Fukuoka's Tamaseseri

With the start of a new year, there is a multitude of matsuri one can attend in Japan. In Fukuoka, Kyushu's largest city, the Tamaseseri 玉せせりfestival, replaying the myhtical gifting of two magical gems from the Dragon God Ryujin to Emperess Jingu as a weapon against the Korean fleet, has been attracting a crowd every January 3 at the Hakozaki temple – for more than five hundred years.

These myhtical gems, hidden under the sea, caused the waters to part, luring the Korean men outside the ships before crashing on them.

The gems are represented by two 8-kilo wooden balls, each 30cm in diameter, representing the feminine Yin and the masculine Yang. The ceremony begins with the ceremonial cleansing of the spheres by the temple's monks: they are publicly washed on stage, so that the procedure can be viewed by all attending.

In these occasions masses of people gather to witness the ceremonies, and sometimes even participate, as in the case of Tamaseseri. Once the spheres have been washed, the Yang one is carried by children about 300 meters from the temple, while two teams of men in fundoshi , traditional Japanese underwear, are formed. The two teams, representing Sea and Earth, fight for the ball, the goal being to attain it and then lift it high over the team's heads.

Should they succeed, the moon's favor will be guaranteed for the coming year. Four or five men at once are lifted upon the others' shoulders at the chanting of 'Oisa! Oisa!' creating a lively and energizing ruckus where all of the viewers participate. Additionally, the stage is further enhanced by the throwing of cold water buckets on the participants.

The game progressively moves toward Hakozaki temple, and the roaring crowd crosses the entrance torii, where the Shinto priest is waiting for the teams' arrival, as to establish who won: should the Earth team win, there will be a pletiful harvest; should the Sea team wim, fishing will be abundant.

The Tamaseseri festival occurs in a dynamic, sometimes euphoric mood, where people of all age and nationalities can participate. As usual, the matsuri is enriched by street food stalls: the ceremony starts at 13.00, the perfect time to enjoy some yakitori.

  • 1
  • 2