Niihama City in Ehime Prefecture is a bustling industrial city of 122,000 people on the north coast of Shikoku. Although its Inland Sea shoreline is dominated by Sumitomo factories, there are many scenic areas such as Takinomiya Park and Yamane Park.
Attractions of Niihama include Minetopia Besshi, Ehime Science Museum, Hirose House, Zuiō-ji Temple (twice visited by the Dalai Lama), hiking in the nearby mountains, shopping at the massive Aeon Mall and the intense Taiko Festival held every October.
In the Middle Ages, Niihama was the base of the Nii Clan, one of the kaizoku maritime clans of the Inland Sea area. The name of the city means the beach of the Nii.
During World War II, POW camps were located in Niihama, housing Australian, Chinese and Dutch prisoners.
Niihama is bordered by Saijō to the west and Shikokuchuo to the east. In the mountains far south of central Niihama is the border with Kōchi Prefecture.
The island of Ōshima, in the Inland Sea to the northeast of the city, is part of Niihama.
The Taikodai Festival is held over six areas of the city. It’s one of the biggest festivals in Shikoku. It’s also called Otoko Matsuri or Men’s Festival, because it’s a very masculine affair, with drum wagons that are hauled around by local men. These massive platforms consist of an internal wooden frame with a drum and a drummer. The frames are decorated lavishly with relief embroidery depicting dragons, traditional buildings, and legends. Around the top are colourful braided quilts, finished off with huge tassels.
The event originated some 800 years ago to pray for an abundant harvest. In the Meiji period, the taikodai were quite small, but their size increased in step with the development of local industry.
The taikodai are blessed in shrines and then paraded around the city. Where several of them gather, the men trundle them back and forth, sometimes lifting the taikodai into the air. This is called kakikurabe. Everything is accompanied by shouts of “Sorya! Sorya!”. Every other year, the festival takes to the water, with a parade of taikodai on barges in the sea, to pray for a good catch.
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