KOEDO-KAWAGOE

by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism
 

§ No.12

The Kawagoe Matsuri Festival, which was started by MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna, Lord of Kawagoe at the beginning of the Edo Period

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the Kawagoe Matsuri Festival, which was started by MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna, Lord of Kawagoe at the beginning of the Edo Period. This is number twelve in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
 
The Kawagoe Hikawa Festival Started by MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna
The Hikawa (Shinto) Shrine, which they say was established in 541, has held sacred services twice a year in spring and autumn since early times, and ritual music and dancing performances called "dengaku" and "sumo wrestling" were dedicated to the gods. However, there was no big festival like we have now.
 
In 1648, the then Lord of Kawagoe, MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna, said, "It is curious that a big castle town like Kawagoe does not have any festivals." It was ten years after the Great Fire occurred in Kawagoe. The castle and the town were almost restored, so he must have felt relieved. In September of the same year, he personally contributed two portable shrines, lion masks and drums and more to the shrine. This was the start of the Kawagoe Festival.
 
"Picture Scrolls of the Hikawa Festival Held in 1826"
The Hikawa Shrine has "Picture Scrolls of the Hikawa Festival Held in 1826." These are the first large historical records. They describe the parade in detail. The portable shrines and Shinto priests can be seen at the front of the parade, which included floats and stalls of the "ten merchant streets." The floats were not so large and each float had only one pillar. Various other kinds of features can be seen in the parade.
 
The Carving of the Main Building at the Hikawa Shrine
In 1842, construction of the current Hikawa Shrine buildings started and completed in 1850. In 1844, all the high-rise construction workers in Kawagoe offered up a big votive tablet. According to the tablet, all of the floats of the "ten merchant streets" featured a structure with one pillar.
 
The big votive tablet offered up by the high-rise construction workers in 1844. In Kawagoe Hikawa Shrines possession by courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
The big votive tablet offered up by the high-rise construction workers in 1844.
In Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine's possession
by courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
 
The current main building of the Hikawa Shrine is preserved in just the same state it was completed in at that time. The four sides of the building feature carvings with different images taken from the dolls for the floats. They were carved by SHIMAMURA Genzo, the head of an Edo carving school. You can enjoy looking at them if you visit the main building.
 
Carvings of the main building at the Hikawa Shrine
Carvings of the main building at the Hikawa Shrine
 
Shogun's Festivals in Edo and the Kawagoe Festival
Historical material relating to the Kawagoe Festival held in 1862 shows that the floats of "Shigi-machi" amd "Minami-machi" have an up-and-down, double-decker structure like we currently have.
 
The main characteristic of the Kawagoe Festival is that it is very similar to the Shogun's Festivals in Edo. The festival at "Akasaka San-noh" and "Kanda-Myojin" were called "Shogun's Festivals." Reportedly this is because the festival parades went into Edo Castle and the shoguns watched them. In order to pass through the gates of Edo Castle, it was necessary to have a float with a structure for pushing the upper-deck part and the doll out.
 
Since Kawagoe Festival was started by MATSUDAIRA Mobutsuna, who was also the chief assistant to the shogun, and other Lords of Kawagoe who also held important posts in Edo Castle, it would be natural to consider that the floats of Kawagoe were constructed after the models of the Shogun's Festivals in Edo.
 
Designated as Cultural Property
Kawagoe was the economic center of Saitama Prefecture during the Meiji Period. Wealthy merchants constructed, one after another, gorgeous floats with the up-and-down, double-decker structure and music stages. Ten floats constructed at that time are currently classified as Tangible Folk Cultural Property of Saitama Prefecture.
 
The Shogun's Festivals in Edo vanished because of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and the damage caused by World War II, but here in Kawagoe, we have been passing the form of the Edo festival down from generation to generation. The Kawagoe Festival includes not only Tangible Cultural Property, such as floats and dolls, but also Intangible Cultural Property like music accompaniments.
 
The 90th Anniversary of Kawagoe City
2012 was the 90th anniversary of Kawagoe City, so 29 floats were presented for the celebration. Floats with dolls on top and paper lantern held by many people in the streets, with their imposing clay houses and no electric power lines, re-created scenes from the Meiji Period and from the Edo Period.
 
The festival of the Hikawa Shrine is held on October 14th and 15tth , but in 1997, Kawagoe City decided to hold the "Kawagoe Matsuri" every year on the 3rd weekend of October. "The floats events of the Kawagoe Matsuri" was designated as a National Intangible Cultural Property on February 21, 2005.
 
Present day float
Present day float
 
Present day float
Present day float
 
Present day float
Present day float
 
 
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
 
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.
 

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