One of the three major festivals in Saitama prefecture, the Kawagoe festival is an autumn festival that occurs every year on the third Saturday/Sunday of October. The whole town gets in on the action, with gifts, snacks, drinks, and floats flooding the city streets. Despite threats of bad weather, I was able to see a great deal of the festival and avoid getting rained on at the same time!
The main event at the festival is definitely at night when the festival floats are decorated with lanterns and lights and paraded about town. They mostly go up the main road and side streets in Coedo, the historic warehouse district (known as the Kurazukuri zone). Each neighborhood in Kawagoe has its own float that they parade about town. The floats have traditional Hayashi performances on them as they coast around. The cool thing is when two floats pass each other. They’ll face their float’s Hayahi stages towards each other and do a sort of musical battle, known as Hikkawase. I saw quite a few of these; they even stop to engage stationary stages on the side of the road! The craziest was at this large intersection before the Kurazukuri zone: Three floats engaged simultaneously! When the third float approached and made its intentions known, the crowd went nuts! I imagine this doesn’t happen often, so I’m feeling pretty lucky to have seen it.
The floats each feature a doll at the top, usually representing a historical figure. My neighborhood, Wakitamachi, features a nifty Tokugawa Ieyasu doll on top. Despite my best efforts fighting the crowds, I couldn’t definitively find my neighborhood’s float. They are hard to miss: They’re massive wooden mini castles that are pulled by a couple dozen people. There are a few men at the front of the float who control the direction by lifting the massive front wheel to reposition it. The topmost level is also retractable. This was originally made to allow the float to enter through gates, but now, it’s used mainly to avoid power lines and traffic signals. You can hear the crowd “Ooh!” as floats narrowly brush by electric wires, usually pushed aside by one or two men who sit atop to float to prevent collisions.
Kawagoe Festival 2017 Highlights
I decided to put my budding video editing skills to work to make a short video of various clips my wife and I collected during Saturday night. It’s not the greatest video, but we all have to start somewhere, right? Let me know what you think of it in the comments (here and on YouTube)!