This is the latest installment of Public Streets, a biweekly urban observations series curated by Ellis Avery.
Less than two hours from Tokyo Station by bullet train, the village of Osaki is nonetheless a country backwater. The town lies aside narrow Route 291, which snakes and tunnels its way to Yuzawa, the onsen (hot spring) resort town immortalized in Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country. The mountainous inland region of Niigata Prefecture, which catches up to 11 meters of snow every winter, remains most famous for producing Japan’s premium variety of rice, Koshihikari.
Osaki, a collection of perhaps 80 farmhouses, a post office, and an elementary school, nestles beneath the roiling peaks of sacred Mt. Hakkai. Here at the eastern edge of the Uono River’s fertile floodplain, manicured rice paddies abut steep, cedar-covered slopes. The village shrine boasts an ancient spring that gushes ice-cold mineral water year-round.
The village’s summer matsuri (festival) is regularly slated for August 14 through 16, come rain or shine. On the 15th, the community’s mikoshi (portable shrine) is paraded through the town by local youths and middle-aged diehards, energizing the sleepy streets. Residents and visitors from neighboring towns join forces to awaken the kami-sama
(local spirits) and entice them into bringing the community good luck in the upcoming harvest. It’s a rollicking good time, Japanese-style—meaning cooperative effort, calculated risk, and copious sake—the locally produced Hakkai-san brand being an obvious favorite.
Recordings of the summer matsuri centered around Osaki Shrine in the village of Osaki (Minami-Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture), 2014.