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千歳ひょうたん祭り Chitose-hyoutan-matsuri The Chitose Gourd Festival

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The Chitose Gourd Festival is a bizarre and peculiar festival that has been traditionally held at the Shibayama Hachiban Temple in Chitose, Bungo-ono, Oita Prefecture.

The festival is also known as the Shimotsuki Festival and these days takes place every year on the first Sunday of December. The festival dates back about 800 years to a time when two powerful families, Otomo and Satsuma, who were Shugo-Shoku (provincial military commissioners) of Bunzen and Bungo respectively, warred constantly over the sorrowful land of Masunaga Toyotake, who were also a powerful family.

The Chitose Gourd Festival is believed to have begun when Masunaga filled his gourd with Japanese sake, and dedicated a 'shishimai' (lion dance) and contest of 'yabusame' (archery on horseback) to the Uji Shinto temple. He made a supplication for a 'bunrei' (a part of the deity needed to establish a new branch of a shrine).

The festival performers wear scarlet 'hitatare' kimonos, or hakama, and bear a large sword on their backs while carrying a long gourd, some 85cm long, on their heads. They also must carry a gourd filled with about 5.4 liters of sacred sake on their waist, and wear giant 'waraji' (straw sandals) about 70cm wide.

The leading headman, known as 'Hyotan-sama; (Mr Gourd), must wear a peculiar outfit that is about 1.20m long, while saying 'Let's all hope for a good harvest! Drink this sake! It's good for your health!'. The leader shares his sake with his comrades who drink cheerfully and merrily and parade for about 2 hours along a 1km route.
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