Inoru, Tanushimaru.Inoru, Tanushimaru.

Inoru, Tanushimaru.Inoru, Tanushimaru.

Mushi-oi Matsuri: A 300-Year-Old Tradition Celebrating Rice Cultivation


“Mushi-oi Matsuri” is a traditional festival with a history dating back over 300 years, currently held every three years in mid-November in Tanushimaru. The festival of the same name is observed in other places in Japan, but the one here is unique and  cannot be found anywhere else in Japan. The festival features a lively battle between two large puppets representing samurai warriors: Saitō Bettō Sanemori and Tezuka Tarō Mitsumori from the Battle of Shinohara in the Heike Monogatari. Sanemori, who was defeated in the battle, is said to have transformed into a rice pest, and his puppet is nicknamed "Sanemori-mushi" (the Sanemori bug).

Historical Significance:

The existence of the Mushi-oi Matsuri in Tanushimaru as early as 1706 is confirmed by the ancient document "Ishihara-kaki (Record of Ishihara Family)." It is also said that the famous folklorist Yanagita Kunio introduced the festival in a magazine article.

Original Purpose and Transformation:

Originally, the festival aimed to exterminate rice pests by burning them with torches. Therefore, it was held in each village before the rice harvest, depending on the occurrence of pests.

Today, the festival is organized to celebrate rice harvest, by the Youth members of  JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives) Niji branch, Tanushimaru District. Preparations begin in October, and the puppets are newly crafted each time using rice straw and bamboo poles. The large horse puppet, however, is a repaired version of what was made in 1977. In early November, two weeks of early morning practice are held to get used to the weight and handling of the puppets and horse.

The Festival Day and Its Significance:

On the day of the festival in mid-November, about 100 people gather at Tanushimaru Tenmangu Shrine at 7:30 a.m. for a send-off ceremony. The festival is then performed throughout the town, including at nurseries and the Tanushimaru central area. The climax of the festival is a grand battle between the puppets and the horse in the Kose River at night.

Efforts to Preserve the Tradition:

Since the 1980s, Tanushimaru Elementary School has also been performing the Mushi-oi Matsuri at its sports festival using child-sized puppets and a horse to preserve the local tradition.

While the festival now involves not only the current members of JA Niji Tanushimaru Youth, but also OB members, staff and members from other districts’ JA, also the Tanushimaru Chamber of Commerce, there is still a shortage of participants. The efforts and ingenuity to pass on this unique festival that has continued for over 300 years to the next generation will continue.