Tag Archives: Festivals

Takaosan Fire-Walking Festival

Takaosan or Mount Takao is a mountain located in western Tokyo and only about 50 minutes away from Shinjuku by train, making it a popular hiking spot and a pleasant day trip to a natural environment close to central Tokyo.

It has been regarded as a sacred mountain for a long time and every year on a second Sunday of March, the fire-walking festival or Hiwatari-matsuri is held. There is a traditional belief in Shingon Buddhism that fire has the power to cleanse. The annual festival consists of the ceremonious lighting of the pyre and participants walking across burning coals in order to purify body and soul. We were so curious when we heard about it and couldn’t resist the urge to witness this rare festival!

1

Since the festival was in the afternoon, we took the opportunity to explore Takaosan and spent our morning getting to the summit. We decided to take the cable car halfway up the mountain and hike from there which took us about 50 minutes. It was a cold and rainy day but we finally made our way to the top with one stopping at Yakuoin temple to make a prayer for better weather for the rest of the day.

After an enjoyable lunch, we walked back to the station, took the cable car back down and excitedly went straight to the festival’s venue. Luckily, the rain had stopped by the time we got there and we managed to secure a good watching spot on a small hill next to the main stage!

2
The grand Yakuoin temple located along the hiking trail
3
On the top of Takaosan
 Before the festival started
Before the festival started
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja

After a long chanting and some ritual processes, the pyre was lit and it was an exciting sight to see. We could feel the fire’s warmth even though we stood further away from the center. The walk began from the monks when the fire had reduced itself to smoking ashes. After the monks have crossed, the path was opened to the audiences who wish to try fire-walking. The line was incredibly long and we waited for nearly half an hour until it was our turn. Whether you are a Buddhist or not, or whether you just watch or walk the fire yourself, the ceremony can be enjoyed equally so make sure to give it a try next year!

The lighting bonfire
The lighting bonfire

7

8
The monks (top) and participants (bottom) walking through the path of embers

by Kate P.

The biggest winter illumination in Kanto: Sagamiko Illumination

Japan is a country that seems to love illuminations. Especially in winter, many large-scale illuminations can be seen at various locations across the country. Among the most famous illumination events in Kanto area, the Sagamiko Illumination is widely known as the largest and the longest running one!

This year, it incorporates over 5 million LED lights in a wide range of colors and utilizes new production of music and light constructions to create a magical world. We went to enjoy this spectacular illumination on the last day of February and here are some photos from our trip.

1A Christmas tree at the entrance with giant Ferris wheel in the background.

2Entering the venue, we were greeted with a sight of purple and pink carpets covering the hillsides.

3One of the slopes was blanketed with colorful flowers. 

4A long tunnel decorated with blinking rainbow lights.

5The ocean of blue lights with sea creatures (Can you spot a whale in this photo?)

6The chairlift took us to the mountain top where we could enjoy the scenery from a different viewpoint.

7There was also a giant swing ride for the adventure-seeker.

 

8The not-to-be-missed Palace of Light exhibition, an animated light show accompanied by music and dancing water fountain.

9

For anyone who wants to catch this last bit of winter illumination, it is held on weekends and holidays from 6PM until April 12th. Entrance ticket costs 600 yen and round-trip ticket for chairlift costs 400 yen. The journey takes about 1-2 hours from central Tokyo. The nearest train station is Sagamiko station from where you can take bus no.21 to the park. There is also direct bus which departs from Shinjuku but advanced reservation is required via telephone or internet.

10

 


by Kate P.

 

Kamakura – “Small Kyoto” near from Tokyo

On 11 Feb, the day of Japan’s Country Foundation Day, we went to Kamakura to walk around, and more importantly, to witness a strange religion ceremony. This ceremony is a disciplinary ceremony / training for monks in training.

As some of you may know, there are many shrines and temples in Kamakura, so, it is sometimes called “Small Kyoto”. The town is a famous and popular sightseeing spot among Japanese as well.

From Shinagawa to Kamakura, it takes around 1 hour by local train.

At first, we visited Chosho-ji (長勝寺) to watch the religious ceremony.

20150211_094051

Monks in training came….

20150211_103535

20150211_105340

Cold water was poured over their heads with chanting reading sutras!!! Note, this is February, deep in winter!

20150211_103843

20150211_103847

IT LOOKS SOOOOO COLD! o(>_<)o

To warm ourselves out from that “cold” experience, we went for lunch near Kamakura Station and walked around the area..

Komachi Street, there are many souvenir shops and food stands belong there.
Komachi Street, where there are many souvenir shops and food stands.

