Every year on the second Sunday of November in Yakage Town, a reenactment of the feudal lord’s procession to Edo, the old capital of Japan, takes place. The town was one of the major stops along the way, which stretched from Kyushu to Osaka and then on to Edo (Tokyo). The lord and his entourage would have spent the night in Yakage before continuing their journey. Around 80 townspeople take on the roles of the multiple characters of the parade.
The idea to re-create the procession was put forth in 1976, when heavy rain and a typhoon caused great damage along the main street of the town’s commercial district. After the disaster, there was a noticeable decline in activity along this once bustling thoroughfare so the youth section of the local chamber of commerce decided to do something. As a result of the efforts of the townspeople, the lord’s procession was reborn and set to play an important part in revitalizing central Yakage.
The first thing that you have to consider is getting to the festival early because the crowds start to form around 8am. By 9am many of the food stalls are open for business and you can start off your day with treats including grilled chicken and beef kebabs, frankfurters, fried noodles, french fries, pizza, crepes, chocolate covered bananas and the list goes on and on.
Stalls are set up on the main shopping street as well as on many of the side streets and open spaces in the town center. The vendors range from actual shop owners to people who just come out for the day. You will also find other goods like crafts, clothing, accessories, plants, flowers and decorative items for sale.
While most of the actual shops in the center of town close for the festival to give way to the street stalls, some businesses are open as usual, so you are likely to see some locals going about their daily routine.
There quite of few spectacles along the main street to entertain visitors before the grand finale of the Daimyo Procession. A kagura (performance for the gods) is put on at the community hall at the east end of the street. You can experience the mesmerizing singing, dancing and music of this unique art form.
From time to time, local women dressed in kimono perform traditional songs and dances using folding bamboo screens as props, whirling them in the air and transforming them into various shapes.
At about 12pm a unit of about a dozen rifle bearing samurai make their way to the parking lot next to the Machidokan Cultural Center, where they make preparations to fire. With fuses lit, at exactly 12:30 they shoot several thunderous smoke-filled rounds, startling the crowd and leaving behind the smell of gunpowder.
The most striking aspect of the festival are the wonderful colors of the costumes worn by the members of the procession. Brilliant reds, blues, and yellows in so many patterns seem to naturally fuse with colors of the clothing being worn by onlookers, which makes for great photos.
Dozens of people gather to watch the parade as the characters slowly make their way through the streets to the rhythm of a chant spoken over a loudspeaker and the chime-topped staffs carried by members of the procession. The authentic gestures and movements of the participants transport spectators to a special time in the region’s history while at the same time creating a connection with the present.
The actors interact with the crowd, which can number well over 30,000, stopping from time to time for a quick chat or to acknowledge the many compliments that they receive for their performance. Every aspect of the procession sparks the imagination from the details of the costumes to the purpose behind the objects being carried. The quirky steps and head rotations that are done by some of the performers repeatedly delight the audience.
The characters of the procession include the princess, the wife of the nobleman, the chief retainer, the lord’s magistrate as well as female and male servants. The princess and the wife of the noblewoman are selected by a voting process every year during the Yakage Summer Festival. Women from across the region, dressed in summer kimono, vie for a chance to portray these time honored roles.
About the Area
Yakage is is often referred to as a “post town”, meaning it was one of the designated stops on the road to Edo (the former name of today’s Tokyo). During the feudal era, regional lords from around Japan were required to make the trip to pay homage to the country’s central ruler.
Lords from West Japan would have traveled along a set route with the halfway point to Edo being Osaka. In Yakage, the Daimyo or lord, attended by his retinue, would have acquired food and lodging for a reserved period of time.
Access: From JR Okayama Station, take the JR Hakubi Line to JR Kiyone Station. Transfer to the Ibara Line (Ibara Railway) and get off at Yakage Station (About 50 minutes total travel time).
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