s not too hot and not too cold) taking a moment out to enjoy the season before the cool air of winter sets in. Tennis is popular as ever on the courts of Red Wing Park and casual cyclists can be found rolling about the town. It is common to see people out strolling at dusk, often walking their dogs or just out with their children, and on the weekend…that’s when things get a bit more active.
Capping of the summer and heralding an end to the season is the annual Ikata Fall Festival (伊方秋祭り) held mid-October and generally taking up the entire Sunday. In fact, the festival unofficially begins the night before around 5 pm as the local Guruma (車） makes its rounds through the streets, pulled by over a dozen elementary school students, their parents, and a dozen or so grown men. Glowing in the twilight hours, the Guruma brings good luck to the houses that it stops in front of. How do you get it to stop in front of your house? Leave your lights on and have a pretty little envelope of cash ready to give.
Like all the fall festivals on Sadamisaki Peninsula, the Ushi-oni is the centerpiece. To get an idea of the magnitude of this hellish heifer, imagine a bamboo-based structure so large that no less than 30 grown men are needed to lift it into the air, and lift it they do. For over ten hours beginning before the sun rises the committed crew of hoisters march the same streets of Ikata as the Guruma the night before, dancing and rocking the Oni (鬼) with all their strength as a symbol of the now fading belief that it literally pounds the bad spirits out from the ground beneath. It is interesting that the word Oni (devil) is used in this case as to an English speaker a devil does no good. However, in Japan a devil can do as much good as it can do evil; Teaching as well as taking away. From the streets of Ikata up tho the temple on the hill, the Ushi-oni makes its rounds until the final culmination of events takes place on the grounds of Ikata Elementary school.
There, at the school grounds, gathers the menagerie of masks and spirits of the festival unlike any seen elsewhere, the centerpiece of course being the Ushi-oni (牛鬼) and its counterpart the shrine of offerings (filled with sake, flowers, and cash) as symbols of sacrifice in hopes of another happy year. For the next three hours performances are held in front of the shrine by various groups from within the peninsula as the three Gurumas look on (one Guruma from each of the central parts of town: Minatoura, Nakaura, Konakaura). One especially notable dance was the Dance of the Five Deer (五つ鹿踊り), performed by roughly middle-school aged children from five of the main sections of town, dressed in full head-to-toe costumes outfitted with drums and crowned with a deer’s head and horns (made of plastic these days).
It is a full day of festival, fun, drinking (the freshest sake is provided by one of the local breweries in town–にごし酒 is a must), festival food (this year’s fare were giant sautéed sausages and some of the best french fries you will taste all year). The next festival doesn’t come along until next year…so if you come to Ikata, shoot for mid-October.
As for events in November,
-National Reading Week starts today and runs until November 2nd
-The Annual Sadamisaki Quarter Marathon is the 6th
-Two National Holiday are also celebrated during the month of November: Culture Day (3rd) and Labor Day (23rd)