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!
One of the most popular tourist destinations for visitors to Tokyo both Japanese and foreign, is on of the two Disney Resorts in nearby Chiba Prefecture: Disneyland and Disney Sea. Last week I made my first visit to Disney Sea during the Halloween special period, which is arguably the high high season for Disney here in Japan. Halloween means special events, special bands, special shows and parades. In Disney Sea, which is the far more adult oriented of the two Disney Resorts, the Halloween specials are particularly interesting, with a quite unique set of characters and costumes, including these grinning skeletons who roam the park and feature in most shows.
I saw this musical troupe of dancing skeletons while walking around, performing in what looked like an impromptu street set. This season means that Disney Sea is incredibly crowded and it can be tough to get a good view at any of the shows!
For an adult the ticket price is a steep 6400 yen, but for me even the show at the SS Columbia alone was worth it.
This year saw the 733rd Oeshiki ceremony at Tokyo’s Ikegami Honmonji Temple in the southern Ota Ward. Among the performers were the usual matoi dancers, laymen followers of the Nichiren temples who take part in the festivities by twirling their matoi around their bodies. These matoi are about 10kg heavy but the guys make it seem very easy. I especially liked these two men who did pretty fantastic two person set where they mirrored each other’s movements to great effect. The crowd was mighty pleased! Even as I was taking these I was thinking how much one of them reminded me of Johnny Depp, same stern features, the scraggly beard and the dark eyes! Very striking! I for one would be happy to see matoi dancing as an olympic sport!
As usual, please click the images for full picture quality!