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Hikayama Matsuri Kakunodate

Festival float Kakunodate


ura umi ya
sado ni yokotau
ama no gawa

Turbulent the sea—
across to Sado stretches
the Milky Way

From Oku no Hosomichi. Exiles were once sent to Sado.
Matsuo Bashô (松尾芭蕉)

We stayed a couple of extra days in Kakunodate to watch the Hikayama Matsuri an annual festival in September, enacted in the Autumn to pray for peaceful times, suggestive of a safety valve to moderate their conflict-prone samurai past.

The floats are 7 ton wooden carts, which boast warlike fantasy play samurai figures on the front, pulled by two teams of strong men (and a few women) assisted by older men and children as young as 2 or 3, egged on by a whistle-blowing cheer leader.

Each cart also has two teams of young girls in kimonos, on the front, who perform dances with fans and shawls, and inside each is a troupe of musicians with drums, flutes and Japanese lutes. The carts are pulled through a complex route around town with shouts of gusto and a great deal of heaving, every time the float has to make a change of direction.

Another float rear display

A scale model float

At various points on the parade route there were fixed samurai landmark stations

Posters for the festival

Two shop displays

The first evening all the floats were dragged to the major Shinto shrine Shinmeysa, where each team performed their songs and dances and ascended the steps to be blessed by the Shinto priests.

A series of views of the chariots waiting to be blessed in the evening at the shrine

Celebrating with copious sake

One of the judges posts on the route

Each of the teams were presented and blessed at the shrine

and each team put on a performance before the shrine gates

with the girls performing fan dancing

both the teenagers and here the young girls in two teams for each float

A very traditional musical performance

Shinto Priests blessing the citizens Kakunodate

The next morning the priests did a round of the town in a parade of mobile shrines shaking paper fronds over each property and receiving offerings of prayers written on paper or fruit and other foods.

After the priests' round, all the floats began a morning and evening parade stopping at certain places where there were judges and other respected members of the populace, where they would again dance and sing and receive blessings.

in the back was a band with drummers and samisen players

the floats were pulled by strong young men and women and small children too

with great gusto particularly when having to nudge the chariot
around a corner or to do a display to the judges

The whole performance gave a fascinating insight into the way Japanese culture preserves a staunch image of itself and retains a sense of national and local identity through both cultural tradition and the role Shinto plays as a founding religion of culture. I'll come back to this again when we come to some later experiences.

At critical points on the parade route, each team would put on their best display of fan dancing and chariot presentation for the judges.

Stopping before a judging booth

Another team comes into the judging booth

Tattooing with pipe and drum

Notice the figure in the very first pic now has his thunderbolt in his mouth

We missed the clashes between the chariots which must have been in the evening on the day we left.

Here is a Wikipedia image of the same event a year later in 2008.

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