Okayama: Armed procession of portable shrine resumes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A shrine procession moves through a street in Niimi, Okayama Prefecture, on Oct. 15.

NIIMI, Okayama — People along a street in the center of Niimi, Okayama Prefecture, went down on their knees as a portable shrine was carried past with an armed escort.

The Dogeza Festival of Funakawa Hachimangu Shrine was held on Oct. 15 after being canceled for two years due to the pandemic.

Dogeza is a traditional posture of apology or submission, in which one bows from a kneeling position on the ground. In ages past, when common people encountered a procession of dignitaries, such as a daimyo feudal lord, they had to get down on their knees on the side of the street and were forbidden to look up until the procession had passed by.

The festival is said to have started in 1697, when the first lord of the Niimi domain held a procession — in which a portable shrine was guarded with weapons — to pray for a good harvest and the peace of his people.

This year, 53 people carrying large spears, naginata halberds, bows and other weapons slowly made their way through the historic townscape. The shrine’s parishioners waited for the procession, sitting or kneeling on straw mats and cushions amid calls of “Shitaaan! Shitaaan!” (Get your head down!)

The same rules apply to tourists. The procession halts on the spot if anyone stands or moves while it passes. On the day, the procession stopped several times.