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Way to Niu Shrine, near Hashimoto bus stop, about 15 min. by bus from Yogo Station. The Chawan Matsuri festival is held by Niu Shrine. The last time was in May 2003. The festival features three floats, a procession, and sacred dances and music.
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I was looking forward to seeing this festival held for the first time in six years on May 4, 2009. I was not disappointed. There were many photo ops. The shrine and festival site was amid lots of greenery.
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This is Takatoki River where the festival participants purify themselves before the festival. The Chawan Matsuri supposed to be held every 3 years, but the lack of funds and people (young ones) has made it much less frequent. 高時川The area is quite rural, with many rice paddies. May 4 is a national holiday (Greenery Day) in Japan, during Golden Week, a string of national holidays in Japan amounting to a spring vacation.
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Near the entrance to Niu Shrine was one of the three festival floats (called dashi 山車 or hikiyama 曳山) named Juhozan (寿宝山). The festival started at 10 am with a Shinto ceremony at the shrine.
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Niu Shrine. The shrine is too small for the floats to enter, so they were positioned in different locations near the shrine and scheduled to move at 11:30 am. 丹生神社 MAP
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On the small shrine grounds was a small wooden stage where the musicians and dancers were standing by to perform after the Shinto ceremony was over.
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The Chigo-no-Mai dances were to begin at 11 am. The musicians were 12 men and boys called Juni-no-yaku (十二の役) including this drummer of a large taiko drum (Odaiko).
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Odaiko drummer 大太鼓
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Other members of the Juni-no-yaku musicians. On the left is the drummer of a small taiko drum (kodaiko). In the middle is a baton twirler called bo-furi (棒振り) in a bear costume. The boy on the right is a tsuzumi shoulder drum player.
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Juni-no-yaku musicians are from the medieval period of Japan, and rarely seen in other festivals. In Shiga, this is the only festival where they appear.
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The Shinto ceremony ended and the shrine priest and co. emerged from the shrine and headed to the stage.
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They were followed by the mikoshi portable shrine. Although it looks new, it was made in 1762.
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At 11 am, the Chigo-no-Mai dances began. The Chigo-no-Mai consisted of five dances starting with the Miko-no-Mai (Sacred Child Dance). 稚児の舞 神子の舞
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Sacred Child Dance. He holds two batons and later bamboo leaves (on the floor). The juni-yaku musicians provided the music for all the dances. 稚児の舞 神子の舞
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Next was the Suzu-no-Mai (Bell Dance). He holds a bell in his right hand and a gohei sacred staff with zigzag paper hanging. (御幣). 稚児の舞 鈴の舞
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These were all boys dancing, and they dance while facing backward. This dancer was skilled even with the long gown in the way of his feet.
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Also see my YouTube video for these dances here.
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Then was the Ogi-no-Mai (Folding Fan Dance). 稚児の舞 扇の舞
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For the Ogi-no-Mai (Folding Fan Dance), he holds a folding fan and a gohei sacred staff. The Miko-no-Mai, Suzu-no-Mai, and Ogi-no-Mai trio of Chigo-no-Mai dances are also called Sanyaku-no-Mai (三役の舞). 稚児の舞 扇の舞
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Next dance was called Yatsu-kaeshi-no-Mai. 八つ換しの舞
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Yatsu-kaeshi-no-Mai. 八つ換しの舞
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Nakaizashi-no-Mai. Although a total of six Chigo-no-Mai dances were performed this year, there are actually more dances which could not be performed due to a lack of dancers. 中居指の舞
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Shishi-no-Mai or Lion Dance. These Chigo-no-Mai dances were performed three times this day at different locations. So if you missed the first performance, you can still see them later in the day.
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The dances ended at 11:30 am and they all started to leave the shrine in a procession headed for Hachiman Shrine with a lunch break at Chawan Matsuri no Yakata museum a short walk away. Conch shell blowers here.
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The procession's final destination is Hachiman Shrine which is Niu Shrine's Otabisho (temporary resting point お旅所) before returning to Niu Shrine in the late afternoon..
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The procession included these colorful dancers called Hana-yakko with flower umbrellas. 花奴
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The Hana-yakko dancers supposed to be all local boys, but due to depopulation, now they include girls. They are intermediate and high school students.
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The Hana-yakko part of the procession was included during the late Edo Period, designed to liven up the festival.
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Hana-yakko dancer
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The procession leaves the shrine.
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The procession was headed by a boy dancing with a naginata sword.
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There were 14 Hana-yakko dancers.
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Chawan Matsuri Hana-yakko flower umbrella dancers 花奴
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Chawan Matsuri Hana-yakko flower umbrella dancers performing the Hanagasa Odori (花傘踊り). 花奴
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Most were boys, but a few were real girls. This is yet another great spectacle of the festival.
