More photos from the grand Kawagoe Matsuri that took place a couple of weeks ago in the city of Kawaoge, just north of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture. The center point of the festival are the many dashi that get pulled around the city during the two day festival. Pulling them requires the strength of the entire neighborhood and to maneuver them safely require the skilled supervision of dozens of volunteers and staff members. I took these photos of one of the dashi as it was taking a break on the main street of the festival.
Not all festivals in and around Tokyo are traditional religious or spiritual, there are also quite a few history festivals that give us a chance to enjoy the old clothes, costumes, arms and armor of the times long gone. Several of these festivals take place around the last weekend of October, throughout Japan, not least being the big parade in Nihonbashi tomorrow morning. I saw these mounted samurai warriors at the Kanda Matsuri a few years ago, just as they were exercising their horses at a local elementary school before the main parade. The rather intense rain was forcing us all to keep out heads down though. If you are in Japan today or tomorrow, I recommend looking around to see if there are any history festivals near you!
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!