Benkei was a monk famous for being tough and rugged, who left many legends during his lifetime over 800 years ago. The Benkei Matsuri festival began in 1987 in Tanabe City where his father is said to be from. The festival is held on the first Friday and Saturday of October. On Friday, a theater play depicting Benkei's life is performed. During the last half of the play, a cockfight is held in order to predict the outcome of a battle. On the second day of the festival (Saturday), two types of dances—Benkei Geta Odori and Kishu Benkei Yosakoi Odori—are performed as well as the Oniwaka Taiko drumming and live performances by musicians. Local food and products are sold in tents. The celebration reaches a climax at night as the Tanabe fireworks festival kicks off.
At around 3 to 4 pm on Saturday, the "Benkei Geta Odori"—choreographed in the rugged image of Benkei—is performed on Aoi and Odori street. A total of 1,000 dancers fill the main streets in a complete Benkei Geta Odori frenzy, a dance that has continued since the initial start of the festival. The words to the song of "Benkei Odori" tells the story of Benkei's turbulent life, sung over a bouncy rhythm. Participants are allowed to jump right in and join, so feel free to sing along with the dancers or move to the rhythm!
On Friday from 6 to 8 pm, a historical play is performed at Keito Shrine reenacting Benkei's many legends. Benkei was also known as a warrior who was instrumental in the Japanese internal power struggle, and is loved to this day for his strength and humanity. The play is performed by actors in ancient attire along with a mix of drums and dance, backed by the sounds of insects at a quiet atmospheric shrine. The name "Tokei Shrine" (meaning "cockfight shrine") derives from an actual cockfight that was held long ago, in order to determine whether to side with the Taira clan or the Minamoto clan during their power struggle. A reenactment of this cockfight is featured in the last half of the play—a chance to see two roosters dual each other at a shrine.
On Saturday, "Kishu Benkei Yosakoi Odori" dance is held from 10 am into the evening. Each team competes for the sharpness and oneness of their moves. They all dance thrillingly and gracefully, amusing the crowd of viewers. After the preliminary competitions held in various locations, the final tournament takes place at the Ogigahama venue from around 5:30 pm. After the final competition, everybody dances the "Yosakoi Odori" with Naruko in their hands (a paddle shaped wooden percussive instrument). This is known as the "So-odori" when all participants join and dance together in excitement, regardless of teams. Viewers are allowed to dance in their seats as well. Experience the heat of the venue!
From 8 to 8:30 pm on Saturday, the "Tanabe Fireworks Festival" is held as the finale of the entire Matsuri celebration. 3,000 rounds of fireworks are lit as the excitement reaches a climax. Known also for lighting the largest rounds of fireworks in Wakayama Prefecture, the explosion sends tremors through the atmosphere and the ground. It is one of the most popular fireworks festival in Wakayama, attracting approximately 40,000 people each year.
Picture provided by Tanabe City
Trash must be thrown away at designated spots.
Tobacco must be smoked in designated areas.
Please refrain from using drones near the festival's venues.
Access to Tanabe City
Kii-Tanabe Station (JR Kisei Main Line)
5-10 min walk from the station to the festival venue
Ogigahama venue (Ogigahama beach community park) *preliminary and final contest venue
Tokei Shrine venue
Aoi street venue