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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Japan Tours and Life Style

Magnanimous Parade of giant floats- Sawara Grand Festival

If you visit Japan in the autumn and want to experience the traditional side of the country’s culture, try to attend the Sawara Grand Festival. This incredible celebration celebrated yearly for three days in the second week of October in Sawara City, Chiba Prefecture, only an hour from Tokyo, has a century-long heritage. It comprises an outstanding parade of magnificently decorated huge floats built by all citizens’ efforts. The procession has been classified as a Japanese Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

Magnanimous Parade of giant floats- Sawara Grand Festival
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Sarawa Grand Festivals (UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage) refers to the two festivals, the Yasaka-jinja (shrine) Gion Festival, which takes place on the first Friday and Sunday after July 10th each year, and the Suwa-jinja (shrine) Autumn Festival, which takes place on the second week of October each year. It is one of three float festivals in the Greater Tokyo area and has a 300-year legacy.

While travelling through the Koedo streets, the sounds of Sawara Hayashi, one of Japan’s three most famous festival music, reverberate across the town (preservation districts for a group of important national historical buildings). The float march is reminiscent of an Edo era sight.

The annual giant float parade in Sawara (Chiba prefecture) in October is a wonderful festival designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property. This week, we’ll present a day trip itinerary that includes a visit to Kashima Jingu Shrine in Ibaraki, one of the most prominent shrines in eastern Japan dedicated to the martial arts deity, as well as the Sawara Grand Festival. This day excursion from Tokyo includes a stop at the famous Kashima Shrine as well as the Sawara Grand Festival.

How to reach Kashima Jingu Shrine from Tokyo by bus

Take the Yaesu South Exit from Tokyo Station and go to Trip Stop No. 1 for a direct bus to Kashima Jingu Shrine.

The ticket (1830 yen) can be purchased at the JR Bus counter located on your right after entering Tokyo Station, or it can be purchased as you board the bus. Please keep in mind that tickets cannot be reserved and that seating is not reserved. You’ll arrive at Kashimajingumae Station in approximately two hours. The entrance of Kashima Shrine is a short (7-minute) walk from here.

At the end of the alley, on your left, you will notice a large wooden torii (shrine gate) marking the entrance to Kashima Shrine.

The ancient stone gate was severely damaged in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and this huge gate was built in its place. The pillars were made from two 500-year-old trees, while the horizontal section on top was made from a 600-year-old tree.

Every morning between 9:00 and 11:30 a.m., you’ll observe volunteer guides dressed in red standing in front of the massive torii. If you have any queries or need help, they would gladly show you around the shrine for free. (Please keep in mind that the guidance is only available in Japanese).

Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, the patron deity of martial arts, is honoured at Kashima Shrine. It was first constructed approximately 600 BC. The tower gate entry (called “romon”) is one of Japan’s three greatest shrine entrances. The vibrant red colour helps it stand out against the green forest background. The prayer hall and major shrine are located on your right after passing through the gate. Previously, they were refurbished every 20 years. The buildings we see now, on the other hand, were built in 1619.

Outside, visitors can observe the prayer chamber and pay their respects to the guardian deity. There are “hidden treasures” associated with the shrine concealed deep within the approximately 70,000 m2 area of Kashima Shrine Forest, waiting for you to discover them. Follow the forest trail to the last T-junction to locate the Okumiya, one of the shrine’s sacred buildings covered in green moss nourished by rain and fog over many years.

Kashima Jingu JINKOSAI Festival – Route Summary
Tokyo Station → Kashimajingu Station → Kashima Shrine → Tokyo Station

Bus ticket fare (Tokyo Station → Kashimajingu Station): Round trip – 3660 yen.
Other expenses (snacks, souvenirs, etc.): 1500 yen

Visit Kashima Jingu Shrine

Visit to Kashima Jingu Shrine
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Kashima Jingu Shrine is one of the largest shrines in eastern Japan, located in Kashima City, Ibaraki Prefecture (Kanto). It is dedicated to Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, the guardian deity of martial arts, and its origins may be traced back to the reign of Emperor Jinmu, who is supposed to have established this shrine about the year 660 BC in honour of the deity who assisted him in many wars.

Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shogun of the Edo Dynasty (1603-1868), erected Kashima Shrine’s main worship hall. It is divided into four sections, with the main shrine at the back housing the heavenly spirit of the god.

Throw a coin between the slats, clap twice, bow twice, put your hands together, and make a wish. Finish the prayer by bowing once more.

