Video link: http://youtu.be/jnmakAKAVmc
Video link: http://youtu.be/bGKzmjik5-k
Kurayami Matsuri (くらやみ祭) is Okunitama Shrine’s most important festival held annually during April 30-May 6 in the city of Fuchu in Tokyo, Japan. The main festival days are May 4 and 5. Kurayami means “pitch dark” in reference to it originally being a night festival with all the lights turned off.
It was pitch dark because humans were not allowed to see the god’s divine spirit being transferred from the shrine to the mikoshi and transported to the Otabisho rest place.
Today, the festival is well lit in the evening with paper lanterns. On May 4 from 5 pm to 6 pm, large taiko drums are beaten on the street. Then from 6 pm to 9 pm, 22 ornate wooden floats carrying musicians and dancers parade on the street in front of the shrine. This is shown by my first video above.
The second video shows the festival climax on May 5 with six large taiko drums followed by eight mikoshi portable shrines carried to the Otabisho. This mikoshi procession is called “oide おいで.” The mikoshi are placed inside the Otabisho until 4 am when they are carried out and returned to the shrine by 7:30 the next morning on May 6. The crowd is much smaller on May 6 although I didn’t see it on the 6th.
You will notice that the taiko drums are huge. In the old days, they used to ram the taiko drums at each other. Since a bigger taiko was more advantageous, the neighborhoods sought to make the larger drum. Finding a tree big enough in Japan is now almost impossible. The wood for large taiko these days is imported.
The shrine’s largest taiko (御先払御太皷) is one of Japan’s largest taiko with a skin diameter of two meters. The wood is bubinga.
The smallest taiko’s skin has a 1.29 meter diameter. People also stand on the taiko while it moves. The taiko drums are beaten to purify the path for the mikoshi portable shrines.
The ornate wooden floats feature musicians and comical dancers. The festival music is called Fuchu Hayashi (府中囃子) native to Fuchu. There are two schools: Meguro-ryu (lively music west of the shrine) and Funabashi-ryu (elegant music east of the shrine). They play the flute (笛), shime-daiko drum (締太鼓), large taiko (大太鼓), hand bell (鉦), and wooden clappers (拍子木). The flutist is like the music conductor who directs the music. He/She starts the song and directs the rhythm which the other musicians follow.
The eight mikoshi portable shrines all carry a different deity. They include six mikoshi carrying six deities enshrined at ranked shrines in the old Musashino Province. Fuchu was the government seat of the old Musashi Province which voers mainly western Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture. Okunitama Shrine was thereby the province’s most prominent shrine and the Kurayami Festival was the province’s biggest festival.
Okunitama Shrine (大國魂神社) was established in 111 by Emperor Keiko (景行天皇). The main god is Okunitama-no-Okami, god of nation-building. The same god worshipped by Izumo Taisha in Shimane Prefecture. The shrine is a short walk from Keio Line Fuchu Station and JR Fuchu Honmachi Station.
Kurayami Matsuri floats:
• Honmachi 本町
• Banba-cho 番場
• Katamachi 片町
• Honshuku 本宿
• Keyaki Wakaren 欅若連
• Minami-cho 南町
• Yazaki-cho 矢崎町
• Yashikibun 屋敷分
• Nakagawara 中河原
• Musashidai 武蔵台
• Kotobuki-cho 寿町
• Shinshuku-cho 新宿町
• Hachiman-cho 八幡町
• Koremasa 是政
• Shinseiku 新成区
• Oshitate-cho 押立町
• Shinshuku Sanya 新宿山谷
• Azuma-cho 東町
• Koyanagi-cho 小柳
• Shimo-someya 下染屋
Kurayami Matsuri Mikoshi:
• Ichinomiya 一之宮 Ono no Okami 小野大神 小野神社 東京都多摩市鎮座
• Ninomiya 二之宮 Ogawa no Okami 小河大神 二宮神社（小河神社） 東京都あきる野市鎮座
• Sannomiya 三之宮 Hikawa no Okami 氷川大神 氷川大社 埼玉県大宮市鎮座
• Yonomiya 四之宮 Chichibu no Okami 秩父大神 秩父神社 埼玉県秩父市鎮座
• Gonomiya 五之宮 Kanasana no Okami 金佐奈大神 金鑽神社 埼玉県児玉郡神川町鎮座
• Rokunomiya 六之宮 Sugiyama no Okami 杉山大神 杉山神社 神奈川県横浜市鎮座
• Gohonsha 御本社 Okunitama no Okami 大國魂大神 大國魂神社 東京都府中市鎮座
• Goryo-gu 御霊宮 Goryo no Okami 御霊大神 大國魂神社 東京都府中市鎮座