Mewby and I caught this festival last year and for sheer excitement it can’t be beat. I highly recommend you catch this event on May 5th.
Earlier that morning (from around 10.30) we saw mikoshi (portable shrines) from Fujinomori Shrine carried in a parade to Fushimi Inari Taisha. It was raining but that did not dampen the spirits of the people carrying the mikoshi – they all had beers waiting for them in ice buckets at Fushimi Inari.
The main part of this festival though is the renowned “Kakeuma Shinji” (駈馬神事) at Fujinomori Shrine. This is an acrobatic horseback riding ritual, held on May 5th every year. Participants perform all kinds of crazy stunts whilst galloping full tilt through the shrine grounds. I’ve read that the stunts performed are derived from techniques used in battle, but it is hard to conceive of what practical use these tricks would be, except maybe to distract your enemy with thoughts of “Wow, you’re really cool”. Upside down, side saddle, tossing paper streamers – if you can imagine it, they do it – and the cheering crowds are left gasping in admiration.
The stunt riding takes place at 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock (each time lasting for about an hour). I’d recommend getting to this event early, as it packs out pretty quick. Fujinomori Shrine is a 5 minute walk from JR Fujinomori Station on the JR Nara Line, or a 7 minute walk from Sumizome Station on the Keihan Line. Here is a MAP.