Festivals of Japan: Otaue Rice Planting Festival
By John Asano
The Otaue Rice Planting Festival in Osaka is one of the most famous festivals in the Kansai region of Japan. The festival is held every June 14th at the famous Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine and is an ancient Shinto festival to pray for a rich rice harvest. The festival is said to have taken place every year since 211.
The festival is called otaue shinji in Japanese with otaue being a process where rice seedlings are replanted in rice paddy fields. Rice planting festivals can be found all over Japan, but this festival is the most famous and unique due to its faithful reproduction of ancient procedures and rituals used to plant the seedlings in a grand ceremonial style.
Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine also known as Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine is home to the festival, and is a Shinto shrine located in the Sumiyoshi ward of Osaka. It is the main and most famous of over two thousand Sumiyoshi shrines found across Japan and is fondly called “Sumiyoshi-san” by the locals. Sumiyoshi shrines enshrine the kami (Shinto gods) who protect travellers, fishermen and sailors.
The rice planting festival starts off with the rice paddies being tilled by wooden ploughs pulled by decorated oxen. The participants, dressed in brightly coloured traditional outfits then take part in a special purification ritual where the rice seedlings are purified. Next the priests present the rice seedlings that have been grown in the nursery to be planted. The participants then proceed to plant the seedlings in the rice paddy.
The highlight of the festival is the ancient Shinto rituals and spectacular dance performances and songs that go along with it. The dancing is performed while the planting is underway and is accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments, including shamisen and taiko drums.
It is believed the dancing and music will enhance the vitality of the rice grains. The Japanese believe that powerful spirits dwell inside the rice seedlings and the dancing entertains the spirits so they grow strong and healthy providing a good harvest come the autumn.
The festival’s success can be seen in the bountiful harvest of the rice crops in autumn. Once the rice has been harvested, offerings of rice are made to the shrine deity in October.
Another highlight of the festival is the procession of samurai warriors decked out in full samurai armour.
The climax of the festival is the “Sumiyoshi Dance” performed by 150 girls from the local elementary and junior-high schools.
Location: Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine
Address: 2-9-89 Sumiyoshi, Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka
When: June 14th
Time: Festival starts from the afternoon
Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine is located in Southern Osaka close to Sumiyoshi Taisha Station on the Nankai main line.