Cultural Diplomacy: Festivals of Ogaki

With rapid urbanization processes, and high economic growth, it is commonly observed that one of the first casualties is the feeling of a community. Community networks dissolve, and individualism and isolation sets in. This is particularly the case when the young population moves out, and other new households move in. Most Japanese cities face this problem, bringing to the fore, a need to reverse this trend.

The City of Ogaki, with a population of 150,000, is located in the Kansai region, northwest of Nagoya. The culturally-rich areas surrounding Ogaki are famous for a number of festivals (or 'matsuri'). These festivals were associated with the many temples in the area, and were usually a community-wide event, organized by voluntary groups composed of local residents.

One of the ways in which Ogaki has attempted to solve the problem of community disintegration was to use these traditional festivals to unite the community. This was done by linking voluntary groups to operate the festivals in sequence. In 1972, the Mayor of Ogaki took the leadership to bring all the festival groups together to form the Ogaki Youth Association. More than 12 groups joined the Association, with a total of 1,500 members. The groups were wide-ranging in composition: children and youth groups, women's groups, circles within private firms, cultural groups, voluntary groups for handicapped and elderly etc. The Ogaki Youth Association enabled the groups to cooperate in activities that would have been very difficult and expensive for them to be organized separately.

The main purpose of the association was to reevaluate the traditional festivals and regain the energy and enthusiasm which was lost due to industrialization and urbanization. An appreciation of the culture and tradition was also enabled as a result.

Some of the traditional festivals that were held include:

  1. A procession of pallequins (portable shrines) from the Hashiman Shrine, many of which are more than 1,300 years old. These pallequins are carried by men dressed in traditional wear.
  2. Floating of paper lanterns on the Suimon river that surrounds the Ogaki Castle. Classes on how to make the lanterns are also offered.
  3. Portable shrines from the Jouyou temple are carried (more than 19 shrines) on the main street of Ogaki from the station.

These traditional events are coupled with more modern events such as:

  1. Festival of art, where children and their parents meet in the castle surroundings and participate in painting competitions on various green/nature themes.
  2. Holding of the SINC festival, a pre-cursor to the exposition of the future in Gifu city. More than 22 cities and towns in the Seino region (where Ogaki is located) jointly organize the SINC festival.

Ogaki has effectively used festivals to bring together not only its own citizens, but also those from neighbouring cities and towns to celebrate festivals together. It has also managed, as a result, to rekindle interest in traditional aspects of Japanese lifestyle. The festivals have become famous, attracting a number of visitors to Ogaki for the festivals.

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org