Nara: Worshippers Frolic in Sandy Deluge

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A man clad in white attire throws sand to worshippers at the Sunakake Matsuri festival at the Hirose Shrine in Kawai, Nara Prefecture, on Feb. 11.

KAWAI, Nara — Sand flew through the air as people flung sand at one another at Hirose Shrine in Kawai in Nara Prefecture, as part of a traditional — yet unusual — festival to pray for a good harvest.

The festival, known as the Sunakake Matsuri (sand throwing festival), dates back 1,300 years, as a way to pray for rain before the start of the annual rice planting season.

The large amount of sand thrown on the precincts is supposed to symbolize rainfall. It is believed that the harder the sand is thrown, the harder the rain will fall, promising a good harvest.

On Feb. 11, the festival day, a member of the local volunteer firefighting squad dressed up in white attire to represent a farmer called “tabito” and another member wearing black clothing and a bovine mask played the part of a cow.

With the sound of taiko drumming as their cue, they started throwing sand over the heads of worshippers using wooden hoes. Children wearing raincoats and goggles reciprocated by tossing the sand back at them, causing the shrine precinct to erupt in cheers of joy.