Friday, December 12, 2014

Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival + Vlog!

Have you ever been to a traditional Japanese festival? Summer is the most popular season for them in Japan, and the abundance of festivals during that time make it easy to have fun in spite of the humidity. You can relax in your yukata (summer kimono) with a cup of snow ice, wait for the sun to set, and enjoy watching muscial firework displays long into the warm night.

Although festivals are most common in summer, you can find festivals around Japan all throughout the year. In spring, cherry blossom festivals pop up all over the country. The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow Festival) is one of the most famous festivals in Japan, and takes place in the height of winter. As for autumn, I recently attended the Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival, a wonderful traditional festival which I highly recommend!

New life goal: get to ride on top of one of these.
The Buttsuke Autumn Festival takes place every year during October, and is held in the small town of Kanuma, Tochigi prefecture. The festival has taken place since the Edo period, and has been celebrated for over 400 years. These days, it boasts all the typical fare necessary for a good festival: hundreds of delicious food stalls, covering festival staples such as karaage, takoyaki, yakisoba, crepes, ramen, and taiyaki; game stalls, where you can catch a new pet fish, or win a cute stuffed toy or water yoyo; performances by local bands and dance groups; and fireworks at the end of the night.

The craftsmanship that goes into these floats is unbelievable.
But there's one thing that sets the Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival apart from your standard Japanese festival. Follow the sound of drum to downtown Kanuma, and you'll soon find yourself surrounded by amazing carved wooden floats, called yatai. These floats are pushed and pulled along the streets throughout the day in a magnificent parade. All hand-carved in intricate detail, some are painted in bright colours and gilded with silver and gold decorations, whilst others retain the natural beauty of the wood, making it easy to see a variety of  styles throughout the day. Inside each yatai, a small band (usually consisting of a few drummers and a flute player or two) plays music that can be heard throughout the whole town. Others stand atop the yatai, chanting and cheering everyone on. You can see and hear all these antics in the vlog I made, here:

When the yatai meet each other along the road, you will hear them "battle" each other. Each band must play their music without being distracted by the opposing band. It's really fun to watch, and as the night progresses, the yatai battles get more intense. In the evening, with the streets and yatai lit up by lanterns, multiple yatai battle each other at one time.

The Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival was a super interesting and enjoyable day. I loved getting to experience such a traditional festival, and exploring a little of the town of Kanuma. The people there were really friendly and welcoming, and there were plenty of nice cafes, stalls, and more peaceful areas to take a break from the main action. I also had the chance to watch students from a high school in Kanuma (where a friend of mine teaches) perform a reading of a book about Japanese festivals, in English. The author and artist of the book, Ise Hideko, was also watching the performance. She is a lovely lady who seemed really happy to share the story of the festival with us foreigners. The story and pictures were so wonderful that afterwards I went and bought the book. It's a very sweetly told story about how yatai are made, and is full of amazing watercolour illustrations. The book is called まつり / matsuri / festival, and you can buy it yourself from amazon Japan, here, or see many of her books on her author's page here. I'm hoping to find an English translation, but I haven't had any luck yet. My Japanese isn't really good enough to read the whole book, but I love just admiring the pictures and remembering the nice memories of that day. Here's a couple of pages from the book:

Matsuri by Ise Hideko.
Ise Hideko's illustrations look as though the page really is glowing with lantern-light!

If you're ever in Japan during autumn, I hope you can make it to the Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival! It was a truly unique day for me, and I saw many new sights I won't soon forget.

Til next time,

- Annabelle.


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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:


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