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Unique Festival Involving Spraying Hot Water on Others Held at Hot Spring Bath Resort in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Participants in Yukake Matsuri festival fling hot water toward a decorative ball containing chickens at 6:21 a.m. Jan. 20 in Naganohara, Gunma Prefecture.

NAGANOHARA, Gunma — A centuries-old unique festival, in which participants fling hot water from buckets on one another, was held in the early morning of Jan. 20 in Kawarayu Onsen hot spring resort in Naganohara, Gunma Prefecture.

Jan. 20 was the day of Daikan — the coldest day in winter according to a traditional calendar. This year’s festival, called Yukake Matsuri, was held for the first time in four years.

In the extremely cold weather, about 35 men wearing only fundoshi loincloths flung hot water on one another while shouting, “Oiwaida!,” meaning “It’s a celebration!” in Japanese.

It is believed that the festival began about 400 years ago, when local residents celebrated the resurgence of a dried-up hot spring. The residents at the time splashed the hot water on one another from joy, marking the origin of this unique festival.

The rallying cry is thought to be a corruption of the phrase, “Oyu waita,” meaning “Hot water sprang up.”

In the final phase of the festival, all the participants simultaneously flung hot water toward a red and white decorative ball which contained two chickens. It is believed that anyone who catches the chickens will have good luck.

Takeru Shinohara, 47, who served as chief coordinator of the festival, said, “Though we felt nervous, as the festival was held after a long hiatus, all participants were more energetic than I expected, and it turned out to be a good event. We want to continue [this festival] without anymore hiatuses.”