Tokyobling's Blog

Here Comes The Dashi – Kawagoe Matsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on November 26, 2013

I took these photos at the massive Kawagoe Matsuri a few weeks ago, the last of the major summer festivals in the Kanto area. From now on there is a handful of winter and festivals and then preparations start up for next year’s festival season once again! Kawagoe Matsuri is famous for its historic Dashi, large mobile wagon that look and feel more like mobile platforms complete with lights, lanterns, performers and dancers. If made new, these dashi costs between twenty and fifty million yen and it is very rare for new ones to be delivered, I have only seen one I think, so far, and that was in Shizuoka prefecture.

The point of the dashi is not mere entertainment though. It is paid for, maintained and housed by the local residents in the neighborhood it represents, making it far too expensive to be a thing for simple fun. Instead, it is purposefully made to be as big and cumbersome as possible, in an effort to involve as many local people as possible in its maintenance and handling. It isn’t merely expensive and dangerous by accident, it is supposed to be! The real objective of course, is to create, maintain and train a cohesive social community where everyone from the smallest children to the oldest residents are both welcome and needed. This constant training, this constant communication and decision making, fund raising and operation glues the community together in a way that would be impossible in any other form. Having a socially cohesive and functioning community in peace time is vital in times of war or natural disaster, and the dashi becomes the focal point for this community building and training. In the countryside this happens naturally at the farmers associations and cooperatives that all farmers, hunters and livestock keepers in Japan must be a member of. You won’t get far in Japan trying to do things alone, and the lone wolf is just a short step from social outcast. In the city where there is a more competitive commercial atmosphere, the people are even more dependent on this sort of training to build a community that can guarantee their survival in difficult situations. Obviously, city people are many hundred times vulnerable to natural disasters than people in the countryside. I saw this social structure in full working order when I visited the tsunami hit regions of the north west in March and April 2011. I am quite sure that things would have been worse for everyone if people had not had this constant training and community spirit.

I am sorry for the blurry poorly exposed photos in this series, but I was entering the street just as the huge dashi and the dozens of people attending to it sprung into action, and people running to take up their positions. It is a fantastic thing to be near one of these as they come rumbling at full speed (slightly slower than a leisurely stroll for the average pensioner…) down the street. It is a little bit like watching a well oiled crew operating an old sailing ship!









3 Responses

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  1. yoshizen said, on November 26, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Interesting analysis of social mechanism —– but it is exactly the mechanism to reinforce conformism isn’t it.
    I read the story of an artist moved to the countryside but still needed to shop in the city because he was
    excluded from the locals. (So, when the car breakdown, hell opens =no help at all)
    Behind of festive smile, may be the picture is not necessary rosy. = The buzz word “Kizuna” “Omotenashi”
    could be just a smoke-screen.


    • tokyobling said, on November 27, 2013 at 1:05 am

      All societies and all cultures have some ways to reinforce social conformism, in one way or another (these days a lot of people are on Facebook, the ultimate in social control and conformism). People who want more impersonal relationships (eg. money only) with the people around them tend to move to cities or bigger towns where it is easier to be anonymous and keep your distance. However in the country side there is always give and take and like in all more or less closed groups there is a sense that you must earn your place. Buying a house in the countryside and expecting to become a local is never easy in any country. In the city we dispense with the idea of becoming a local altogether – most of us can move anywhere we want and live for years without ever even seeing a neighbor. Personally though, I was much happier in my previous neighborhood in Tokyo, where I knew my landlord and met her family often and even chatted with my neighbors. In my present neighborhood I know not a single soul. So there are upsides and downsides with everything. At our present economic system city life is more valued than country life and it makes financial sense to live and work in a city. This was not the case for 99.999999% of human history though. We are the anomaly. The people in the countryside is the normal. Besides, Kawagoe is not a small city! (^-^)


      • yoshizen said, on November 27, 2013 at 5:31 am

        It’s quite sharp view toward the Fecebook. (and that’s why I don’t join SNS. 🙂 )
        I agree with your view in general = and that’s why the number of their participants in Nagoyaka-ren seems surprising to me.


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