Mitsubishi’s Wakamaru turned out to help celebrate the Osaka Tenjin Festival on July 25th 2009, a tradition which dates back at least 1000 years. One of the three largest festivals in Japan, it attracts more than a million visitors annually. One of the processions is called Funatogyo, a procession of about 100 boats transporting Shinto deities along the Dojimagawa River. Osaka University has participated in the festival for the last five years, but this is the first year to include a robot on the Handai boat.
Wakamaru appeared before an audience of 200 people, dressed in the attire of the Heian period (794-1185) omukae ningyo (welcome dolls) placed onboard to greet the floating Shinto shrines as they pass by. Incidentally this is the same style of dress that would have suited Minamoto Yoshitsune (“Ushiwakamaru”, Wakamaru’s namesake). The tradition of placing welcome dolls on the prow of boats carrying shrine parishioners gradually died out after World War II.
Wakamaru’s performance breathes new life into the tradition for the 21st century. Engineers at Osaka University added the motions of the Osaka-jime, the festival’s customary rallying call and clap, to the robot’s repertoire of morning exercise routines prior to the event. Associate Professor Koizumi commented that,”Typically outdoor performances are tricky, but everything turned out ok.”