Every year on the second Saturday of January, a large tug of war event is held in Aizu-Misato (which is a town that formed from the merger of Aizu-Takada, Aizu-Hongo, and Niitsuru towns) in western Fukushima Prefecture.
Unlike other tug of war events found elsewhere in Japan, the center of the tug of war is a large bale of rice.
It is believed this event is a 400 year old tradition rooted in the Shinto Religion.
The event is held at the downtown market place of Aizu-Misato, just 15 minutes directly south of Aizu-Takada Station on foot. Its marketplace venue signifies the event’s focus on blessing the town’s commercial activity.
Teams are divided into red and white. If one team wins, rice harvests will be blessed; if the other wins, the price of rice will increase.
Prior to the start of the tug of war, participants will gather together in front of the stores to pray for the blessings from the local market deities.
At the main intersection, the mayor, governor, and other key local government members will give a speech, ends with them breaking a giant barrel of sake (and yes you can drink this for free!)
The Tug of War consists of two phases. The first is one that is open to the public where you can have a chance at participating in this event. The second, longer phase, involves members of the red and white teams as they converge towards the center. The battle is a best two out of three format.
You will be surprised that many of its male participants will be nearly naked, wearing nothing but a loin cloth in January weather!
Reaching Aizu-Misato will take a bit of time. If you are coming from Tokyo, or are located further north in Sendai and beyond, you will need to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Koriyama Station in Fukushima Prefecture.
From Koriyama, you will need to ride the Ban-Etsu West Line towards Aizu-Wakamatsu. It is normally found on Platform One in Koriyama Station. Please note that during the spring to the end of summer, you can also ride the special FruiTea Train, which is basically the same Ban-Etsu West Line with an additional maid cafe car.
From Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, transfer to the JR Tadami Line and get off at Aizu-Takada Station. This entire trip is covered within the JR Rail Pass as well as the JR Seishun 18 (excluding the Shinkansen).
Another option for those in the Tokyo area is to go to Asakusa and take the Tobu Revaty Aizu Line, which will go straight to southern Fukushima Prefecture. You will need to switch at Aizu-Tajima, take the Aizu Railway to Aizu-Wakamatsu, then transfer to the JR Tadami Line to Aizu-Takada Station. Please note that Tobu Railway and Aizu Railway are separate companies from JR East, so the JR Rail Pass and JR Seishun 18 ticket will not be valid on those segments.
If you are in Tokyo, which route should you take? It depends what you want to prioritize. The Tobu route is an hour or two longer, but far more scenic as you will traverse through the beautiful mountain side and pass through many hot springs. If you do not have access to any special rail passes, the Tobu route is also significantly cheaper. On the other hand, the Shinkansen method is the fastest.
There are very few hotels in Aizu-Misato Town. It is recommended to stay in Aizu-Wakamatsu where there is an abundance of accommodation options, and commute to Aizu-Misato on the JR Tadami Line.
Hyperdia – Go here to organize your train schedule. A must for this area as trains are infrequent
Japanican – Go here to reserve hotel rooms
Japan’s Samurai Cities – Read our guide on how to travel to Aizu-Wakamatsu and ride JR East’s FruiTea Train!
JR East Train Status – If commuting in winter, it is important to check JR East’s train status to see if there are any delays. The Aizu area has a lot of snow in winter, so be sure to check if your train will be on time!
Aizu Misato Official Tourism Page – Go here for up to the date information on events in Aizu-Misato. It is in Japanese, although there is a google translate option for English.