The bamboo poles at this festival reach 20 meters high. On the end, hang chochin lanterns, that are meant for ramming into each other high up in the air. The Koga Chochin-sao Momimatsuri, or Lantern Fighting Festival, features high flying lanterns on poles that locals try putting out by crashing into each other in heated competition. The bamboo poles are held by 21 young locals per team, and the battles are taken place inside of a decided space sectioned off by large logs called Yarai. If the lantern breaks, you lose. If the pole breaks, you lose. The sight of men battling each other underneath a shower of falling sparks is sure to leave an impression on you.
The festival originated as a spin-off ritual of the Shichigo Meguri (Seven Village Tour), a long running ritual of the Nogi Shrine. In this ritual, locals take the shrine's deity around to related shrines in seven other villages, spending a night at each one. Upon finishing the Shichigo Meguri, the deity would return to its shrine, greeted by a welcome home festival and crowds of locals with lanterns. It is said that the festival started when these locals began to brawl and battle each other using the lanterns as a way of warming up from the harsh cold. Now, 150 year later, this event has become a nostalgic living reminder of winter tradition.
Participating groups form teams of 21 people and compete in the tournament preliminaries to first try and reach the top eight. From there on it's the finals, the true Kyogi Momi. Starting at 7:30pm every year, the finals are the main high light of the whole festival. Besides the battles, there is a free-for-all known as Jiyu Momi where all participants commence in one big fight all at once, as well as a children's lantern battle for kids using 10 meter tall poles. With showers of fire pouring down and the sound of cracking poles echoing throughout, this spectacle is a force to be reckoned with and worth the title of "a strange festival".
When the festival starts, teams lay out their poles on display. Pole length, lantern shape, decorations, they all differ. Though there are some rules that are limited to the very least, you will notice lots of originality and plenty of customizing made in hopes of taking the winning title. Each team desperately thinks of their own way to keep the lantern from crumbling apart and the light from going out. Not only are the battles a sight to see, but so are the different poles of each team. Take a good look before the battles begin.
Beware of broken lanterns and poles falling down from above
JR Utsunomiya Line: Ueno Tokyo Line / Shonan Shinjuku Line, Koga Station
[Nearest Bus Stop]
Asahi Jidosha Company, Bus stop "Asahi Taxi Mae"
Koga Station West Exit Special Festival Venue
1min walk from Koga Station West Exit
1min walk from Asahi Taxi Mae bus stop