Onomichi Minato Matsuri (Port Festival) – Part 1


I’m currently living within the geographical boundaries of Onomichi City…but if you want to be technical about it, I’m actually a resident of one of Onomichi’s neighbouring islands, Innoshima. The settlements in this area owe their very existence to the sea, and sure enough, there is a related festival – the Onomichi Port Festival (Minato Matsuri). The festival celebrates Onomichi port’s construction, which began in 1740. When the shipyards were in their heyday, Innoshima had over 50,000 residents and therefore had the right to call itself a city, etc. etc. Nowadays, its population is under 30,000. Innoshima has been merged into the island-gobbling conglomerate of Onomichi City. That, my friends, is why having a port is a big deal around here. No port = no shipyard = no city. (I should explain that Mukaishima, Innoshima, and Ikuchijima) do have “ports” but they are small and used for ferries…therefore they don’t throw festivals to celebrate…)

The festival runs over a full weekend, but I attended on Sunday afternoon only, which means I missed the famous Minato Matsuri parade…but witnessed three other spectacular events (and some other things which can’t rightly be described as spectacular but that I find noteworthy in their own small insignificant ways and will therefore share with you anyway). Onomichi is a short, five-minute/100 yen ferry ride across the sliver of sea that separates it from Mukaishima, Innoshima’s northern-neighbouring island. In order to reach Mukaishima, I had to brave the currents and swim through swarms of jellyfish. No, I’m just checking if you’re reading carefully. Actually, a friend drove me to a parking spot beside the ferry port, as it is much more convenient to take the ferry across than attempt to find parking in Onomichi during its most famous festival.

What you can’t see in these photos/videos is the temperature – it was hot. The sun was out in full, and it felt about 26 degrees Celsius at least. When the students whirled on the dry lawn, maelstroms of dust and brown grass bits whirled too. The MC yelled into the microphone to start off each school’s dance entry. He seemed to alternate between “LET’S GET IT ON!!!!” and a couple of non-offensive, school-age-child-appropriate phrases that naturally I can’t remember now.

Let me explain a little about who makes this festival happen…In Part 1 (this post) you can see photos of school students participating in a dance competition between schools. There are hundreds of students who have been practicing singing/chanting and dancing to the same piece of music, again and again on different days, after their full school day, in addition to the ridiculously heavy workload they already have. Some of the students walk an hour to school and then walk back home afterwards. After school, if they don’t have club activities or make-up tests or preparation for major events like the Onomichi Minato Matsuri, they may have to come learn English from me.

I hope you enjoy these clips and appreciate their efforts.

Here are clips of this year’s winning school:


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