We didn’t know there was going to be an annual festival when my sister and I arrived at the Naritasan Shinshō-ji Temple, looking for the rest of our family. However, we found the streets of the old town surrounding the temple packed with hundreds of visitors, local and foreigners alike. Dancers, drummers, cartoon characters, and more roamed the narrow streets, stopping periodically to entertain the spectators. Every now and then we’d see one of several colossal, two story wagons sitting just off the street, filled with dancers and musicians, performing for the crowds.
It was near dusk, as we walked up a hill leading away from the temple, festival workers flanking one of the wagons, rolled out rope spanning several city blocks attached to the wagon. All the kids roaming the festival were urged (along with their parents) to grab a spot on the massive rope to help pull the wagon up the street and away from the temple. An older man shouted instructions through a megaphone as dozens of local kids decked out in traditional kimonos and hachimakis (head scarves) lined the rope, the end of which stretched up the street and around a corner, out of view of the wagon.
While walking up the street , e reached the front of the rope just before the big pull began. Here, I got this shot of a young girl, stationed right near the head of the immense rope, as she pulls with all her might from the front end while the other participants follow her lead.
Surprises like this are are the best kind when traveling. We expected a quiet day at the temple and found ourselves part of a massive celebration, thrown into the midst of some of Japan’s amazing culture and traditions.