Earlier this month, my husband and I attended the Kurayami Matsuri (Darkness Festival) in nearby Fuchu City. We arrived just in time for the mantou competition and I’m so glad we made it!
The mantou competition is a kind of strength and dance competition all at once. Each neighborhood makes it’s own mantou, a decorated pole with a distinctive symbol or figure on top and two layers of flowers coming out from the center like drooping spokes off a wheel. The flowers all appeared to be crafted from delicate paper but the rest of the structure is quite solid and in all weighs up to 50 kg (~110 lbs). That’s quite a lot when considering the object of the competition is to twirl the mantou around in a circle for two minutes! Each team was allowed to substitute in a new member when the previous grew tired but even then they kept the twirling going as they transferred this 50 kg mantou! The rest of the neighborhood’s team would chant and clap along to encourage the dancers during the two minutes. Sometimes though it just wasn’t enough and a dancer would begin to lose control of the mantou as the crowd oohed and aahed (and got out of the way). It certainly made for an exciting atmosphere!
Some of my favorites were the ones with horse figures on the top. I thought they could have been popular as a symbol either because it’s the Year of the Horse or because the area used to offer gifts of horses to the Imperial court and so horses are a symbol for the area.
At least one of the mantou did come crashing down. We’d been lulled into a false sense of security by all the previous ones that appeared ready to topple and then were righted at the last moment. This one was up one moment and down the next! Don’t worry though, no one was hurt and the dancer had it right back up and going again. Some of the judges looked like they were having a particularly good time during the spills.
No matter the decoration, the twirling of the mantou was really beautiful and the photos really don’t do it justice. I did take a short video of one of the mantou and I’ll share a clip of that here but be warned, the quality is not the best. Hopefully it’ll at least give you an idea of the amount of work the dancers were doing and how beautiful the mantou were in motion.
Once the competition was over, the mantou were paraded out of the Okunitama shrine grounds, through the festival stalls, and back to their respective neighborhoods. It looked like they barely fit through the gates!
I was able to get a close look at one of the mantou during their return parade. I wonder if the guy riding on the mantou’s trolley is exhausted from dancing around with this huge thing for two minutes!
The mantou competition is something I’ve only ever seen at the Kurayami Matsuri and I’m so glad we got to see it! The neighborhood teams put a lot of time and effort into crafting these beautiful creations and dancing in the competition. I highly recommend mantou to anyone who has the chance to see it!