Every year, seven teams of local men from Shirahama Town, Himeji City carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) clash, aiming to knock each other’s shrine down in a competition of local neightborhoods. Decorated with brilliant gold and silver crests and symbolic designs, the mikoshi portable shrines are carried from Matsubara Hachiman Shrine to an area of town turned into an arena just for the event near Otabi-yama (Otabi Mountain). Local residents invest great amounts of time and money toward the festival (hundreds of millions of yen for decades on end), drawing visitors from across the country for good reasons.
For one, Nada no Kenka Matsuri is one of the grandest fighting festivals in all of Japan, bigger than other fighting festivals in Hyogo Prefecture and roughly equal in size to the Danjiri Matsuri in Kishiwada City, Osaka. Moreover, Nada no Kenka Matsuri includes more direct competition between the shrines, with physical pushing, shoving, and clashing that the Danjiri Matsuri does not include.
In any case, fighting festivals in Japan are serious business, with them continuing year after year (since around 1345 in Shirahama) despite the not infrequent deaths of spectators or participants (i.e. once in 2001 and once in 2009). As such, I advise keeping your distance and listening to the local police serving to direct and protect everyone there.
Keeping a basic sense of caution (don’t get in front of the mikoshi), the festival promises to be enjoyable even in rainy weather. Local stalls sell food and drinks, and seated areas above the “battlegrounds” provide a nice view of shrines’ intense interplay. Drummers inside the shrines and other percussionists outside direct the teams of men bearing the shrines moving roughly and with much shouting. When I went, it was rainy and windy due to a typhoon, but the participants nonetheless fought on through the cold and wet, shouting over the wind. It was a spectacle one can only understand with experience, seeing teams of locals bearing their respective colors rushing around to bash shrines against each other.
The festival starts as early as 9am, but the mikoshi are carried to the main shrine until midday, so I recommend stopping by “Senhime Chaya” for an early 11:00am lunch near Himeji Station (Egret Himeji 1st Floor, Honmachi 68, Himeji City; 079-288-4567). There, one get a highly-rated Japanese-style meal that features local delicacies such as tempura fried eel, Himeji oden stew with ginger soy sauce, and more. The restaurant is popular for a reason, and gets quite crowded, but space is generally available on weekdays before noon (the salaryman rush). Of course, reservations are also an option, though only available in Japanese. The tempura eel in particular is hard to find elsewhere, and is the most delicious tempura I have ever eaten. To try the full gamut of local cooking, I recommend the Himeji Meibutsu Setto (translatable as “Himeji Local Delicacy Set”) for 1,580 yen. Afterwards, you can take the train to see the festival 15 minutes away.
How to Get There/Dates: Every year, October 14-15
Take the JR line to JR Himeji Station (stopping around the station for a lunch at Senhime Chaya if you wish), walk to Sanyo Himeji Station, and take the Sanyo line bound for Suma or Sannomiya, getting off at Shirahama no Miya Station, then walk to Matsubara Hachiman Shrine