The 735th annual Oeshiki Festival marks the passing of Nichiren (1222–1282), the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism. Kuon-ji, the temple on Mount Minobu, was founded by Nichiren.
During the procession to the temple, local residents of the area, as well as devotees from elsewhere, spin matoi (long poles with leather strips attached at the top). These poles are spun with such enthusiasm that one cannot help but see the trance-inducing effect it has on the devotees. The poles are passed from one devotee to another in order for everyone to participate. Some of the devotees are so enthusiastic that they have to pass the poles in order to build their strength for another round of spinning.
What really struck me was not just the enthusiasm, but also the pride on the faces of the devotees. The children demonstrate the same enthusiasm during the procession as the adults do. This is not just a bit of fun for these kids, this is part of being a member of the community. Spinning the poles gives the children a chance to show their strength as well as their devotion to Nichiren Buddhism. This is a rite of passage that begins at an early age.
The processions stops often and the devotees begin to dance in rhythm to the beat of the drums. Again, the enthusiasm is obvious and genuine to the onlooker. I am not certain, but I think that Japanese sake had been consumed by the members of the group below.
The procession eventually arrives at the temple. Here, the devotees continue to dance and spin their poles before the approving gaze of the monks of Kuon-ji. The scene is an intimate one and onlookers suddenly feel conscious that they need to move back to allow the scene to unfold before them.
Take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line to JR Shizuoka Station, change to the Limited Express Fujikawa bound for JR Minobu Station (departures at 8:17, 9:41, 11:41, 13:39, 15:40, 17:40, 19:40). You can also access Minobu from JR Shinjuku Station in 3 hours by taking an express train to JR Kofu Station on the JR Chuo Line. Once you arrive in Kofu, you will change to the JR Minobu Line for JR Minobu Station. Take a taxi or a bus from the train station to Minobusan (Kuon-ji Temple). The taxi is about 2,000 yen, but the bus is only about 280 yen. Alternatively, you can access Minobu by bus from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (3.5 hours).