Here are some pictures and videos from the Kurayami Matsuri at Okunitama Jinja in Fuchu, about 30 minutes by express from Shinjuku. Sorry about the quality – these were all taken at dusk and at night (Kurayama Matsuri means “Darkness Festival” after all) and failing light is where I really lose by not having a better camera.
Okunitama is a very old and important shrine, six separate shrines (and their deities) having been merged into this one. It claims a history of 1900 years – though I doubt some of those claims shrines and temples make, to be honest – and it sits on an important road that’s linked Tokyo with the Western mountains for hundreds of years.
As for the festa, it’s one of the biggest in Kanto. It’s claimed that the O-daiko drums used are the biggest for any matsuri in Japan, and while I can’t verify that I can attest to the fact that they make an amazing sound. The video simply doesn’t communicate what it’s like to stand a few feet away from these things as they’re struck – taiko resonates through your body anyway, but these things really shake you to the core.
While the matsuri lasts for about a week last night was the main event, where the O-daiko leave the main shrine along with the various mikoshi (portable shrines), which “do battle” with each other at the crossroads. You can see men balanced precariously on top of all the big drums, while others take turns effectively playing them with small telephone poles. Having played smaller taiko I can only imagine how exhausting this must be, and you could see it take a toll on the men tasked to play – but amazingly, I did see one one wizened old Ojii-san who had to be helped out to the street pick up the bachi and beat the drum with real authority. The spirit of the Kami must have been in him.