Sometimes the titles of my posts just makes no sense to non-Japanese speakers. Let me explain this one: Ogano (小鹿野町) is the name of a little town in Saitama prefecture just north of Tokyo, Harumatsuri means Spring Festival (春祭り), and Kamicho Dashi means a Dashi (山車, a portable festival wagon) belonging to the neigborhood of Kamicho (上町) inside Ogano town. There!
I took these photos at the springfestival of Ogano Town. The little town is rightfully very proud of its festival and it was great to see how almost everyone took part. The town being exceedingly remote (by Japanese standards almost isolated) made for very few tourists like myself but I saw a handful of foreigners. It is in towns like this you get as genuine and experience of the country and its people that is possible, very seldom have I been so warmly welcomed even though I was hiding behind my camera as usual.
The town has four districts, Kasuga, Kamicho, Koshinone and Shinhara and each one manages one of the giant Dashi. Two of them are normal dashi representing the female, while in this town they also have two other dashi representing the male! I learn something new everytime I visit a festival. These dashi with the long stage part is very typical of the Chichibu region of which Ogano town is a part. I have read that the design is from the early 18th century (about 300 years old) and has since spread to other parts of the country. According to local tradition the Dashi represents the female, and in this region they are always paired up in even numbers with a “male” hanagasa type of dashi that are much rarer. Although you can’t see it in these photos, the rear of the Dashi is very richly decorated and is said to imitate the obi (the sash or belt) of a rich woman’s kimono. I will post photos of the rears, and the hanagasa dashi later. Another interesting details is that the stage area is set to be the same size as three tatami (Japanese floor mats), not much smaller than my first room in Tokyo where I lived for four years! These richly decorated Dashi are fiercly protected by the people of the Chicibu regions and have been registered as especially protected cultural assets of the region. Still, they are paid for and maintained by the townspeople themselves, typically costing about 300 000 USD, I think that these Dashi are much more expensive due to the unusually rich decoration. Some Dashi last hundreds of years so you are lucky if you ever see a new one!
Operating the Dashi is the job of all generations. The kids of the neighborhood take up the front and the rear: the girls are up front in colorful dresses pulling metal staffs, they are called Kanabouhiki. At the rear (no photos in this blog post) are the (mostly) young boys playing flutes. The young men of the town pull the wagon and steer it, which is no laughing matter with these wagons! It takes all their strength to steer it even an inch to the left or to the right, leaning, pushing and shoving the wagon in the direction they want it to go. They are directed by Yakubito which are the experienced or the older men, who ride on top of the wagon, guard the wheels (accidents do happen, almost in every festival) or direct the whole procession from the front. Inside the wagon there is usually a musical troupe of performers called Hayashi. To pull the Dashi from one part of town to the other is a massive effort that requires skill, planning, cooperation, food and water, countless artisans, musicians and dress makers. The purpose of course is to build a community, a functioning unit of people who learn to work and act as one, together for the good of the people. Friendships are made, skills are developed and quite a few children are made during these festivals. I envy these communities for their cooperation!
Of course, this intense community building pays of in times of real need: fires, earthquakes, tsunami, and even the day to day hardships of life.
This year’s Kawagoe Spring Festival (川越春祭り) saw much better weather than usual so the all of the usual performances seemed to take place with double or triple the manpower (or kidpower, or old ladypower) than usual. One of these was the Minyounagashi (民踊流し) and taiko drumming along the main streets. Several dozens if not over a hundred women in matching outfits performed a traditional long folk dance set while three young drummers did their best to keep them on a steady rhythm. The kids were certainly at the center of attention! I think it is wonderful that there are opportunities and chances like this for all members of a community to take part in activities together, regardless of age of physical fitness. Festivals like these could serves as models for all communities in Japan, and perhaps even abroad.
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.