More photos from the Kawagoe Harumatsuri (Kawagoe City Spring Festival) in Saitama prefecture. Kawagoe is a great tourist destination if you want to get a short break from Tokyo. It is only 32km (about 20 miles) from central Tokyo and there’s just about enough attractions to make any day trip worthwhile. I prefer to visit during festivals, as my favorite streets are usually blocked out for traffic and you are free to wander around the beautiful main street and take in the atmosphere of little Edo. Plenty of local bars and cafes serve the best local brewery in Japan, the Coedo Beer and you could have a complete dinner by just moving from store to store having a little something at each one. Recently Kawagoe has ramped up the Showa nostalgia scenery and shops and the many old stores along the main street are happily showing of even their most antiquated merchandise (how about the vending machine selling realistic smoking cigarettes for children?).
Kawagoe being north of Tokyo also means that the Sakura season is slower by a week or so which gave me the chance to do some early sakura blossom viewing that I missed totally in Tokyo. The second wave of sakura blossoms should be peaking in Kawagoe now so if you just arrived to Tokyo as a tourist, head north! You might catch it yet.
In late March the Saitama Prefecture City of Kawagoe celebrated its annual Spring Festival, an ongoing event until the first week of May. The opening ceremony and events all took place in the old parts of Kawagoe City known by its nickname of Koedo, or Little Edo due to its old similarities to Tokyo and also because several old Edo period buildings remain in the city. The best preserved of these are to be found in the Kurazukuri street (蔵造りの町並み), an old street lined with massive kura buildings, fire- and earthquake proof store houses for the city’s merchants and samurai. Kawagoe is also famous for its bell tower, Tokinokane, which has spawned two characters used to market the city for tourism and business! The round little Tokimo and the super hero styled Tokinokaneman. Tokimo combines the bell tower with the other famous product of the city, sweet potato.
One of the events of the day, aimed at children and families was the koinobori coloring event. One street was devoted to kids who could color their own personal koinobori, a traditional paper carp hung up across the street. The kids seemed to have a lot of fun and the whole street turned very colorful indeed.
More photos and information on Kawagoe City coming later on this week so stay tuned to learn more about this great tourist destination not far from Tokyo.
More of the fantastic ladder acrobatics as performed by Saitama prefecture firefighters at the Kawagoe Harumatsuri (Kawagoe City Spring Festival) opening day at the end of March 2014. The ladder is simple and handmade out of hemp rope and bamboo poles. The only thing that keeps it upright is the support of the hooks and bills applied by the team members on the ground. The method allowed firefighting teams in the Edo period of Japan to quickly and safely raise the ladders anytime and anywhere in matter of seconds, regardless of conditions. Ladders were not used only to scale walls or buildings, but also as mobile observation platforms to find fires and routes in the densely packed wooden cities of Japan. The traditions are being kept alive by the modern firefighters although in those days the positions were often hereditary and passed down through special families of samurai or commoners tasked with keeping an eye on fires. The official system that we can see in these performances was introduced in 1720.
Tokyo, or Edo as it was known then, was famous for its many fires. People in other parts of Japan even made fun of Edo by coining the saying 火事と喧嘩は江戸の花 (“Quarrels and fires are the flowers of Edo”, in Japanese to be the flower of something is the be the pride and joy, the finest and the best). During the 267 years of the Edo period (1601-1867) there were 49 massive fires in the city, ten times as many as in the other large cities of Japan. If you include smaller firest there were a couple of thousand during the Edo period. The number of fires increased as the population growth and the inability of the Shogunate government (the feudal ruler of Japan) to handle the growth of the city is part of the reason why the Emperor was able to regain government control of the country in 1868. Without the many fires of Edo this blog could have been called Edobling. The greatest fire of Edo was in 1657 when 107 000 people were killed (about one fifth of the total population). Compared to the 8 official deaths of the great fire of London 1666 it seems even larger. The worst months of the year for fires was in January, February and March, when strong winds, cold and dry weather mean that even small household accidents could easily sweep the entire city if left unchecked. People were so afraid of these fires that many men who had relations outside of the city sent their wives to the countryside in these three months.
Of all the photographic subject available in this fantastic country few beats the ladder acrobatics for photogenics! These teams of gravity defying fire fighters are really something to see. I took saw the Saitama prefecture Kawagoe city team at the Kawagoe spring festival opening last week. In the old days samurai families tasked with fighting fires in the cities of Japan developed a technique of quickly and safely raising ladders using not much beyond bamboo, ropes and hooks. The bravest would then race up the ladder and quickly be able to locate the source of the fire and the direction it was likely to travel in. A low tech solution to problems faced by firefighters in many cultures. To keep their skill up the teams would practice on the ladders in a form of acrobatics that is now the “hashigonori engi” (梯子乗り演技). There are different traditions but most of them center on a dozen core positions centered around where on the ladder they are performed (up, middle or moving downwards). Most teams follow the traditional 69 positions although very few of them are every used be the individual teams. Can you spot the position called the “sea turtle”?
There are even some extremely scary looking two man positions that I have never seen in real life (not to be confused with bigger ladder teams where two or three men do their own routines on different parts of the ladder at the same time). I took so many photos of their three different performances on this day so I will a second bunch of photos for later. Enjoy!