20150211_150205

20150211_114857
Lunch at one of the restaurants at Komachi Street
20150211_133345
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, within 10 mins’ walk from Kamakura Station. You can read more at  here.

After walking around Kamakura and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, we took tram and visited this famous site.

Koutokuin, to visit the Big Buddha! Nearest Station is Hase Station, Enoden Line.
Koutokuin, to visit the Big Buddha! Nearest Station is Hase Station, Enoden Line.
View of the ocean from Hasedera temple, near Hase Station, Enoden Line.
View of the ocean from Hasedera temple, near Hase Station, Enoden Line.

At last we visited the beach and said “See you again!”

Yuigahama Beach
Yuigahama Beach

20150211_162048

Of course winter is off season, so it was really quiet and tranquil…

After all Kamakura is good place to visit any number of times!!!


by Tammy Fukaya

Sagicho Festival at Oiso, Kanagawa

We were going to Oiso on January 11th 2015 to see a Sagicho Festival 左義長 or Dondo Yaki どんど焼き  (a kind of bonfire festival) that was held on Oiso Beach in Kanagawa. We met at Shinagawa station and went by the 3pm train to Oiso Station. The beach weren’t so far from the station (about 15 minutes walk) and nearby the beach entrance, we were greeted by locals with some soup and snacks to warm up our bodies. As it was near the beach, it was really windy and cold for most of us! According to the locals, this is the first time they have seen foreigners at this event! They were just as surprised to see us, as we were to visit this secret festival! We felt really honoured to be there!

At 6pm, we started to heard to the beach. There were many pyramid-like structures made from grass and decorated with lucky charms from the past year. The locals will bring their old charms from the previous year and decorate it here over the new year. We waited there until they lit the fire to the structures. We were given mochi (rice cakes) to on long bamboo sticks which we can use to BBQ the mochi around the fire. Just imagine, instead of marshmallows, we were BBQ-ing mochi. It was the first time for most of us and it was fun!  It seemed like a pretty small-scale festival, and there were not many food stalls unlike the other big festivals. There were only 3 yatai (food stalls) but it was the locals’ hospitality and warmth that completed the festive mood!

The real fun began when the festival started. With the fire, it became pretty warm (of course) and there were so many people gathering around to pray and to join in the festival. After the fire was kindled, some men wearing only the traditional loin cloth went into the water to do pull some kind of rope, which I think was attached to the mikoshi (portable shrines that are common in traditional religious festival). When they are done, they head back to the shore, singing and drinking sake. It was a pretty interesting sight to behold! I cannot imagine how they actually withstand the cold weather and water!

That’s pretty much what happened in the festival. It was hard for us to really understand the background and history since all the information are only in Japanese and the locals couldn’t speak English. Nevertheless, it was one of those times when experience transcends the language barrier. Just being there, experiencing the festival, interacting with the locals and taking it all in was really fun!
Here are some photos of our journey ☺

DSC00067 DSC00068 DSC00071 DSC00072 DSC00082 DSC00087 DSC00091 DSC00112 DSC00119 DSC00127 DSC00133 DSC00162 DSC00178 DSC00207 DSC00209 DSC00212


 

By Marco TJ.

Time Travel to Edo Period in Kawagoe!

Kawagoe (川越) is a city in Saitama Prefecture located about 30 minutes by train from Ikebukuro, which makes it a perfect day trip from Tokyo. Our first destination once we arrived in Kawagoe was Kita-in, a renowned temple built around 1200 years ago. At the entrance of the temple, we were pleasantly greeted with some red maple leaves, the well-known symbol of autumn.

Beautiful brightly colored leaves.
Beautiful brightly colored leaves.
Temple etiquette: washing hands and mouth before entering.
Temple etiquette: washing hands and mouth before entering.
 The main hall of Kita-in Temple
The main hall of Kita-in Temple.
20141130 Kawagoe 12
Praying and making a wish.
The temple ground as viewed from the main hall
The temple ground as viewed from the main hall.

After walking around for a while, we entered the buildings of the former Edo Castle, the only remaining palace buildings which have survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and World War II. Taking photo was not allowed inside the building unfortunately, but we got to see the room which the Shogun was born as well as his dressing room and toilet. From the back of the building, we could have a nice view of the Japanese garden and enjoy some more autumn leaves.

Beautiful red leaves behind the building of Edo Castle
Beautiful red leaves behind the building of Edo Castle.

Our next spot was Hikawa Shrine which was just a few minutes from Kita-in by bus. On the day of our visit, many parents and children dressed up nicely in kimono were there for “Shichi Go San”, a traditional ceremony to celebrate children of age three, five, and seven. Also, there was a wedding ceremony going on when we were there, so we considered ourselves really lucky to have a chance to observe both ceremonies at the same place and same time.

