“Joyase! Joyase!”

So do the men vigorously shout at the Taihei-Zanmiyoshi Shrine’s Miyoshi-Bonden Festival. They carry ornaments called “Bonden” hoisted atop three-meter tall wooden poles and pass through torii gates. This festival takes place during the Little New Year celebrations in January, and people from every neighborhood turn out to frantically parade as if competing to reach the Shrine first, the eponymous ornaments through town while purifying the city along the way. Conch shells are played like trumpets, sounding a peculiar tune called the “Miyoshi-bushi” as the procession nears the Shrine and the crowds swell in turn.

During World War 2, many festivals were suspended. However, because the Miyoshi-Bonden Festival was known to be held in service of a god of strength and victory, it’s said that it was instead widely promoted to curry blessings for victory. The Bonden Festival is also known as the “Kenka-bonden” festival - “kenka” meaning “fight” - as it can sometimes become intense. Even now, there are times when even ambulances have to come out, but the present Festival is more lively than it used to be.

Above all the other portions of Foujita’s mural, the Bonden Festival section captures a sense of vivacity. He attended it while painting “Events in Akita,” then chose to include it. It was a powerful artistic stroke that made the locals proud.

As festivals nationwide dwindle alongside the population decline, the attitude among locals that see this painting is apparently inclined towards preserving such festivals for posterity. Festivals have long been occasions for people to connect, and had the power to link different regions together. Thanks to those mutual feelings of connection, the Bonden Festival still takes place on January 17th of every year, and as many as 70 bonden poles are paraded.

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