I can’t get enough of the Kawagoe Matsuri which took place over the last weekend and easily one of the most accesible of the big “dashi” festivals here in Kanto. The big wagons are pulled around the town by the townspeople of the neighborhoods they represent, making frequent stops to greet temporary festival platforms on the town main street. One of the frequent guests at these platforms are the Shishinomai, the lion mask dancers whose bite to your head is supposed to be a bessing and good luck ritual for your child. It is great fun to watch these local kids get their head bitten, some wailing in terror and others posing for the photographs, like this little boy.
The most dedicated locals and the ones with special tasks dress up in wonderfully complicated and colorful costumes. A little hard to see at night but they really look great, especially these two fellas who posed for me. One new thing in this year’s festival was the owner of a strategically located second floor room opened it up for photographers (for a fee of course) to come and get an unusual angle on the festivals.
Only one year to wait for the next festival now! Already looking forward to it!
Last weekend we could enjoy the biggest festival in all of Saitama Prefecture, the Kawagoe Matsuri. It is easy to forget about Saitama prefecture, dwarfed by it neighbor Tokyo to the south it is still a formidable economy in itself. Ranked as an independent country, the GDP of Saitama would place it somewhere between Portugal and Ireland. It has a population of almost 8 million and presumably about 12% of those visited the festival over the weekend. Not bad! But I am sure a lot of the visitors were from Tokyo.
The main draw of the festival are the legions of giant Dashi, or mobile festival platforms pulled about on giant ropes by the townspeople of the neighborhoods they represent. In the beginning of the festival they roam about over a large area but the later it gets the more of them converge on the main stretch in Kawagoe City’s old town, making for one spectacular and hugely congested traffic jam. Late at night most visitors have left already but the streets of Kawagoe old town are still so packed it yesterday took me about 30 minutes to move 100 meters. As I mentioned in a blog post last week, security was beefed up after last month’s accident involving a dashi at a festival in western Japan, all the dashi had new wheelguards installed (it looked a bit jury rigged but if it can prevent any accidents I am all for it) and there were twice as many police and security guards present as last year. If you are visiting with small children I recommend not brining any pram or baby stroller and to travel as light as possible. I saw some parents literally tied together with their children to avoid losing them in the throngs.
Despite the huge crowds, I am already looking forward to next year’s festival!
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!