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.
There are a lot of festivals going on in Tokyo this weekend, the biggest probably being the one in Shibuya that I posted yesterday, but not far behind is the Hikawa Shrine Matsuri in Tokyo’s central Akasaka (not to be confused with the very similar sounding place name Asakusa). This festival kicked off on Friday evening but I didn’t have time to visit so here are a few photos from my visit to this festival back in 2012, a couple of years ago. I have been to this festival many times and it is always fun, especially to see the large dashi, the mobile shrine platforms as they are pulled and pushed and dragged all around the narrow streets and hills of Akasaka (赤坂, even the name means Red Hill). There are two different dashi and they are used on different days, so depending on when you see them you are bound to see a different one. Dashi connoisseurs (yes there are such people!) can easily tell the difference, but less learned people like me have a bit of a hard time.
A good friend that I met by chance at a festival last weekend let me in on how omikoshi (the mobile shrines carried by parishioners around the neighborhood) are judged in action! I can’t believe I hadn’t gotten this earlier, but apparently people in the know look at the four tassels hanging around the edges of most omikoshi (the ones in this festival are blueish purple): if the tassels swing wildly in rhythm, it means that the omikoshi is moving with cheer and purpose, if they hang straight or just sort of rattle around it means the carriers are running low on energy and the proper spirit. The best way to get the tassels swinging is to cheer the carriers on which usually spurs everyone into action!
If you have time and the opportunity, don’t miss this or any of the many other big festivals this weekend!
At this year’s grand Hachioji Matsuri I saw these three dragon head’s dancers (龍頭の舞), performing a 400 year old ritual dance with drums, flutes and great wooden masks. The dance itself is quite acrobatic, with great leaps and spins. There are very few performers of this dance left in Japan, but the traditions and the equipment is kept in shape by a few groups of dedicated performers. The three masks used by these performers were made by local craftsmen in 1712, making them the oldest masks in continued use by dancers anywhere in the country. They are decorated with horse manes and long bird feathers (which I learned was about 2000 a piece to buy new and wore out quite quickly).
It was a very hot day and it must have been quite exhausting to have so many performances outside in just one day.
The grand Hachioji Matsuri, the annual festival of the city in western Tokyo, started on Friday and culminates today! The Hachioji Matsuri is one of those have-it-all festivals. The entire city is out to party and there are things to do for everyone, no matter wether you enjoy drinking, eating, culture, traditions or just hanging out with the crowds. This festival has geisha, omikoshi, hayashi, dashi, parades and music and just about anything else you can imagine from a big Japanese summer festival.
I took these photos of some of the dashi and omikoshi, portable shrines, on the 2013 festival. I wish I could go this year as well but wishes and schedules do not always go hand in hand! If you are in Tokyo today without any real plans, here is your chance to jump on the Chuo line and get yourself to Hachioji!