The current Niu Shrine was established in 1909 as part of the Meiji Restoration initiative to unite the many Shinto shrines of each village and town into a single main shrine. Several shrines in Niu village were united into Niu Shrine, however, the town still preserved all of their old festivals including the famous ‘Laughter Festival’.
The festival is held in early October on the Sunday following the National Athletic holiday (a holiday commemorating the opening of Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964). The festival itself is registered as Prefectural Cultural Heritage asset and is called the ‘Laughter Festival’ because a festival leader called ‘Suzu Furi’ or ‘Bell Jingler’ dresses up in a humorous clown-like costume and leads the attendees in synchronized bouts of laughter with each bell jingle.
The origin of this bizarre tradition can be traced back to the age of gods from a legend in the area. According the legend, the goddess named Niutsuhime-No-Mikoto had overslept for an annual gathering between the many gods at Izumo. The gods mocked her for oversleeping and so Niutsuhime-No-Mikoto became terribly grieved and locked herself in the Niu shrine. The worried villagers, wanting to console and cheer her up, gathered outside the Niu shrine and began laughing in unison. Their laughter is said to have restored joy to both the goddess and the villagers themselves, and so the town gathers yearly at Niu shrine to celebrate the miraculous power of laughter.
Address: 1956 Ekawa, Hidakagawa-cho, Hidaka-gun, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan
From “Wasa Sta.” of JR Kinokuni Line, 10min. by taxi.
From Yuasa-Gobo Highway “Gobo Exit”, about 5min.