Oita: Colorful Boats Celebrates New Year; Participants Plunge into Cold Waters, Mochi and Sake Distributed

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A rower jumps into the Katsura River from a “horai-sen” boat in Bungo-Takada, Oita Prefecture.

BUNGO-TAKADA, Oita — Horan-enya, a traditional New Year’s celebration, was held on the Katsura River in Bungo-Takada, Oita Prefecture, attracting a large crowd of spectators.

The festival is believed to have started as a prayer for safe voyages and bountiful catches around the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), when boats carried rice to be presented to the lord as tax.

On the day of the festival, rowers clad in shimekomi loincloths and guests boarded a “horai-sen” boat decorated with a large fishing flag and a variety of national flags. The rowers and other participants shouted “Horan enya! Enyasa no sassa!” as the boat wound around the river, moving towards and away from both banks.

Red and white soft mochi rice cakes were thrown from the boat to spectators waiting on both banks, while the spectators offered sake and other gifts of congratulations. The crowd cheered when young rowers jumped into the cold river, where the water temperature was 6 C, and headed for the shore to receive the sake.

The chairman of the horan-enya hozonkai preservation society said, “The weather was great, and many people came [to see the festival]. We were able to have a good start to the year.”