Spring is here and this year’s Kawagoe Harumatsuri (the 25th Kawagoe City Spring Festival) went off in perfect sunshine. The festival is over a month long and runs until the 6th of May with events happening most weekends and a few weekdays in Saitama prefecture’s Kawagoe City. As usual the opening ceremony was spectacular with the usual taiko drumming, folk dancing, musketry, marching bands, brass bands, koinobori painting for the kids and ladder acrobatics by the local firefighters. In fact, the weather was so good photography was quite difficult in the harsh spring sunlight! Last year’s opening day was grey and rainy, perfect for taking photos but not for enjoying a day out. I’ll post more photos from this fun spring event!
If you are around in Tokyo or Saitama at the end of the month I recommend you visit the grand Kawagoe Haru Matsuri, the spring festival held in old Kawagoe town every year (well, for the last 24 years anyway). There’s a parade of musketmen firing real muskets (absolutely the loudest noise you will ever hear), ladder acrobatics, and traditional dances and performances by local kids, like these two young taiko drummers performing in the rain at last year’s festival. They were a huge hit with the older ladies performing a traditional dance around them! It’s great to see that the younger generations are picking up on the old traditions. These photos are from last year’s spring festival but I am sure this one will be similar (there isn’t much official information online yet, but the opening event will be held on the 29th of March and then there will be something every weekend until the beginning of May).
It is winter and the toughest thing about this season for me is to survive without visiting any Awaodori dance festivals! Thankfully I have Youtube to see me through the winter, with thousands of videos of my favorite teams. Here are some photos from the Minamikoshigaya Awaodori Festival (南越谷阿波踊り) in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. This might be the second biggest Awaodori festival in the Kanto area, and it usually takes place at the same time as the biggest one, the Koenji Awaodori Festival in Tokyo, something which is really annoying for us Awa fans. The festival in Saitama attracts some fantastic teams, even some genuine Tokushima teams that we generally never see in this part of country, so it is well worth skipping one day of the Koenji festival to check this one out as well. The festival itself is quite different from other Awaodori festivals as the streets used a two or three times as wide as the widest Tokyo streets, so the ambience and the photography is quite different. Being used to being so close to the dancers that you can see every drop of sweat, the Koshigaya festival takes some getting used to.
I took these photos of some beautiful members of several different teams, the Koushoukai Asunaroren (工匠会あすなろ連), the Inaseren (いなせ連), the Hibuki (飛舞伎), the Miyabiren (雅連) and the Hokushinren (北辰連). I can’t wait for next summer to come around!
I took these photos at the massive Kawagoe Matsuri a few weeks ago, the last of the major summer festivals in the Kanto area. From now on there is a handful of winter and festivals and then preparations start up for next year’s festival season once again! Kawagoe Matsuri is famous for its historic Dashi, large mobile wagon that look and feel more like mobile platforms complete with lights, lanterns, performers and dancers. If made new, these dashi costs between twenty and fifty million yen and it is very rare for new ones to be delivered, I have only seen one I think, so far, and that was in Shizuoka prefecture.
The point of the dashi is not mere entertainment though. It is paid for, maintained and housed by the local residents in the neighborhood it represents, making it far too expensive to be a thing for simple fun. Instead, it is purposefully made to be as big and cumbersome as possible, in an effort to involve as many local people as possible in its maintenance and handling. It isn’t merely expensive and dangerous by accident, it is supposed to be! The real objective of course, is to create, maintain and train a cohesive social community where everyone from the smallest children to the oldest residents are both welcome and needed. This constant training, this constant communication and decision making, fund raising and operation glues the community together in a way that would be impossible in any other form. Having a socially cohesive and functioning community in peace time is vital in times of war or natural disaster, and the dashi becomes the focal point for this community building and training. In the countryside this happens naturally at the farmers associations and cooperatives that all farmers, hunters and livestock keepers in Japan must be a member of. You won’t get far in Japan trying to do things alone, and the lone wolf is just a short step from social outcast. In the city where there is a more competitive commercial atmosphere, the people are even more dependent on this sort of training to build a community that can guarantee their survival in difficult situations. Obviously, city people are many hundred times vulnerable to natural disasters than people in the countryside. I saw this social structure in full working order when I visited the tsunami hit regions of the north west in March and April 2011. I am quite sure that things would have been worse for everyone if people had not had this constant training and community spirit.
I am sorry for the blurry poorly exposed photos in this series, but I was entering the street just as the huge dashi and the dozens of people attending to it sprung into action, and people running to take up their positions. It is a fantastic thing to be near one of these as they come rumbling at full speed (slightly slower than a leisurely stroll for the average pensioner…) down the street. It is a little bit like watching a well oiled crew operating an old sailing ship!