Parents and little kids in elaborated kimonos.
Parents and little kids in elaborated kimonos.
Japanese wedding ceremony
Japanese wedding ceremony

After Hikawa Shrine, we moved on to Kawagoe’s Warehouse District, had lunch and strolled around to take in the historic atmosphere. Definitely, we did not forget to try some local specialties such as sweets made from purple potato, Kawagoe’s beer, takoyaki senbei, and miso bread!

Kurazukuri Street and the Bell Tower
Kurazukuri Street and the Bell Tower
Some of our trip members from various countries
Some of our trip members from various countries
Taisho-roman Street
Taisho-roman Street
Exploring the street of Kurazukuri
Exploring the street of Kurazukuri

On the way back to the train station, we happened to notice that some kind of festival was going on so we decided to step in and have a look. Interestingly, we were told that it was a “Kitsune Matsuri” or literally “Fox Festival” which was held for the first time. There were lots of people wearing costumes and fox’s masks and some even had fox’s tails! It was such a fun and impressive way to finish our trip.

20141130 Kawagoe 19


By Kate P.

Kate is an avid traveler in Japan who can’t wait to expand her journey in Japan and share her amazing experiences with everyone. ^_^

 

 

From Carps to Dragons

image

Have you ever seen these carp streamers in Japanese TV or animation and wonder what it is about?

These carp streamers are a symbol of Children’s Day in Japan, a day to celebrate the health and happiness of children. This special occasion falls on 5 May every year, and during this time, families with boys (yes, boys – there is a special occasion for girls on 3 March) will fly these carp streamers (koi nobori 鯉のぼり) from their houses. Carp is a symbol of strength and according to Chinese legend, the carps swim upstream, becoming dragons. Similarly, Japanese parents fly the carp streamers in hope that their children will have a bright future, like dragons.

We had the opportunity to visit Sagamigawa River in Kanagawa prefecture, which is famous for its annual Koi Nobori Festival (Carp Streamers Festival). About 1,200 giant carp streamers are flown over this river, dancing beautifully in the blue skies. They are so huge that you can see them from miles away while walking towards the river! As with all other festivals, there were many stalls selling an array of festival staples – fried chicken kara-age, Japanese “pizza” Okonomiyaki, chilled cucumber, fried noodles yaki-soba, chocolate-coated bananas, shaved ice with syrup, sweet potato sticks… It was a great outing to go with your family or friends, just sitting by the river, eating some festival munchies and enjoying the spring weather.

image
You can see the carps flying from miles away!
image
Up close, they are even more magnificent!
image
With the strong wind along the river, these carps are flying freely in the sky!
image
Spoilt for choice at the festival!
image
Fancy catching a goldfish with a paper scoop? This one takes some skills!
image
Enjoy a make-shift picnic along the river with the food bought at the stalls!

Another tradition on this day is to display warrior dolls (gogatsu ningyou 五月人形) or the traditional military helmet (kabuto 兜) in the houses. Both are symbols of strength and health for the growing boys. We didn’t have the chance to visit any houses with these on display, but we did come across an old boy with a kabuto.

image

One of the traditional food eaten on this day is the Kashiwa-mochi. This special rice cake with red-bean paste is wrapped inside an oak leaf, and is readily available at departmental shops on this special day.

image

Even though Children’s Day is over, here’s a belated greeting from all of us at trippiece! May you stay young at heart!

image
Perhaps one day, we are gonna fly away like these carps, turning into dragons…

—Festival Info—

Name:  Sagamigawa Oyoge Koi Nobori (泳げ鯉のぼり)
Dates: 29 Apr – 5 May
Location: Sagamigawa River, near Takada Bridge
Entrance fee: FOC
Getting there: From Hashimoto Stn (JR Yokohama Line), take bus 57 or 59 to Tana Bus Terminal. From there, it’s a 15 mins walk to the riverside.
Website (Japanese only): http://www.oyoge-koinobori.com/index.html

Feel the heartbeat of Hida Furukawa

image

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.

image

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!

image

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!

image

Well-rested and well-fed, we took a walk around town to enjoy the historical ambience of this hidden town.

image

image

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.

image

image

There were also dancers and performers. Seems like the entire town, from children to the seniors were involved in this spectacular festival!

image

image

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!

image

image

image

image

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.

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

image

image

image

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..

image

image

image

image

image

(Pictures courtesy of Yoshida Yusuke and Mayumi Takemura.)