Friday 24 October 2014

Another festival! - Kawagoe Festival

Back in August I went to visit a couple of friends Masae and Hiroaki who live just north of Tokyo in a historic city, with buildings that date back over 300 years, called Kawagoe.  At the time they put out the invitation to return in October for the city's festival held on the third weekend of October every year.

The beginnings of the Kawagoe festival date back to 1648 and was centred around the local Hikawa Shrine.  As time went on Kawagoe became more and more wealthy due to river trade with Japan's capital, Edo (now Tokyo), and the festival developed and became larger each year.  In 1844 the addition of festival floats to the festival gave the festival it's final and grandest touch.  Now each year the festival concludes with a parade (called Hikkawase in Japanese) of 29 festival floats (each one representing a different neighbourhood of Kawagoe) parading through the streets of the old part of town.  These floats are about 5 metres high and appear very imposing if you are standing next to them!  

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people from Kawagoe, nearby areas and Tokyo come to Kawagoe to experience the excitement of the festival.  I am sure that the population of Kawagoe probably doubles during the Festival as it only has a population of about 340,000 during regular times!  In 2005 the the festival was given it's greatest honour as it was designated a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

I met Masae and Hiroaki at the train station and we started off towards the festival area.  We had already been alerted by one of the people I work with , Jarrett, who we were on our way to meet, that the area was so crowded it took him a couple of hours to cover what would usually have been a 15 minute walk!  The crowds were huge, but it only took us about an hour to make the walk and we were finally able to catch up with Jarrett.  I had bought a large capacity memory card for my camera to be able to fit more photos on but when I turned on the camera I was faced with "CARD ERROR"!  The first of the majestic festival floats had just turned the corner and was heading our way!  I thought Jarrett might know what the problem was as he is an expert on cameras and a great photographer himself.  It turns out that the capacity was was too large for my camera to handle.  Jarrett quickly reached into his camera case and pulled out a smaller capacity card which I was able to slap into the camera just as the first float arrived!

The floats are pulled around by a large number of people who pull on ropes extending from the front of the float.

The top part of the float is where some musicians and a dancer stand at the front performing a Hayashi performance (a traditional Japanese orchestra comprised of flutes, drums, bells and dancers).

Like I said, these floats are huge, and you do feel very small standing next to them.  There are also usually a couple of people who sit all the way up on top of the float.  You wouldn't want to be scared of heights!

Pretty soon another float appeared with it's musicians and dancers in full swing entertaining the massive crowd.

In this next shot you can see the ornate detail that goes into the crafting and decorating of one of these floats.  No winder they cost so much (over $200,000 per float)!

We next walked into an area of a temple that had been set aside for food stalls and sideshow stalls.  There was the usual array of food stalls that you can find at any Japanese festival.  In fact upon telling some Japanese people that I had been to the Kawagoe festival, the first question I am asked is "What did you eat?".  Food is an integral part of a Japanese festival!

Shooting gallery.  I noticed that the kids were firing the guns extended one handed out in front of their bodies.  That's how safe a country Japan is.  The kids don't know how hold guns when shooting them properly.


Goldfish (with a little scoop, try to scoop up a goldfish to take home as a pet),

This guy was doing the same, although, with the mask he was wearing, maybe he was not looking for a pet......

bird whistles (although I can't imagine any sane mother or father buying them for their kids!),

the same game as the goldfish, but to get a rubber ball or toy instead.

Takoyaki (battered balls of octopus),

karaage (fried chicken),

chocco bannana (as the name suggests),

and, of course, my favourite, okonomiyaki.

No prizes for guessing what I ate!

We next went back out to the street and took in a couple of more passing floats.  Something very interesting was happening.  As 2 floats passed each other, they would stop, the top of the floats would then swivel around to face each other and the two sets of musicians and dancers then would have a dance battle.  Unfortunately the float staff wouldn't allow us to get close enough to get a good shot, but that is what is happening in this picture.

Another thing that the floats do is when they arrive at certain points along the street where special seating has been set up, they stop and turn around so that the performers are facing the seats and proceed to give the people in the seats a special performance.  I happened to be close enough to one of them to get some nice video footage.

At this point we decided to finish as Masae and Hiroaki had to get their beautiful daughter Akari home for the night.  On our way back to the station we passed one final food stall where a master candy craftsman was crafting finely shaped pieces of candy.  Masae mentioned that he is quite famous in the area.

We got back to the station and Jarrett and I made our way back to Tokyo well and truly impressed with Kawagoe and it's beautiful festival.

Thanks once again to Masae and Hiroaki for showing us their festival.  They really gave great information and showed us places that I would not have known about.

I hope you enjoyed seeing and reading about the Kawagoe festival, the second of my 2 festivals in a week.  Thanks again for reading and see you next time.

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