Most of us know of Hida Takayama as the one of the tranquil and beautiful historic towns in rural Japan. In comparison, its neighbour, Hida Furukawa, is often overlooked and forgotten on the tourist map. Both are historic towns boasting of preserved old streets and buildings, as well as fine craftmenship of the local carpenters. However, Furukawa has something else – Furukawa Festival, an age-old festival dating back to the 17th century, also branded as one of Japan’s Three Great “Naked Festivals”.
Held every year on 19th and 20th April, it is a huge rousing night festival as the Okoshi Daiko, the “rousing drum” is paraded through town by hundreds of half-clad men from the town. This main drum is followed closely by 12 groups of men from different parts of the town, each group fighting to get the most prestigious position, which is closest to the Okoshi Daiko. Throughout the night, the steady pounding of the drum resonates throughout this historic town and spectators get engulfed in the infectious energy, emotions and drumbeat of this traditional festival.
Due to the rural location of Furukawa, this amazing traditional festival is still relatively unheard of. However, a trippiece user proposed this trip on our trippiece.com. With that, we had a group of 20 curious travellers making the journey to Furukawa to witness and feel the spirit of the Furukawa Festival. Enough said, let the pictures do the talking.
Participants arrived from all over Japan, and gathered at one of the local Minka (a countryside folk house) we rented, complete with tatami rooms and kotatsu table!
We kicked off the event with a huge lunch party to break the ice. Everyone was resting, eating and meeting new people after a long journey to Furukawa. We even had the privilege to speak with some of the locals who will be participating in the night parade!
Well-rested and well-fed, we took a walk around town to enjoy the historical ambience of this hidden town.
Along the way, we also managed to catch the day parades of the festival! Similar to other Japanese festivals, there was a “mikoshi” procession, a parade of the portable shrine around town.
There were also dancers and performers. Seems like the entire town, from children to the seniors were involved in this spectacular festival!
As night falls, the highlight of the festival drew nearer and we began to see groups of men getting ready for the big event! We were very lucky as two of our participants were invited to join in the parade! Now, a little sake to warm up the naked bodies in the cold and they were good to go!
We sat on the balcony of our Minka to witness this spectacular festival. The quiet little town was charged with energy and emotions as the men moved to the beat of the drums, jostled against each other, and fought to be nearest to the Okoshi Daiko.
The parade ended on a high note in the open space in town. It was hard to believe how this quiet little town had transformed within the span of a few hours. It was one of those moments where you felt like you were transported back in time and all of a sudden you feel emotional and your hair are standing on ends without really knowing why.
The night ended in a great dinner and celebration. We were all thankful to be able to witness and take part in such a grand and spectacular festival. It is indeed a secret of rural Japan, one of those things where you are not too sure if it’s good to tell too many people about. For now, we’re just happy to share our experience at this emotionally-charged night festival. We hope this glorious age-old tradition will be preserved for many years to come. And perhaps we’ll be back again next year..
(Pictures courtesy of Yoshida Yusuke and Mayumi Takemura.)