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Wakayama Shrine Uses Comedy to Pray for Bountiful Harvest

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A performer wearing an otafuku mask draws laughter with her comical movements in Katsuragi, Wakayama Prefecture.

KATSURAGI, Wakayama — Laughter filled a shrine during its unique ritual of praying for a good harvest, which involves performers wearing masks and performing agricultural tasks with comical motions. The ritual took place during the Onda festival of Amano, which has been handed down for many years at Niutsuhime Shrine in Katsuragi, Wakayama Prefecture.

Performers wore masks to play various roles, such as a farmer called Tabito, a cattle herder, a cow and others. The performers acted out the process of planting and harvesting rice as if performing kyogen, a type of traditional Japanese comedy. For example, Tabito tried to get the cow stand up by beating its buttocks with a fan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Performers playing the role of a farmer, front, and a cattle herder

Among them, the one that drew people’s attention the most was Tazume, wearing an otafuku mask which looks like a round face woman with plump cheeks. About 100 spectators were there. They laughed when Tazume, holding a meal tray, entered the stage with a comical wiggling motion.

According to the shrine, the festival began about 1,000 years ago.

“Every year we improvise the performance so that the audience can enjoy it anew. We want to keep up with the times and carry on the tradition in the future,” said Megumi Sato, 73, a member of the society to preserve the festival. He is involved in teaching the performance.