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!
Last night was the first of the two days of the annual Kawagoe Matsuri in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. Kawagoe is an old trading town and because it escaped the bombing raids of the war a remarkable number of old Edo period houses and streets have survived, earning it the nickname of “Little Edo”, or Koedo (小江戸). The nickname is reflected in the famous local beer brewery making use of another of the town’s specialities, the sweet potato.
The first night of the festival was held in near perfect weather, although for my photography I would have wanted more clouds to help brighten up the city a little. It was intensely crowded as usual and as much as I tried I could not find all of the dashi. All in all it was a perfect evening for a festival and a perfect festival in itself! The second night of the festival has already started and if you are interested I suggested heading up to Kawagoe by using any of the three stations, Honkawagoe, Kawagoeshi or Kawagoe. Enjoy!
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.
There are a lot of festivals going on in Tokyo this weekend, the biggest probably being the one in Shibuya that I posted yesterday, but not far behind is the Hikawa Shrine Matsuri in Tokyo’s central Akasaka (not to be confused with the very similar sounding place name Asakusa). This festival kicked off on Friday evening but I didn’t have time to visit so here are a few photos from my visit to this festival back in 2012, a couple of years ago. I have been to this festival many times and it is always fun, especially to see the large dashi, the mobile shrine platforms as they are pulled and pushed and dragged all around the narrow streets and hills of Akasaka (赤坂, even the name means Red Hill). There are two different dashi and they are used on different days, so depending on when you see them you are bound to see a different one. Dashi connoisseurs (yes there are such people!) can easily tell the difference, but less learned people like me have a bit of a hard time.
A good friend that I met by chance at a festival last weekend let me in on how omikoshi (the mobile shrines carried by parishioners around the neighborhood) are judged in action! I can’t believe I hadn’t gotten this earlier, but apparently people in the know look at the four tassels hanging around the edges of most omikoshi (the ones in this festival are blueish purple): if the tassels swing wildly in rhythm, it means that the omikoshi is moving with cheer and purpose, if they hang straight or just sort of rattle around it means the carriers are running low on energy and the proper spirit. The best way to get the tassels swinging is to cheer the carriers on which usually spurs everyone into action!
If you have time and the opportunity, don’t miss this or any of the many other big festivals this weekend!