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Chawan Matsuri Hana-yakko flower umbrella dancers. They wear a Nagajuban kimono slip (長襦袢) and straw sandals. 花奴
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The Chawan Festival started when a potter in Yogo's Hashimoto area believed that he received his pottery skills from the gods and so gave an offering of pottery at Niu Shrine in appreciation. The festival started to be held by 1160.
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The two baton twirlers (bo-furi 棒振り) are members of the juni-no-yaku musicians. They are followed by the drummers of the large taiko drum.
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Two festival floats are ready to join the procession amid rice paddies.
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The crowd line the procession route to the Chawan Matsuri no Yakata museum a short distance away. This is at the intersection called Torii-mae (鳥居前).
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The fantastic things about the festival floats is that they all have 10-meter high "balancing act" decorations depicting kabuki characters and legends. The decoration is made by a team of three craftsmen whose techniques are secret.
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Only nine people know how to create these fantastic balancing decorations. They purify themselves in Takatoki River (bathe naked) before taking 3 months to make the lofty decorations in total secrecy. This is the Nihozan float (丹宝山).
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The floats are constructed without using any metal nor conventional rope. Instead of rope, they use wisteria vines kneaded together. The decorations have dolls, chawan teacups, bowls, and objects related to the story depicted.
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Chawan (tea cups and bowls) and other pottery are included in the balancing decorations which seem to defy gravity as they don't fall or collapse.
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They are connected by only a slither of whatever they are connected with, yet the whole thing doesn't fall.
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They are using bamboo support poles to keep it steady in the wind, but later they will disconnect the support poles to show that these decorations are free standing.
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The techniques used to makes these floats and decorations are top secret, known only by the hereditary craftsmen who make them.
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Pretty amazing.
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The crowd awaits the procession.
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Hana-yako dancers pass by the floats.
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The Hana-yakko dancers perform the Hanagasa Odori dance.
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Also see my YouTube video for this dance here.
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Whoever designed the Hana-yakko costume, dance, and umbrella was quite brilliant.
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Baton twirlers
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Odaiko large taiko drummer
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The two boys in front are sasara players who use a bamboo whisk rubbed with another notched bamboo stick as a musical instrument. The bamboo whisk looks very similar to the puili sticks used in hula dancing.
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Chigo-no-mai dancers
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Following the procession, the floats are then pulled along.
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The floats pass in front of the Chawan Matsuri no Yakata Museum which is one of the best places to view the festival. They arrived around 12:30 pm, then took a lunch break until 1:40 pm. The floats also have tapestries purchased in the 17th and 18th c.
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The three festival floats were parked in front of the Chawan Matsuri no Yakata Museum during the lunch break.
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The men riding the floats are either musicians (flutes, drum, bell) or caretakers of the festival or float or tapestries.
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The floats also have musicians who play festival music called shagiri (しゃぎり). They use the flute, taiko drum, and bell.
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The Eihozan float (永宝山) decoration depicts the famous Chushingura vendetta of the 47 masterless samurai when they attacked Kira's home to avenge their master forced to commit seppuku.
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The doll at the bottom is Oishi Kuranosuke, the leader of the 47 ronin who avenged their lord by capturing and beheading Kira who had taunted their master who drew his sword in the shogun's palace in anger and cut Kira's forehead.
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Notice the teacups and bowls and sword. They are intricately connected somehow. The kanji characters for "Chushingura" is in a frame lined with teacups at the bottom of the photo. 忠臣蔵の討ち入り場面
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The top character is Kira, depicted as the villain in Chushingura. Notice that it's supported only by his tiptoes. (Even without the bamboo pole support, it stands up that way.)
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The Juhozan float's decoration depicted the legendary warrior Iwami Jutaro (岩見 重太郎) who got rid of the baboon (top of the decoration) tormenting a village.
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The doll at the bottom is Iwami Jutaro. There was a village where a female human sacrifice had to be offered to a big baboon. When the next victim was to be the village headman's daughter, Jutaro decided to get rid of the baboon. 岩見 重太郎
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Jutaro disguised himself as the daughter and put himself and a sword inside the offering box which was carried to the baboon's shrine as the human sacrifice offering. When the baboon opened the box, Jutaro fought and defeated the baboon.
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Upside-down baboon is connected only by his left hand. How are all these objects suspended like that?? 岩見重太郎 狒狒退治の場
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Chawan Matsuri no Yakata Museum. Admission 300 yen. Visited the museum during the lunch break. 茶わん祭の館 MAP
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Inside Chawan Matsuri no Yakata Museum is a life-size replica of a festival float.
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Musical instruments and costumes used in the festival are also displayed.
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Musical instruments used in the festival. On the upper left are flutes, below it are batons. On the right are a bell and below is the sasara bamboo whisk and rubbing stick. Drums at the bottom.
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Kimono worn by the Chigo-no-Mai and Sanyaku no Mai dancers. 三役の舞
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Another part of the museum was a replica of the living room and kitchen in a local farm house.