Kashima Jingu’s 13-meter-high tower gate is a significant cultural object. It has needed constant upkeep since it was built in 1634 by shogun Tokugawa Yorifusa, and the walls are currently being repainted in vermilion crimson.

A magnificent woodland surrounds the shrine grounds. This tranquil location is home to giant cypress trees and over 600 different types of vegetation. It’s a terrific opportunity to get to know Japan’s nature by taking your time strolling along the paths.

On the shrine grounds, you’ll come across a deer-infested area. These deer have an intriguing backstory. It appears that the deer and stags seen roaming freely around Nara, Japan’s ancient capital, are actually from Kashima, which translates to “deer island” in Japanese (ka-Shima).

More than 1,000 years ago, the Fujiwara clan, a prominent aristocratic family, worshipped Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, the warrior’s guardian deity, at Kashima Shrine. However, because the clan was situated in Nara, which was the centre of political power at the time, it was too distant to travel to Kashima regularly. To get around the dilemma, Takemikazuchi’s ghost had to be moved to Nara. According to legend, Takemikazuchi was taken to Mt. Mikasa in Nara on the back of one white deer and 99 normal deer.

After WWII, the deer in Ibaraki Prefecture vanished, thus Kashima Shrine begged Nara to return some to help repopulate the area. The stags you see currently at Kashima Shrine have returned to their natural habitat, but they are imprisoned to prevent them from disturbing the protected fauna that grows within the shrine’s grounds. Aside from that, the link between Kashima and deer is commemorated in the name of the local soccer team, “Kashima Antlers,” which is now Japan’s champion.

Mitarashi Pond is yet another must-see attraction on the shrine grounds. One of Kashima Shrine’s seven wonders, it retains around 400,000 litres of spring water that is clearer than a glass of sake.

According to legend, individuals who entered the pond as part of the initiation process into the Shinto priesthood would find the water to be chest-height for both an adult and a kid.

Lunch at Hitoyasumi: Get yourself ready for the Sawara Grand Festival

Hitoyasumi
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A quaint cafe right near to Mitarashi Pond specialising in soba, handmade buckwheat noodles, and Dango, circular rice-flour dumplings on a bamboo stick. From 9:30 a.m. till sunset, the café is open.

You can begin with the main course, springwater noodles, which can be combined with tempura (deep-fried veggies) in a set called Yusui tempura soba (1560 yen). The noodles are boiled and then rinsed in the same spring water that flows into Mitarashi Pond.

For 400 yen, try the three-coloured dumplings (sanshoku Dango). The first is a white foundation normal Dango dipped in a sweet syrup consisting of soy sauce and sugar. The second is blended with mugwort, which gives it a greenish hue and a pleasant flavour. The last variety is combined with millet, a cereal. Finally, Anko, or sweet bean paste, is slathered on top of the dumplings.

This delectable dessert will give you the stamina you need for the Sawara Grand Festival, the next highlight of our journey.

Boarding a train from Kashima Jingu to Sawara

Boarding a train from Kashima Jingu to Sawara
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The shrine is about a 7-minute walk from the station. Return to the shrine’s main entrance and walk straight until you reach the first traffic signals, then turn right and go all the way down to Kashima Jingu Station.

Using the vending machine, purchase a 320-yen ticket to Sawara Station. The train sets off at 15:00 and arrives at Sawara Station at 15:22. Trains run every three hours, so be sure you don’t miss yours.

The 20-minute trip provides spectacular views of Chiba’s scenery from both sides.

When you arrive at Sawara Station, stop at the tourist information kiosk in front of the station. There are English brochures and a leaflet with information about the Grand Festival available. The festival’s tour map is solely in Japanese, however, it includes a QR code that allows you to easily track the march. You’ll need to scan this later with your phone to make the most of your time at the festival.

Another alternative is to take a local train from Narita on the JR Narita Line or the Kashima Line.

Kashima-Jingu is around an hour away. Walk 400 metres from the station to Kashima Shrine. JR Sobu Line from Tokyo to Narita station via Chiba.

By express bus, take the bus from Tokyo Station to Kashima-Jingu station or Kashima Soccer Stadium. The journey to Kashima-Jingu station takes 2 hours (the former) or 1 hour 35 minutes (the latter).

The Mega Festival: Sawara Grand Festival

Sawara Grand Festival
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Sawara’s Grand Festival, which includes a spectacular float (dashi) parade, is regarded as one of the top three greatest festivals in Kanto, with a proud legacy extending back 300 years. Sawara is home to two major festivals: the Gion Festival in July and the Autumn Festival, which takes place over three days in the second week of October.

