Blog of Orbray Co., Ltd.

Orbray Participates in “Inukko Festival” in Yuzawa City, Akita, for First Time in 8 Years

   Last Modified:    Published: 2023/03

Orbray Co., Ltd., participated in the “Inukko Festival” (the festival of dogs) in Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture, on Feb.11-12, for the first time in eight years. The traditional festival has a history of 400 years and is held in mid-February. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to be canceled in 2021-2022, employees of Orbray’s Yuzawa factory excitedly enjoyed preparing for this year’s gathering, while implementing infection-control measures.

This year, a total of 14 small huts resembling traditional shrines  were constructed of snow at the festival site near the Yuzawa City Gymnasium. In front of each hut (Odokko) was a pair of Inukko (dog) statues made of snow. The Inukko were modeled after the guardian lion statues that are often found in front of Shinto shrines. Both the huts and the dog statues were about 2 meters (6.5 feet) high. In the Akita dialect, people add the suffix “kko” to a noun to show their affection. For example, “ochakko” means “tea (ocha)” and “warashikko “ means “a child (warashi).”  

In the Odokko Competition, in which participants competed in terms of skill and beauty of snow hut construction, Orbray won two prizes – the Yuzawa Chamber of Commerce President’s Prize, and the Ugo Kotsu Co. Prize. Our design featuring straight lines was pretty cool, wasn’t it? On the roof eaves of our hut, we placed a nameplate reading “Orbray,” the new corporate name that we adopted at the start of this year.

It takes about a week to build the snow statues, so we asked the senior citizens’ job placement center of Yuzawa City to dispatch some workers to complete the project. To make good snow statues, a variety of skills are required, such as how to use salt to bind the snow together, and how to compact the snow. As the workers from the center were familiar with snow statue creation, they were able to skillfully construct sturdy, attractive statues. In the past, people had to build up the snow by hand and compact it by tramping it under their feet. Heavy labor was required to repeat this operation to make big enough lumps of snow. Today, they can use power shovels to make three square-shaped chunks of snow: cores for two Inukko and one Odokko. Then they sculpt the statues by using various tools, such as saws, chainsaws, shovels, and rulers.

This year, we’ve had less snow than usual. We believe the workers had a hard time in making the statues. Even so, we were able to win prizes. All employees at Orbray’s Yuzawa factory were full of gratitude to them.

We had a beautiful sunny day on Feb. 11, the first day of the festival. This was rare in Yuzawa in the winter. Many families with children visited the festival and enjoyed games such as catching goldfish and eating various food such as fried noodles and curries from stalls and food trucks. Samples of local cuisine were offered, and local breweries invited visitors to taste their sake. The festival site was filled with people who wanted to have fun after the ending of pandemic restrictions. 

Children were excited to be lifted onto the back of the Inukko statues, and enjoyed going down snow slides. Many people brought their dogs, which received a purification rite at the Inukko Shrine made of snow. A large dog park was built at the site. At night, candles were lit in the Odokko huts, creating a fantastic atmosphere. The festival reached its climax as fireworks were launched.

It’s not easy to walk outside during the winter in regions of heavy snow. Children as well as dogs tend to stay at home. The Inukko Festival is one of the rare opportunities for them to go outside and have fun. From the cheerful scenes we observed, we think people and animals alike were refreshed by the festival. 

The Inukko Festival originated from an incident 400 years ago. In the early Edo period, a feudal lord in this region arrested a bandit who had terrorized the area. The lord then ordered local people to make small dogs, cranes, and turtles of rice powder, and place them at the entrances and windows of their houses, as a symbol of prayer that such misfortunes would never happen again. That practice has evolved into using snow to create big dogs and shrine-like huts. Smaller dogs made of rice powder are enshrined inside the huts. Mochi rice cakes and sweet sake are also offered to show gratitude for the residents’ continuing good fortune.

The festival is held during Koshogatsu (Lunar New Year). In Akita Prefecture, people hold a variety of events during this period to pray for a good harvest and a peaceful life. The end of Koshogatsu lifts people’s spirits because it suggests that a long and gloomy winter will soon come to an end.

More than 50 years have passed since Orbray started its operations in Yuzawa. We have engaged in various social activities to connect with the local people and demonstrate our appreciation of them. Participating in festivals that have long been cherished in the region is part of such efforts. At Orbray, we are strengthened by our contributions to the community of Yuzawa.

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