Last night was the first of the two days of the annual Kawagoe Matsuri in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. Kawagoe is an old trading town and because it escaped the bombing raids of the war a remarkable number of old Edo period houses and streets have survived, earning it the nickname of “Little Edo”, or Koedo (小江戸). The nickname is reflected in the famous local beer brewery making use of another of the town’s specialities, the sweet potato.
The first night of the festival was held in near perfect weather, although for my photography I would have wanted more clouds to help brighten up the city a little. It was intensely crowded as usual and as much as I tried I could not find all of the dashi. All in all it was a perfect evening for a festival and a perfect festival in itself! The second night of the festival has already started and if you are interested I suggested heading up to Kawagoe by using any of the three stations, Honkawagoe, Kawagoeshi or Kawagoe. Enjoy!
If you are in Tokyo this weekend and not interested in the massive Kawagoe festival taking place in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo I recommend visiting the far smaller but almost as crowded Oeshiki ceremony at Kishibojin in Zoshigaya, a 10 minute walk south of Ikebukuro station. Kishibojin temple is one of those religious mysteries of which there are so many in Japan. Even the name is unclear as it changes from different maps and signs, and it is a hybrid Shrine/Temple celebrating Oeshiki which is a distinctly buddhist ceremony a week later than all the other Oeshiki ceremonies, it is officially called a shrine but it has no torii gate but a small Inarijinja. I have visited dozens of times but I still haven’t unravelled this one. More studies needed!
Yesterday when I took these photos was the first evening of the three night event. Tonight and tomorrow will be much bigger with thousands of people taking part and as many onlookers crowding the narrow streets leading up to Kishibojin temple. Like at the Oeshiki in the main Nichiren temple in Ikegami last week, there are lots of matoi dancers as well as the larger mando. It is considered good luck to touch one of the white paper flowers and you can even buy them to decorate your home altar at a small stand inside the temple, but unlike the main ceremony in Ikegami touching them is not encouraged and I have never seen anyone doing it, so it is probably better to ask before reaching out and getting some of that good luck!
Photographing this even it extremely difficult, fast moving, dark and quite introverted this is not a photogenic festival despite all the fantastic things going on! Also, if you are into amezaiku the man at Zoshigaya this weekend is really talented. Also, while visiting the festival you can check out what is probably the oldest kiosk in continuous operation in the world, having started in 1781!
If you are in the Kanto area (basically Tokyo and all the surrounding prefectures) this weekend you can do worse than spending it in the Saitama prefecture city of Kawagoe: It is time for the annual and massive Kawagoe Matsuri, easily one of the most accessible of the grand local festivals outside of Tokyo and the place to go to see the massive dashi as they are pulled around by teams of townspeople. Especially fun to watch is when two dashi meets and a battle ensues to see which will be granted right of way and which should move away. The aim of the battle is to disorient the other dashis handlers by cheering and chanting for your own neighborhood dashi. While all this is going on I suspect that the leaders of the two dashi exchange a few words to make sure it all goes smoothly though. Also, while the dashi are stopped the handlers take the opportunity to prepare for a change of course or do minor repairs and alterations to the undercarriage of the dashi, which is easy to miss with all the noise above them.
During these two days well over 800 000 visitors come to see the 10 dashi and take part in this great festival. Last year’s festival was too rainy for most people but if the weather holds this year might be the biggest festival yet, maybe even topping the 1 003 000 people who came to the festival in 2012 which made it the biggest festival in Saitama prefecture. The very narrow streets and huge crowds make it an interesting experience. However, a word of warning might be useful. As far as I know there has never been a major accident involving the dashi of the Kawagoe Matsuri, a couple of weeks ago in another part of Japan there was a tragic incident when a dashi knocked over a temple structure during a festival, causing a lot of damage. Even if you are aware of yourself and your kids and keep away from the dashi itself, it pays to keep an eye out for where they are going as these things are very heavy and famously difficult to control. I suspect that there will be more guards around the dashi than usual this year. Lets stay safe and lets enjoy this great festival!
I took these photos on the second and last day of last year’s festival.
Two weekends ago I visited the annual Ikebukuro Matsuri, which is the biggest festival in Toshima Ward, one of the biggest of the 23 central Tokyo special wards. At one time Ikebukuro was famous for being the spot in the world with more square feet department store than anywhere else, but the recent death of department stores have lead to there being of these. The number of visitors to the festival keeps increasing however, with this year’s festival the busiest ever. I arrived very late to the West exit area of Ikebukuro but saw my favorite omikoshi in Tokyo – the death defying balls of steel no fear omikoshi (as I call it). They stop regularly on their route and tip the omikoshi violently and rapidly back and forth, urging each other to go deeper and deeper. I can not imagine anything that would bring me more mortal fear than being underneath this omikoshi as it tips over, a ton of wood and steel being inches from crushing you stopped at the last moment by tired, sweaty, possibly drunk, neighbors and friends. Still, it is utterly fascinating to watch. Like bungee jumping, but the other way around.
Ikebukuro is famous for being far more rough and tumble than the rest of Tokyo so it is only natural that their festivals take on a slightly wilder nature!
Although the many omikoshi is the main draw of the festival (there are dozens) a lot of people come for the music performances, food stalls, Okinawan dance troupes and taiko drummers. It is an interesting festival to watch!