Each of the town’s 25 blocks has its own float, 14 of which are hauled and shown throughout the town during the parade. Each float depicts a major figure from Japanese history and mythology.

Sawara was originally a prosperous river commercial port known as Koedo or Little Edo (the previous name of Tokyo). Its legacy lives on for future generations to enjoy and respect. The Ono River passes through town, dividing it into two sections: Honjuku to the east and Shinjuku to the west.

By the late 18th century, Sawara had grown not only into a key trade port but also into a prominent financial town in the Kanto region, with over 1300 residences and a population of over 5000 people. Taking advantage of this economic prosperity, the Sawara Festival and the enthusiasm of the residents evolved into what it is now – a wonderful celebration, as alive as the music and noise made by bystanders and participants.

Tone River, Japan’s second-longest river, served as a vital commercial route to Tokyo during the Edo period (1603-1868). The boats would take around three days to go from Sawara to Tokyo via the Tone and Sumida rivers.

Sawara’s traditional townscape is interesting, and you’ll want to take hundreds of photos of it. Take a look at some of the highlights and memorable experiences during my visit to this place.

Do as the Sawara people do when they get into the festival atmosphere when you’re in Sawara. This is one of several characters that have been installed on the low street lighting along the Ono River.

Kiiko Hiratsuka is a local celebrity in this town. She can be found in Fukushin, a kimono store and museum near Chukei Bridge. Her smile bears witness to 94 years of history.

Giant Floats Parade Through The Town

Giant Floats Parade Through The Town
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Take out the festival guide map you received earlier and scan the QR Code with your phone. Despite the fact that the programme is in Japanese, you can just concentrate on the movement of the pins, which depict the 14 festival floats.

During festival parades, dozens of proud people pull a float adorned with colourful figures such as 5m tall dolls, mountains, fish, birds, spears, animals, or plants through the streets. The term dashi alluded to an earthly location where gods descended.

Doll makers faced the difficult task of creating opulent and one-of-a-kind dashi dolls. By the late Edo era, a friendly competition amongst communities had developed, motivating wood craftsmen and doll makers to build increasingly ornate figurines.

Shrine carpenters (miya daiku), who construct and restore shrines, temples, and dashi, carve complex carvings and sculptures out of zelkova and oak hardwood.

Since 2 p.m., all 14 floats had begun assembling from the station along the railroad crossing. The floats began touring the streets at 5 p.m., accompanied by dances and cheers from bystanders.

One of the highlights of the occasion is when the dashi is rotated to show off its four gorgeously decorated sides.

Edo-style floats are distinguished by two characteristics: large sculptures of heroes or animals, and exquisite carvings. As Sawara’s links with Edo grew stronger, the villagers were encouraged to build increasingly complex floats, which finally evolved into the two-levelled dashi we see today.

Dashi can weigh more than four tonnes, necessitating the use of dozens of strong people to push and pull it. “Come on, you’re almost across Chukei Bridge!” I couldn’t help but urge them on.

Even rain won’t stop the locals from dancing and celebrating one of Kanto’s three most important festivals, which lasts three days.

The Sawara Grand Festival is a wonderful celebration that allows you to experience traditional Japanese culture in its purest form.

There are no more direct buses to Tokyo in the evening, so riding the train is the best option to go back into the city. Take the Narita Line train from Sawara Station to Chiba Station and continue all the way to the last stop. Take the Sobu Rapid Line train headed for Kurihama from Chiba Station and get out at Tokyo Station at 21:22. The fare will be 1660 yen.

Conclusion

The festival chant of Sawara’s Grand Festival is “Sawara-bayashi.” The chants, which have unique melancholy melodies, are performed by musicians riding atop the floats. The custom has been carried on for the past 300 years as one of Japan’s three traditional festival chants.

There are approximately 40 songs that are sung in accordance with the movements and ambience of the floats, adding to the festival’s excitement.

At night, lanterns are lit on each float, creating a fantasy-like environment. The floats travel slowly along the Ono River, reflecting their lanterns on the water’s surface. Its conjunction with the festival chanting makes you sense the arrival of fall.

There are no more direct buses to Tokyo in the evening, so riding the train is the best option to go back into the city. Take the Narita Line train from Sawara Station to Chiba Station and continue all the way to the last stop. Take the Sobu Rapid Line train headed for Kurihama from Chiba Station and get out at Tokyo Station at 21:22. The fare will be 1660 yen.

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