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Chawan Matsuri banners outside the museum.
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Next to the museum was the festival grounds where they had food stalls and a low platform for dances performed at 12:30 pm.
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One of the food stalls sold mochi made from Tochi-no-ki Japanese horse-chestnuts grown in Yogo. They pick it during fall and store the chestnuts for the year. Unfortunately, they were all sold out by the time I got to their stall. 栃の木
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At 1:45 pm, the lunch break was over and the three floats proceeded down the road and back. This was the main (but short) course for the float procession and a major photo op in front of the museum.
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At the end of the road at a bridge, they turned around and came back.
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The floats don't look too heavy to pull at all.
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Another festival highlight for me was seeing Shiga governor Kada Yukiko (wearing a light green jacket on the right) joining in to pull the float. I heard that women are actually not supposed to pull the float...
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Shiga governor Kada Yukiko (wearing a light green jacket on the right) pulling a festival float at the Chawan Matsuri in Yogo. The man next to her was shouting, "Banzai!" 滋賀県知事 嘉田由紀子
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Gov. Kada then ran to the first float and someone gave her a happi coat and headband which she put on. She was accompanied by the Yogo mayor (not pictured). 滋賀県知事 嘉田由紀子
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Shiga governor Kada Yukiko (lower right) pulling a festival float at the Chawan Matsuri in Yogo. Also see my YouTube video with her pulling the float. 滋賀県知事 嘉田由紀子
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The ropes are quite thin, making me think the float is not so heavy.
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At around 2:30 pm, the procession headed to Hachiman Shrine, a short walk away. Banner holders and hoko spear bearers behind them.
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At Hachiman Shrine, which was much more spacious than Nyu Shrine, everyone danced again.
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Hana-yakko dancers with flower umbrellas. 花奴
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Hana-yakko dancer at Chawan Matsuri, Yogo, Shiga
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Baton twirlers lead the twelve juni-no-yaku musicians. 棒振り(十二の役)
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Odaiko large taiko drummer 大太鼓
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Kodaiko drummers of the small taiko drum. 小太鼓
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Tsuzumi drummers. Shiga governor Kada Yukiko (in a light green jacket) admire the procession as they arrive at Hachiman Shrine for the Chawan Matsuri in Yogo, Shiga on May 4, 2009. On her right is the mayor (black suit) of Yogo town. 滋賀県知事
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At the end, the three festival floats are pulled into the shrine.
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The three floats were lined up at the foot of a hill.
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Tapestry on a float.
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Small elevated stage for sacred dances to be performed. It was about 3:15 pm.
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The Chigo-no-Mai dances were performed again. This time at Hachiman Shrine. This is the Miko-no-Mai Dance. 神子の舞
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The Miko dancer used these bamboo leaves in his dance.
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Second dance called Suzu-no-Mai.
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He holds a bell in his right hand and a gohei sacred staff with zigzag paper hanging. (御幣). 稚児の舞 鈴の舞
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Third dance called Ogi-no-Mai (Folding Fan Dance), he holds a folding fan and a gohei sacred staff. 稚児の舞 扇の舞
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Next dance was called Yatsu-kaeshi-no-Mai. 八つ換しの舞
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Niu Chawan Matsuri, Yatsu-kaeshi-no-Mai. 八つ換しの舞
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Nakaizashi-no-Mai. The same dances performed earlier at Niu Shrine are performed again at Hachiman Shrine. 中居指の舞
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Shishi-no-Mai or Lion Dance. Acrobatic dance by boys. They were the crowd pleaser. You have to see the video to see what they did here.
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You need some trained muscles and a flexible back to do what they are doing.
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Also see my YouTube video for these dances here.
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Very impressive.
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The climax of the festival was when they detached the bamboo support poles (called sasu サス) from the float decorations.
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Detaching the bamboo pole from the baboon balancing on only one hand.
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Detaching the pole from Kira (notice the cut on his forehead).
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And there you see it. Look ma, no support poles! How is it supported like that...
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Also see my YouTube video showing them detaching the poles.
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View of the shrine grounds from the steps.
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At around 4 pm, the procession left Hachiman Shrine to head back to Niu Shrine. At 4:30 pm, they danced again at Niu Shrine.
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The floats had their bamboo support poles reattached to the lofty decorations.
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The Chawan Matsuri festival was unique and very, very impressive. It was great.
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Pulling out the first float out of Hachiman Shrine.
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They pulled the floats to the Chawan Matsuri no Yakata museum festival grounds to be displayed. The rest of the procession headed back to Niu Shrine where they performed the Chigo dances again from 4:30 pm. Most people left the festival by 4 pm.
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Chawan Matsuri festival poster. The floats were to be displayed at the museum grounds until the next day on May 5, but rain canceled this plan.
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They had special shuttle buses plying between Yogo Station and Hashimoto at the festival site. The bus had drawings by local school children.
   
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