Shiga: Rain greets return of Edo period’s Otsu Festival

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
A float with a tanuki statue aboard — wearing a raincoat because of the foul weather — leads the festival parade in Otsu on Oct. 9.

OTSU — Even the star of the parade was dressed for the inclement weather. There was no way a downpour would put a damper on the enthusiasm as the Otsu Festival was held for the first time in three years.

A dozen ornate floats were pulled through central Otsu to the accompaniment of gongs, flutes and drums during the festival’s main event on Oct. 9, as 130,000 spectators turned out in the rain.

Because of the bad weather, the floats were covered in vinyl sheets and the people pulling them donned raincoats. They weren’t the only ones — the tanuki statue that stands conspicuously aboard the lead float of the procession also wore a yellow raincoat.

According to historic records, the Otsu Festival began about 400 years ago in the early Edo era, when a salt merchant put on a tanuki mask and began to dance, and people gathered around to watch.

It resembles the festivals in neighboring Kyoto, but is distinctive for its karakuri ningyo mechanical dolls on each float. On the lead float with the tanuki, for example, a spirit appears from an old cherry tree.

In normal years, people on the floats would toss about 50 elegantly wrapped chimaki rice dumplings, which are said to ward off bad luck, to excited spectators along the parade route. But this year as a countermeasure against coronavirus infection, most of the treats were sold.