Sometimes when you visit festivals, with everyone dressed in their finest kimono or yukata, the street stalls lining the streets, and the local historical curiosities paraded around the town, if you squint just enough, you feel like you are able to capture a small glimpse of how the old Japan may have looked.
At the Arimatsu Dashi Matsuri [Arimatsu Float Festival] you do not need to squint.
Held annually on the first Sunday of October in the beautiful old town of Arimatsu that is so well-preserved that it is occasionally used for the filming of period dramas, the Arimatsu Float Festival is an exquisite event that could have stepped straight out of the Edo era.
Also known as the Arimatsu Tenman-sha Shrine Autumn Matsuri, the festival originates from the Tokugawa period practice of traveling from Arimatsu to the village’s tutelary shrine, Shinmei-sha Shrine of Okehazama, in the August of the lunar calendar. Records show that this two-kilometer pilgrimage was at that time accompanied by lion dances (like those seen at Chinese New Year) and processions of elaborately-dressed omanto horses, though these traditions have since ceased.
The ‘dashi’ of the festival’s name are three enormous floats that are dragged through the streets. Though different from the kasaboko style of floats originally used (they would have been carried rather than being on large wooden wheels) the dashi are ornately carved and exquisitely* lacquered, towering above the crowds as they are dragged down the street by costumed locals.
More than just large floats, the three dashi – individually named Hotei-sha, Karako-sha, and Jingu-kogo-sha – also house on their tops karakuri mechanized dolls, essentially Edo era robots. One of the highlights of the festival are the performances of these karakuri, enacting out legends or ancient plays.
The festival’s climax comes in the evening when the three floats are each lit with approximately 250 lanterns. And set in the backdrop of this traditional old town, it really does feel like you have been transported back to the time of the samurai.
Where: Arimatsu, Midori Ward, Nagoya (map)
When: October 6, 2019 (Annually the first Sunday of October); Daytime 9:30 to 14:30, Nighttime 18:00 to 21:00
Established in 1608, Arimatsu was an important trading town along the Tokaido road connecting Edo with Kyoto. It was famed for its classic tie-dye fabric, ‘shibori,’ which was used to make Japan’s best kimono and yukata, a practice that continues to this day.
The old Tokugawa era buildings remain, as well as many shops selling shibori goods.
Image: Mark Guthrie (Own Work)