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Akutai Festival

by Yuki Yamauchi

Staff Writer

Chants of “wasshoi” and “soiya” are often heard at Japanese festivals, but at the annual Akutai Festival they’re replaced with cuss words.

Akutai translates as “abusive language” in English and according to lore, the festival in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture, began during the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1868) as a way to ward off evil and get things off your chest. In any case, it’s clear that the event continues to be an outlet for stress.

The cursing kicks up at 1:30 p.m. when 13 priests from Atago Shrine clad in white (they’re pretending to be tengu, a type of goblin) begin trekking up the 306-meter-high Mount Atago. Participants who follow them are free to hurl insults like “bakayaro,” a Japanese classic that translates a little harsher than “idiot.” Just don’t direct your cursing at the tengu, who are considered to be divine messengers.

On their journey, the priests will drop in at 16 hokora (small shrines) to offer up a set of lucky charms for health and safety. However, the charms aren’t expected to stay on the altars for long as participants will scramble to grab them.

The festival will finish up at Atago Shrine with a scattering of rice cakes and snack bags around 3:30 p.m. It will then be followed by a closing ceremony of shouting “bakayaro” three times.

Akutai Festival takes place at and around Atago and Iitsuna shrines in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Dec. 17 (1:30-4 p.m.). Admission is free. For more details, visit www.city.kasama.lg.jp/page/page000154.html.