Behind the Scenes of the Kawagoe Festival: Pulling the Festival Floats - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Behind the Scenes of the Kawagoe Festival: Pulling the Festival Floats

Every year on the third weekend of October the charming town Kawagoe, also known as "Little Edo" (Koedo), gets ready for one of their biggest events of the year; the Kawagoe festival. The town attracts around 6.2 million visitors a year, with the 2-day long Kawagoe festival being the liveliest event of the year.
Above: Photo taken from the last time I visited the Kawagoe festival
I visited Kawagoe a couple of years ago to see the Kawagoe festival (you can read more about that here), but this time I had gotten the chance to be one of the participants pulling the floats thanks to Japan Room Finder
We gathered in the morning at Kawagoe Station (川越駅) where we and from there we headed over to the center of the festival area. Apparently there are 10 neighbourhoods in the center of Kawagoe that are represented in the festival with their own float called a dashi (山車, literarily a "mountain car"). The Saiwai-cho neighbourhood (幸町) was the one that kindly had offered us to participate in the festival. 

One of the festival participants explains about the usage of omote masks

The backside of one of the floats
Above: Details from the Saiwai-cho float all cut from one single piece of wood
Before the start of the festival we got a short briefing in the history of the festival. Its roots go back to the Keian Period (1648), and the Kawagoe Hikawa Festival Float Event was designated as a Japanese National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 2005. Only people who have gotten permission from one of the neighbourhood are allowed to join the festival and actually pull the float, and this is apparently the first time in the 350+ year history that they have allowed a group of foreigners to join in on the fun.
Above: Traditional festival Mochi-rice to the left and a omamori lucky charm to the right
Before the actual even we also got to go backstage and meet with the locals from the Saiwai-cho neighbourhood, and together we had a cup of local sake and mochi-rice which commonly is eaten at festive events. We also had the pleasure of getting a lucky blessing in the form of a special dance from one of the festival shisha lions, which is said to bring luck for the rest of the year. Check out this lucky selfie:
Above: The shiha-lion came around to all of us to shower us with its good luck
Finally it was time to start the event. The Saiwai-cho neighboorhood's festival float consisted of a 2 stories floats and a doll on the top, and according to the locals had a weight of around 4 tonnes (same as a full-size elephant). As you can imagine it takes a lot of manpower to get this thing moving through town, and in addition to our little group of foreigners there were also locals (often people working with physical labor) to pull the float.

In front of one of the festival floats

Getting ready to pull the float
But the whole team is working together pulling the rope while chanting along the way, making sure the mood is good along the way! We did indeed have a great time, and below you can check out some of my photos from our stroll around town:
On our way we passed through the Kurazukuri zone where the old warehouses are located. 
Kawagoe is famous for its well-preserved historical buildings, temples and shrines from the Edo period, and on a side note visitors who don't have the chance to see the festival could for instance do kimono/yukata rental to enhance the experience of walking around the historical parts of town.
But back to the festival. One of the highlights of Kawagoe Matsuri is when two or more of the floats from the different neighbourhoods meet, and they engage in an ‘Hikkawase’ battle. This is also called a hayashi performance, and is accompanied by a small orchestra playing flutes, drums and handbells. You can see an example of this in the photo above, and I've also included a video of one of the battles below:
Above: Standing right below one of the floats during a Hikkawase battle. You can see the Shisha lion in action!
The festival was also a great opportunity to meet new friends from all over the world, with representatives from among others Norway, Sri Lanka, Argentina, the Netherlands and the UK. I also met a sempai (graduate) from Ritsumeikan University who is running his own festival-related company called Omatsuri Japan! Make sure to check out their FB page for awesome festival photos from all over Japan.

After having completed the walk through town we returned to the original point where we had started out an hour earlier. Getting to join the Saiwai-cho neighbourhood on their parade around town was truly a unique chance to experience this marvellous festival up close. The Kawagoe festival is probably one of the best events you can catch if you visit Japan during October, and I would recommend anyone to take the trip.

Basic Info
  • 【Name of event】
  • ・The Kawagoe Festival (川越祭り)
  • 【When】
  • ・Held annually the third weekend of October
  • 【Location】
  • ・Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県川越市)
  • 【Access】
  • ・Station for only 470 yen one way. The map displays the location of the Time Bell Tower (Toki no Kane).
  • 【Admission】
  • ・Free

Related blogposts

Recommended Hotels in Saitama

Ranzan Keikoku Onsen Health Center Heiseirou
Onsen Health Center Heiseirou
Nagatoro Choseikan Ryokan
Nagatoro Choseikan Ryokan
Wadoh Ryokan
Kawagoe Prince Hotel
Kawagoe Prince Hotel

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
Author Image

About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

  • 0Disqus Comment
  • Facebook Comment

Leave your comment

Post a Comment

comments powered by Disqus

About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
・Read more →

Recent Posts


Random Posts