~~~ Unless stated otherwise in the caption, all photos belong to me~~~
The only down side to the festival is the unfortunate tradition of getting horses wildly drunk and agitating them until they stampede through the crowds of people. While today I don't think they can give the horses sake, you still unfortunately see plenty of horses being riled up until they quite literally start foaming at the mouth and run like mad. The men then try to desperately cling to the horse as it wildly gallops through the water. FUN!
Each year, priests and priestesses from 10 different shrines come to the Myoken festival to transport a divine palanquin, or mikoshi from Yatsushiro Shrine to Shioya Hachimangu. The palanquin houses a sacred object that holds a part of a kami inside. It is said that the lord of Yatsushiro castle, Tadaoki Hosokawa, called for the creation of the mikoshi in 1635 and even drew the dragon on the ceiling himself.
The parade floats, know as kasaboko, were introduced to the festival some time around 1681 - 1687. These were carried by common every day villagers and were a very popular addition. Each of the nine floats represents a district of the old castle town.
From the festival website, "The basic structure of kasaboko consists of three parts: the undercarriage (dai), the column standing upright in the center (hashira), and the octagonal plane parasol (kasa) placed on top of the column. The column consists of a hollow cylinder (sotobashira) and the column placed inside the cylinder (uchibashira). “Kasa” is placed on top of the uchibashira, which supports the entire weight of kasaboko except that of the under carriage with that one point of the column end. The framework of “kasa” is made of three different wooden parts. In addition, architectural decorations/sculptures or engravings/Mizuhiki-maku (curtains) are placed on kasaboko."
Another popular part of the festival is the large Game (pronounced in Japanese as gah-meh). The Game is a mythical creature that is half snake half turtle. It was introduced some time between 1681 - 1689. Men stand underneath the Game and will spin and shake the beast wildly, much to the entertainment of the crowd. There's also a children's version that's much smaller and much cuter.
The festival is also famous for its Lion Dance (shishimai). In 1691, a merchant named Kanshichi Izakuraya introduced it to the festival as an easy version of the dance he saw at the Suwa Shrine Festival a few years before.
The best part is that it's good luck for the lion to bite your head. So you'll often see parents thrusting their baby's head into the mouth of the lion.
One of the greatest parts of this festival is that an incredible number of participants dress up in traditional clothing. In the past, this festival heavily involved the local villagers. And so the modern iteration of this festival includes a large menagerie of volunteers dressed in traditional garb.