The most famous aspect of the huge Kawaogoe festival that took place this rainy last weekend are the massive five or six ton dashi, wagons pulled by the local townspeople. These stop every now and then to let the top part of the wagon swivel so that it lines up with the viewing platforms set up by the local merchant associations sponsoring the festival. There are many of these scattered around the town and the wagons make a point of performing for them every time they pass. Passing one of these platforms with one giant dashi right on my heels I decided to pick as spot and wait, making sure I was in the right spot for when the short performance started. I was looking as much at the dashi as at the people both under and on top of the viewing platform, it was great fun to the the enthusiasm! There are several hayashi dancers on each platform, taking turns to perform. By the time the dashi had reach the platform the fox dancer had retreated and the comical Okame or Hyottoko dancer was out to perform (I can’t really tell which one from the angle of the photo). The men whose job it is to use hooks and poles to ward of bits of architecture, cables and street lights getting into the way of the dashi were waving us good bye as the dashi slowly lumbered of to the next spot along the street. These dashi move at about half normal walking speed so even in a full day and night of moving they seldom move past the same platform more than a couple of times per festival! On this first day of the festival (which was really rainy and wet in the beginning) there were supposedly nine dashi out and about! More photos to come!
If you are in Tokyo or neighboring Saitama prefecture this weekend the best way to spend it is of course to visit the massive Kawagoe Festival. A huge two day festival in the city nicknamed “Koedo” (Little Edo) for its many Edo period buildings and streets still remaining. The festival is known for its many dashi, mobile platforms each representing one of the neighborhoods in the city, paid for and operated by the towns people themselves. The weather is usually pretty good this time of the year but this weekend has seen nothing but rain and it was pouring when I visited Kawagoe yesterday. I took these photos of on dashi maneuvering through the narrow streets next to Kawagoeshi station, covered in plastic sheeting and pulled by rain coat wearing townspeople. The Tokyo and Kanto areas are usually blessed with fantastic weather most of the year so being outside shooting in the rain is a little bit exotic for me. On each of these dashi there is a hayashi team, a team of folk musicians and dancers performing for the crowds. Flute and drums, usually. If you feel brave enough to ignore the rain the festival kicks off in an hour or so!
Many festivals in Japan feature the huge wheeled shrine platforms called dashi (山車) that often carry dancers and musicians. Some of these have engines, others rely on manpower and others a combination. Some are so large that they have to be lifted up and rotated because they can’t turn! On the first day of the Akasaka Hikawa Shrine festival a week ago they only had the one dashi out, but it’s a beauty. It is always so fun to see these very traditional handmade wagons being pulled around a modern city center, full of glass, concrete and neon signs. Very few people still live in these commercial districts so the omikoshi teams usually rely on staff from local companies and shops and even night clubs to help out, which makes for a friendly bunch of fun loving people, as you can see in some of these photos.
Still the festival season isn’t over, although it is drawing towards a close as the weekends see fewer and fewer festivals. Better enojy it while it lasts!
The bigger the town, the bigger the festival, and the bigger the festival the bigger the parade! As anyone who has been part of a large ceremony knows, there is a lot of waiting involved! I walked around at the head start area of one of the first of the many parades on this day, one of three days making up the festival period, and grabbed the opportunity to take some photos of the parade as it gets ready to move ahead. There are shrine maidens, priests, men carrying holy items, the omikoshi teams, dashi (huge mobile votive platforms) for entertainment and banner carriers and musicians of all kinds. It can imagine it takes a lot of experience and many years in the community to learn to manage this. Just look at the cool older men in charge of it all!
These kinds of festivals are not solely for fun and entertainment or even religion and tradition. The kinds of skills and community relations needed to pull a massive festival like this through without the use any sort of technology higher than a notepad, are skills that are vital in protecting the community in case disaster or war strikes. If you and your neighbors can navigate and arrange even a small part of a festival like this, you will be able to quickly organize vital life lines in case of a big earthquake, or rescue teams when large fires or floods happen. You will also know each other, the neighborhood, who to go to, who the natural leaders are, what kind of skills people have and what you can expect from people when things get tricky. I saw this with my own eyes in 2011 at the tsunami disaster area, and as much as I hate to imagine it, there will be more disasters, large and small, here in Japan. So the next time you see the old dudes and ladies staring silently out over a festival in full swing, you know that they are probably both proud over a job well done and happy over their heard-earned skills!