Kawagoe Festival – Little Edo
There’s few annual events in Saitama Prefecture more famous than the Kawagoe Festival, a massive two day event attracting hundred of thousands of locals and tourists. When I first arrived in Japan this was the first festival I visited so it holds a special place in my heart. I have blogged about it many time before so regular readers of this blog will be familiar with it already. Kawagoe City, and in particular the older parts called Hon-Kawagoe is old capital of Saitama and today the population is about 390 000 people, roughly the same size as Minneapolis or Florence but in a much much smaller space. Add to that the roughly 800 000 visitors to the festival and you can tell it’s going to get very crowded. Kawagoe is also known as “Little Edo” because despite earthquakes, civil wars, fire bombings and disasters it has managed to keep a tiny bit of the character of the old Edo, old Tokyo. Not much, but enough that there’s a handful of spots in the city where, if you squint your eyes just a little and ignore the sounds of cars, you can imagine yourself back in Tokyo as it must have looked like in the 19th or even 18th century.
But even if the city has changed, the people haven’t, they still celebrate the old festivals and the old religions in the same manner as they have done for hundreds of years. The most famous aspect of Kawagoe Festival are the huge parade floats, each with its own history and significance, supported and operated by different neighborhoods in the city. A must see for any tourist who has the chance to visit. These essentially mobile towers roam the streets pulled by hundreds of locals while musicians and dancers entertain the Gods from atop the towers. Every now and then some of them will stop and a masked character, a fox, a raccoon dog, a warrior, a maiden, or one of many others, will bless local children that are lifted up by volunteer staff or their parents to receive a good luck blessing, and in some cases even a little present, food, a coin or a good luck charm. As you can see the older kids enjoy the fun and the show but some of the younger ones are terrified, much to the amusement of everyone watching. Look at the girl in the last photo, just at the moment she stops crying. Adorable!
The first photo is also interesting. You can see some children participating in the festival, although they are maidens participating in an important ritual they can’t stop themselves from wide eyed marveling at all the stalls and their treats, snacks, candy and toys. I am much older than them but I understand that feeling. There’s just so much to see, so much to do, and it happens only once a year in their little town. This is how you build a community, traditions, inclusion and a shared responsibility.