Carrying the Gods in the Darkness: The Agata Festival, Uji City, Kyoto

Uji City: The Town of Uji Tea and The Tale of Genji

Many people may have visited Uji City on school trips to see the famous Byodoin Temple’s Phoenix Hall.

Uji City is the setting for The Tale of Genji. The Uji City Genji Museum, which houses valuable materials related to The Tale of Genji, offers an immersive experience into the world of this classic work, making it a must-visit spot for those interested in Japanese literature.

Additionally, Uji tea is famous nationwide, and for matcha lovers, Uji matcha is irresistible. There are many shops around Uji Station where you can enjoy exquisite Uji matcha delicacies. Matcha enthusiasts should definitely make a point to visit when in Uji.

Credit: Kyoto Free Photo Material

Let’s Go to the Agata Festival!

Location: 72 Uji Renge, Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture
Dates: June 5th to 6th each year (Street stalls preparation starts at 6:30 AM on the 5th)
Access: 10-minute walk from JR Uji Station
URL: http://www.agatajinjya.com/agatas25/s25agatamatsuriphot.html (Agata Festival Official Website)

The Agata Festival is held at Agata Shrine from June 5th to 6th every year.

In the dead of night on June 5th, a ritual called bonten togyo (sacred staff procession) takes place in complete darkness. Men from the town carry a portable shrine known as bonten and parade through the town. As the procession passes, households turn off their lights to greet it, earning the festival the nickname “The Mysterious Festival of Darkness.”

Looking back, it seems incredible that in the past, while the houses were dark, many men and women from different places would stay together in cramped inns or homes. If a woman became pregnant during this time, it was said that she was bestowed with a child by the gods.

The Agata Festival is believed to have begun during the Edo period and was previously held on the 15th day of the fifth lunar month. It was then called the “Ginkan Festival.” The term ginkan refers to a large tree cut into sections and covered with a cap, symbolizing the deity Dokyo. The festival was also known as the “Seed Bestowing Festival” during that time.

Credit: Agata Festival Official Website

The Highlight: Bonten Procession in Complete Darkness!

The portable shrine carried during the Agata Festival is called bonten. Around 11 PM, in the pitch-black night, a bontenmade of blue bamboo and wrapped in paper shaped into a 2-meter-diameter sphere, along with male and female lion portable shrines, parades through the city.

During the procession, the bonten is spun rapidly or swayed vigorously from side to side in a tradition known as bunmawashi (whirling). People also rip off pieces of paper from the bonten and scramble to collect them. In the past, participants would even hurl insults at each other during the scramble. It may seem mysterious, but the festival is lively with cheers and applause.

Watch the video here for more details

Experience a Unique Festival in the Darkness

Participating in this unusual festival, conducted in complete darkness, will give you a mysterious experience unlike anything you’ve felt before.

Today, with over 500 stalls and an attendance of 120,000 people, it is the largest festival in Uji City. Be sure to visit and see for yourself.

Featured Image: Credit to the Agata Festival Official Website

(Editor: 千八乃)

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