I have been to Otsu matsuri twice but always on the second day. It is always held on the second weekend of October. Saturday is the day when the Hikiyama (the floats) are prepared and decorated and the young men and children practice the festival music, called Ohayashi. On Sunday the hikiyama are pulled along the streets and it very much reminds Gion matsuri in Kyoto, but is much less crowded, much easier to see and enjoy as people can just walk along with the floats, try to catch chimaki (talismans made of straw to protect one’s house when put above the entrance) and festive towels, see the performers and even talk to the people pulling the floats. They are very friendly, quite drunk, especially on the second day and like to chat with the foreigners.
Today I went to see the preparation phase on Saturday. The hikiyama were at a few streets, mostly on Nakamachidori street. Red lanterns were hanging above the streets and some of the decorations were exposed in rooms open to the street so people could see them from close distance. Many people were coming to see the floats and take pictures, the local people, who sponsor the festival were hanging flags and paper lanterns on their houses, shops were offering lots of food and souvenirs, the music could be heard here and there. It was very cheerful and I am sure that the rain expected tonight and tomorrow early morning will not affect the mood of the people at all! And of course – there were many photographers there too! 🙂