Japan is famous for its many regional festivals, and they are an important time for communities to celebrate traditions which often hark back centuries. Kawagoe is a small city on the outskirts of Tokyo and is famous for the clay-walled warehouses which line its main street and are a remnant of Kawagoe’s past as an important trade town and supplier of goods to Tokyo (then known as ‘Edo’). Sometimes known as ‘Little Edo’, even these days the city retains some of that historical atmosphere, and it is a popular day trip for visitors from the capital, being just a 30 minute train ride from Ikebukuro station in central Tokyo.
The Kawagoe Matsuri is a lively festival which takes place every year on the third Saturday and Sunday of October, where around thirty handmade floats are pulled through the narrow city streets. The festival first began way back in the mid-1600s, when the clan lord of the region started to make offerings at the local shrine. This started a tradition of processions throughout the city’s various neighbourhoods, each connected to different shrines, and by 1844 these separate events all united to create the Kawagoe Matsuri as we know it today.
The hand-crafted wooden floats are usually up to 6m high and are lavishly decorated with paper lanterns, intricate designs and colourful motifs, with a model of a prominent historical figure standing on top. Locals ride the floats as they are pulled down the streets, usually in time to a riotous cacophony of chanting, music and powerful drum beats. After sunset there is a competitive edge during the main spectacle of the night as the floats try to pass each other in exciting ‘Hikkawase’ battles.
The streets are crowded with people eager to see the floats as they narrowly skirt past, and the whole festival has a wonderfully jovial and lively atmosphere, enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike. As well as the float processions in the afternoon and evening, there are many other things to enjoy during the festival too.
A myriad of shacks and stalls are set up for the weekend, and they sell all kinds of snacks, foods, and drinks, including the local delicacy, sweet potatoes. Be sure to make time to wander around town and see the sights, as well as soaking in the old-style atmosphere before darkness descends and the festivities truly begin. The festival usually wraps up at around 10pm, so it is easy to catch a train back to Tokyo afterwards.
Kawagoe is easily reached by train from Ikebukuro Station in central Tokyo. Simply take a train for 30 minutes on either the Tobu Tojo Line, the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho or the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line to Kawagoe or Kawagoeshi stations and the festival area is a short walk away (if in doubt just follow the crowds!).
- Facility Name
- Saitama Pref. Kawagoeshi Wakitahonchou
- Information Sources:
- NAVITIME JAPAN