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Ofune Matsuri, Hotaka Shrine: Video Introduction

This video, titled "Hotaka Shrine, Ofune Matsuri" (穂高神社御船祭り), was uploaded by "Azumino TV" (あづみ野テレビ).
Ofune Matsuri (festival) is held at Hotaka Shrine in Azumino, Nagano, in Japan's Koshin'etsu Region. The video shows how the entire community, from children to adults, work together during Ofune Matsuri. The massive floats crashing into one another is quite the contrast to the cute shrine maidens dancing at the beginning of the video! Be sure to check out the video to see what the festival is like before reading along!

Ofune Matsuri, a Historic Festival Dating Back 1,500 Years

Ofune Matsuri, designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Nagano Prefecture, is a festival held annually from September 26 to September 27 at Hotaka Shrine in Azumino, Nagano.
The origin of Ofune Matsuri dates back to the 6th century A.D. The festival celebrates the history of the migration and settlement of the Azumi people, the ancestors of both the seafaring tribes of Kyushu and the people living in present-day Azumino City. It's also said to be an event to mourn the death of Azumi no Hirafu, who is said to have died as a general in the Battle of Baekgang.

A total of five floats are used during the festival, including six-meter-tall adult boats and slightly smaller children's boats. The floats are shaped like ships in reference to the migration of the seafaring people, and the floats are decorated with handmade Hotaka dolls depicting various aspects of history.
[Video] 0:01 - Hotaka Dolls

The floats carrying the Hotaka dolls, which have been passed down by the people of Azumino, are pulled through each town and then converge at Hotaka Shrine. The crowd goes wild as the two "adult" floats, clash violently with each other to the accompaniment of music performed by children from the community, making this one of the highlights of Ofune Matsuri. [Video] 0:37 - A Clash of Floats to the Sound of Music

Deities and Other Information For Hotaka Shrine

Image of Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano
Photo:Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano

The deities enshrined at Hotaka Shrine are Watatsumi no Mikoto, the god of the sea; Hotakami no Mikoto, the ancestor of the Azumi people and son of Watatsumi no Mikoto; and Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of Amaterasu no Mikoto.
The shrine is dedicated to several dignified deities and is believed to bring good fortune, business prosperity, traffic safety, success in academic studies, and marital bliss, and many good luck charms can be purchased at the shrine.

Also, on the grounds of Hotaka Shrine is the largest stainless steel Dosojin (guardian deity of travelers) of health and longevity in Japan, which was constructed in 2013 to commemorate Nagano Prefecture's recognition as the prefecture with the longest life expectancy in Japan and is said to bring blessings of health and longevity and good luck in marriage.

Shuin stamps are available at the main shrine of Hotaka Shrine from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. In addition, limited edition shuin stamps are distributed during New Year holidays, the Bokusho Festival, and the annual festival, so if you're collector, consider visiting the shrine during these times.

If you visit the Mine-miya (shrine located on a peak), you can also receive a special shuin stamp.

Tsukimairi is an occasion to express gratitude for a successful month and pray for blessings in the new month. The tsukimairi shuin stamp with beautiful seasonal designs of Hotaka Shrine changes its design each month. Seeing the different stamp designs will make you want to visit to collect them all!

Explore Hotaka Shrine at Myojin Pond – A Power Spot Surrounded by Nature

Image of the inner shrine of Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano
Photo:The inner shrine of Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano

The inner shrine of Hotaka Shrine is located at the foot of Mt. Myojin, an hour's walk from Kappa Bridge (Kappabashi Bridge) at Kamikochi. An inner shrine, "okumiya" in Japanese, is a shrine located at the top or middle of a mountain when a particular shrine has several smaller shrines. Myojin Pond near the shrine is said to be a sacred place where prayers for rain have been held since ancient times.
On October 8 each year, a festival is held to pray for the safety of hikers and to express gratitude to the mountains by taking two boats around Myojin Pond.

Myojin Pond does not freeze over in the winter due to springs and underground water. It is also called "Kagami-ike" (mirror pond) because of this, and its calm surface reflects the natural beauty of the area throughout the year. There is a 300 yen entrance fee to visit Myojin Pond.

