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.
Last weekend was the high point of the year for all Awaodori fans in and around Tokyo. Two massive festivals took place, the grand Koenji Awaodori Festival and also the Minamikoshigaya Awaodori Festival up in Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. The Saitama festival takes place on broad modern streets, much different from the intimate and down to earth Koenji festival, so there is a big difference in how the two festivals compare. Although not nearly as big and varied as the Koenji festival the Minamikoshigaya festival manages to attract several of genuine Tokushima teams which are generally regarded as the best in the world. It is not really fair to compare the teams, but there are some truly exceptional teams in terms of skill to be seen in this festival. One of them, a personal favorite and quite famous around the country is the Ebisuren straight from Tokushima Prefecture itself. They performed late in the evening of this very long festival but gave a near perfect performance, as usual.
Next year come August, if you wan’t to see Awaodori but are not too keen on the crowds of Koenji, I recommend trying out Minamikoshigaya, it is easy to get there from Tokyo as the Hanzomon subway line connects all the way through.
A couple of weeks ago I visited the fantastic Ogano Harumatsuri, the Spring Festival of the little mountain town Ogano in deepest Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo. The town celebrates the spring festival by launching four dashi, well technically there are two dashi and two kasaboko (傘鉾), where the dashi represents the female and the kasaboko represents the male. I took these photos of the Shinhara (新原) kasaboko as it made its way from the main shrine of Ogano town to the place of the old original shrine on the opposite end of town. The weather was a little bit to grey to really bring out the color and the splendor of these kasaboko wagons, but the townspeople did their best and it was wonderful multigenerational affair, the little girls in front and the young boys on flutes in the back, the men in front of the wagon and the older men directing it from the sides. I will post more photos of the festival at night later on in the week so stay tuned!
Last of the series of Yabusame photographs I got at the Ogano Spring festival in Saitama prefecture just about a week ago. The horses used by the archers were all traditional Japanese breeds, small and hardy requiring little fodder and fearless in battle. All of them came very close to extinction half a century ago when they were deemed to small for the war effort and the government was focusing on stronger breeds.
The speed can be seen in some of the photos: by the time the archer has released the arrow and the splintered boards of the target start flying apart the horse is already well past the target, speeding towards the next one in line. The boards were collected by the judges and marked by a local calligraphist. They were then sold to the audience to be displayed in their private home shrines as a talisman of protection for the family and home.
The photos may look a little dark. I had to dial the exposure way down to get any sort of contrast, the mountain sun and air bathed the sports field where the ceremony took place in a bright even light that seemed to cast few shadows.