I was tossing and turning if I should I go to Kawagoe festival under pouring rain. Tetsuta Watanabe sent me an email saying that I should go despite the rain. As I understand, nobody in Tokyo takes rain into consideration and continues, as usual, just opens umbrellas. They’re masters of umbrellas: passing without bumping into each other, quick to open and close, put covers at the entrance of public places and if leaving umbrellas outside, can recognize them on the way out. Although I bought a plastic see-through umbrella for Y200 (2.50AUD), I’m still a learner.
In Tokyo, there are not many places left with the traditional feel of Edo times, but Kawagoe is one of these places.
With a population of 350,000, it welcomes 6.2 million visitors each year. My curiosity was heightened when the renowned Koedo-Kawagoe festival fell on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of October. The festival started in 1648 and has been registered as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
It took me about an hour from my apartment to Kawagoe station on the Tobu Tojo line, quicker than to Sogetsu Kaikan.
In spite of heavy rain, I decided to walk around the scenic charm of old Edo with numerous crowds under umbrellas. Food stalls, cafes and restaurants, souvenir shops, clothes, and sweet shops lined the street leading to Kurazukuri zone-old storehouse area.
A hundred years ago Japanese houses had strong buildings for storage of household goods called Kura. Since these buildings were fire resistant they have been skilfully re-developed into residential buildings and stores.
The dark sky, streetlights casting shadows, ancient Japanese buildings, people eating and drinking on the streets, musicians in masks and wigs, floats pulled by cheering crowds, lanterns, exquisite costumes and endless rain, created a surreal feeling that I’d been lost in space and time, or perhaps, it was my sake testing along the walk! I now confirm that Saitama sake, very famous in Japan, is of great quality, taste and aroma. No wonder: its production dates back to 1603.
Kawagoe had some surprises: Bell tower with a bell ringing 4 times a day, western -style Saitama Resona Bank with a green copper dome, although beautiful, looks like an intruder, Kashiya Yokocho (Candy Lane). You can sample senbei (rice crackers), fugashi (hard wheat gluten sweets, dango (skewered rice flour dumplings, and many others.
Oh, and food: the abundance of it and the number of happy eaters astonished me. Sweet potato, not only in diverse delicious sweets but in kaiseki: traditional full course meal, sweet potato soba and udon noodles. The eel I tasted was delicious in its secret sauce passed down through the generations.
There are museums, temples and shrines, impossible to visit in one afternoon. My favourite was Hikawa Shrine; it is believed it enshrines the God of marriage. You can write a note or your prayer on wooden tablets and hang it in the shrine. I haven’t left one as I’m certain it has to be in Japanese for God to cooperate.
The biggest highlight of the festival is Hikkawasethe: several festival floats compete with each other in a Hayashi performance (a traditional Japanese orchestra comprised of flutes, drums, handbells and dancing),
We stayed until the end and watched many floats passing each other and competing. Unfortunately, they were covered in plastic and promised exquisite dolls on the top of the floats were missing. I guess they are too precious to risk under the rain.
Taking photos was a challenge because of the weather, the crowds and umbrellas. I tried my best and even made a video. Sorry, but the quality is rather poor. I hope you still can get the feeling.