Fujisaki Hachimangu Reitaisai is the annual grand festival of Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine—a historic occasion continued for over 1,000 years. Popularly known to the locals as the "Umaoi Matsuri," it is one of the largest festivals in Kumamoto Prefecture participated by 70 groups and nearly 20,000 people.
Downtown areas of Kumamoto go ecstatic during the entire festival, as groups of people and horses known as "Kazari-oroshi" and the traditional "Shinmachi Shishimai" (lion dance, performed wearing a lion headpiece) appear everywhere. During the Shinkoushiki, the entire city is especially engulphed in festive spirit. The portable Mikoshi shrines are followed by its "Zuibyou" (a warrior procession) and the "Shinmachi Shishimai" showcasing its traditional dances as they parade by. At the tail of the parade are the festival's highlight Kazariuma (decorated horses) followed by "Umaoi".
"Umaoi" especially, is a must see. The sight of participants marching with over 70 horses through the city in matching attire, calling out a unique chant "Do-kai, do-kai!" as they dance to drums and trumpets, is extremely thrilling. Furthermore, spectators are able to view an offering of a Noh play with over 400 years of history, performed near Kami-Kumamoto Station at an "Otabisho" where the Mikoshi float procession takes a break.
The day seems long, thanks to the passion and spirit people pour into the success of the festival. It is said that autumn arrives once the Reitaisai ends.
A ritual known as "Gohatsurensai" is held ceremoniously at 6 am on the final day of the festival. While the voice of the chief priest reading out the Norito (words of prayers) and the sounds of Gagaku (ancient Japanese court music) performances fill the air, three Mikoshi floats appear from within the shrine. Drums ring out immediately after, informing people that the festival has begun. The Gohatsurensai is the "quiet" aspect of the Shinkou procession, held in a sacred atmosphere.
Horses and people festively parade all over Kumamoto city throughout the day during the "Shinkou Gyoretsu" procession. One recommended viewing point is the street right in front of Japan Bank Kumamoto Branch (address: 15 Yamasakimachi, Chuo-ku). The horses that were being pulled slowly take off running down this street, known as the Umaoi course.
Please witness the thrill when the accompanying Seko men sprint with the horses.
There are chances to witness groups of horses and bands on dates other than the final day, when the Shinkoushiki held.
Participating groups of the festival gather donations for Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine from local shops and businesses. As a result, people and horses turn up with drums and trumpets frantically playing outside of local shops in order to show appreciation for the donation. Though the number of horses are fewer than in the Shinkoushiki, you are able to view them from closer up. Just follow the sound of trumpets.
(Due to the Kumamoto earthquake, in 2016, the Kazariuma (decorated horses) will only accompany the Kazari-oroshi for the purification ritual at the shrine.)
Be cautious of the horses walking on the road, for they may make sudden unexpected movements.
Traffic is regulated in several parts of the city on the final day of the festival.
Access to Kumamoto City
Kumamoto Station (JR Kyushu Shinkansen)
Approximately 1 hour by bus from Kumamoto Airport
Entire downtown area of Kumamoto city surrounding Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine
Address: 3-1 Igawabuchimachi Chuo-ku, Kumamoto city (Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine)
By tram (Kumamoto City Tram):
Catch the tram heading for Kengunmachi, from the Kumamotoekimae stop located right outside of Kumamoto Station. Get off at Suidocho stop after approximately 15 min, then walk for another 15 min.
Catch the bus for "Kumamoto Kotsu Center" (Kumamoto Bus Terminal) from JR Kumamoto Station (approximately a 10 min ride), then transfer bus for Fujisakigu-Mae (approximately a 15 min ride). 5 min walk to the shrine from there.