Tenjin Matsuri 天神祭り

Tsuruoka’s Tenjin Matsuri is an annual event held on May 25th. During this unique festival, hundreds of masked men, known as “bakemono” (disguised men), roam the streets of Tsuruoka carrying sake bottles and cups. Their mission? To offer free sake to anyone interested. If you desire a cup of sake, don’t hesitate to approach them. However, keep in mind that these bakemono don’t engage in conversation as they prefer to remain anonymous by refraining from speaking.

Origins of the Tenjin Matsuri:

The Tenjin Matsuri is a festival observed in various cities across Japan and is typically organized by shrines dedicated to the Tenjin god, also recognized as the holy spirit of Sugawara no Michizane. Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) was a talented poet and influential Minister of the Right at the court of Emperor Uda. Despite Emperor Uda’s trust in Michizane, his son favored Fujiwara no Tokihira, a rival of Michizane. Through a plot devised by Fujiwara no Tokihira, Michizane was exiled in 901 to Kyushu, where he passed away in distress two years later. Following his death, calamities befell the nation, especially those involved in Michizane’s exile, leading people to believe that Michizane’s vengeful spirit was causing these misfortunes.
To appease Michizane’s spirit, he was deified as Tenjin, the god of thunder and knowledge.
Annually, in all Tenmangu shrines (dedicated to Tenjin), people celebrate the greatness of Sugawara no Michizane.
In Tsuruoka, the festival reenacts Michizane’s exile story. According to local lore, the people of Kyoto, who deeply admired Michizane, couldn’t let him depart without a farewell festival. Since speaking to an exile was forbidden, the people concealed their identities with masks, large hats, and unisex clothing. To avoid detection by snitches, the masked participants remained silent, expressing their love for Michizane through a silent festival where sake flowed freely.

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