A Bamboo Lantern Festival, Wind Chime Festival, and Other Events at Hotaka Shrine

Image of the bamboo lantern festival at Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano
Photo:The bamboo lantern festival at Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano

In addition to Ofune Matsuri, Hotaka Shrine also hosts a variety of other seasonal events. Every year on a weekend in December, a lantern festival called "Kamiakari" is held for several weeks at night. Approximately 10,000 bamboo lanterns are lined up, creating a mysterious atmosphere in the shrine grounds. If you come with a candle lighter (utility lighter) by the designated time, you may be able to participate in the lighting ceremony.

Azumino, Nagano is known as a summer resort in Japan. Every year in July and August, a wind chime festival is held at Hotaka Shrine. Wind chimes of various shapes and colors are decorated with strips of paper with wishes attached to them, and the cool sounds of the wind chimes are played under the eaves of the Kagura Hall (Shinto music and dancing hall) in front of the main shrine building.

This Origin of Festivals in Japan

Image of people carrying a portable shrine at a festival
Photo:People carrying a portable shrine at a festival

The Japanese word "matsuri" (祭り), meaning "festival," comes from the word "matsuru" (祀る), which means "to give thanks to the gods." Festivals in Japan can be traced back to Japanese creation myths and Shinto gods, such as Amaterasu, the sun goddess.
During the Heian Period (794-1185 AD), portable shrines became common in festivals, which allowed the gods to leave from the shrines and go into town where the people were.
Today, there are many festivals throughout the year in Japan, including summer festivals full of fireworks and more.

Things to Do Near Hotaka Shrine

Image of Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto, Nagano
Photo:Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto, Nagano

Hotaka Shrine is located just 30 minutes north of Matsumoto by train. There are a number of things to see and do in Matsumoto, so below we'll list a few.

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle is one of the 12 castles in Japan with an original castle keep. It's one of the most beautiful castles in Japan and has a striking appearance with black walls and roof tiles and is surrounded by a moat filled with koi.
The inside of the castle is filled with guns and armor that would have been used by samurai during battles, and visitors can enjoy climbing the steep staircases, while looking out the loopholes for guns and arrows. Upon reaching the top of the castle, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Matsumoto.

Hours: 8:30 am - 5:00 pm (last entry 4:30 pm)
Closed: Year-end holidays (December 29-31)
Admission Fee: Adults: 700 yen, elementary and junior high school students: 300 yen
※Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more.

Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto was established to collect, manage, and study ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints). If you're interested in Japanese art, the museum has a fine collection of pieces to explore.

Hours: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Closed: Mondays and year-end/New Years holidays ※If Monday is a holiday, the museum will be closed the following Tuesday Admission Fee: Adults: 1,000 yen, junior high/high school/university students: 500 yen, elementary school students and younger: free

Kamikochi is a highland valley in Chubu Sangaku National Park that is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in Japan. The Kamikochi area is surrounded by mountains and through it runs beautiful streams. There's also an abundance of wildlife in the lush forests in the area, and visitors can even see monkeys near the famous Kappa Bridge.
The area is great for enjoying some light hiking and fresh air.

To get to Kamikochi, it's recommended that you reserve a bus in advance, as it can often be crowded.

Summary of Festivals at Hotaka Shrine

Image of Myojin Pond at the inner shrine of Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano
Photo:Myojin Pond at the inner shrine of Hotaka Shrine, Azumino, Nagano

The traditional culture inherited by the people of Azumino has a history and background that's so old that it's hard to imagine that it comes from Nagano Prefecture, which does not face the sea.
In the video you can see the floats decorated with Hotaka dolls crashing into one another! if you decide to visit the festival, don't forget to take photos!

Hotaka Shrine and Myojin Pond are easily accessible as well, so be sure to stop by when you come to see Ofune Matsuri, or visit the area on a trip.

【Official Website】Hotaka Shrine

【TripAdvisor】Hotaka Shrine

Written By
Last Updated : Sep. 6, 2023
鈴木 正孝(Masataka Suzuki)
A writer born and raised in Asakusa, Tokyo who loves traveling and novels
Ofune Matsuri – A Unique Festival in Nagano, Japan!
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