Monday, June 16, 2014

Kumo Gassen, 2014

Back in January, when I took the Aira City View bus up to Aira, I noticed a number of signs along the road advertising the Kumo Gassen. From that point, I wanted to try visiting to find out what it is, but there wasn't a lot of useful information on the net, specifically for when in 2014 it would be. I could get what from wikipedia and a few travel agency sites promoting Kajiki City as a travel destination specifically for people wanting to watch the gassen. Finally, the good people at Kajiki uploaded a PDF file including the entry application details for anyone wanting to compete this year, saying that it would be held on June 15. Rather than bother with trying to find another Aira bus, I just took the local JR train both ways (460 yen ($4.70 USD)). Kajiki is at the north end of Kinko Bay, about 6 stops from the main Kagoshima Chuo station, and one stop short of Aira. The weather was pretty overcast so there wasn't much point in wandering the city before or after the event, so I only hung around for 3 hours before returning home.

"Kumo Gassen" translates to "spider fights". According to the flier handed out at the event, the tradition dates back to the late 1500's, when local lord Yoshihiroko Shimadzu took soldiers from Kajiki to fight in the Bunroku-Keicho War on the Korean Peninsula. Spider wrestling supposedly started when Shimadzu pitted female Kogane spiders against each other as a way of boosting the morale of the soldiers on the front line. Kumo Gassen continued from when Kajiki was the main Shimdazu castle town (the castle slowly worked its way down to Kagoshima City over the centuries). Kogane spiders are of the argiope species, and in North America are referred to as corn spiders. The females are the aggressive ones.

The event is in the Kajiki Public Welfare building, 2 blocks from the train station. The first floor of the building has an exhibit on Kogane spiders, the history of the gassen, and artwork by children.

This panel describes the proper preparation for anyone wanting to raise fighting spiders. You can buy spiders from various sources, or go out and capture your own.

The entrance to the spider exhibit would go well together in an American Halloween party.

(The adult's stage is in the background.)

The event day was divided up into three parts, which were held in the auditorium on the second floor. In the morning was a judging contest for "best in class". This was followed by the round robin eliminations in both the children's and adult's divisions. The actual championship rounds, the final 16, started at 1:30 PM. I arrived while people were still eating lunch. While a few women had tables set up at the entrance for selling local produce and snacks, there weren't any of the food or toy booths you'd normally expect from a matsuri. Very few restaurants in the immediate area, either, so you either have to drive off somewhere to eat, or bring your own lunch.

(Carry bags.)

There are several metal hangers set up around the floor for hanging the carry bags people bring their spiders in. Spiders not still in the competition get returned to the bags. If you look closely, you can see a few spiders in the above photo.

For the fighting portion, the rules are simple. The judge puts one spider, the "Kamae" at the end of a horizontal wooden pole, and the "Shikake" at the other end. He prevents the two from seeing each other with his hand until they're both ready. Then, he removes his hand and the round starts. The winner is the first one to wrap its silk around the other's abdomen, or the first to bite the other's abdomen. If the spider can cut the main support silk of its opponent, it also wins. If one spider successfully escapes, it loses. The judges are very careful to ensure that the contestants aren't injured.

The entrants have to bring 3 spiders. They fight in 3 matches in the round robin, and if they win all three they advance to the finals.

(The children's stage.)

When the fighting was over, the children had the chance to play with spiders that were put into a general "you can have these" box.

At 3:30, the awards were announced. The winners received boxes of prizes provided by the sponsors, including Spider shochu and cartons of local spring water. There was also a raffle for bottles of shochu, and certificates worth $100 from the Yamakataya department store. The main raffle prizes were two mama-chari bicycles valued at $300 each. (I didn't win anything.) Pictured above is the girl that won the children's division.

The trophy is bigger than she is.

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