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Busshozan Fall Festival

2011.10.31 by Cathy Hirano
A Step Back in Time
I love October in Takamatsu ? perfect weather, except for the odd typhoon, and plenty of local harvest festivals to keep me entertained. Some of these festivals are pretty exciting and draw large crowds. Fellow blogger Pat and I had great fun checking out one of these the other day: the famous Busshozan Daimy? Gyoretsu. (Check Pat's blog for some great photos of period costumes http://pat.ashita-sanuki.jp/ .)

A visit to the Busshozan area is a wonderful way to step back in time. The community originated as a temple town. Takamatsu's ruling daimyo (territorial magnate) and his family used to travel about 15 km inland from their castle on the sea to Busshozan to attend religious ceremonies at Honenji Temple.


Gate to temple en route to Honenji


Honenji pagoda

Shops and other establishments catering to these distinguished visitors sprang up along the route to the daimyo's temple. Many of these buildings are still in use.


Old store front with Pat reflected in the window


Fusion of old and new

The Daimy? Gyoretsu festival, however, is a new invention that began just 19 years ago. At that time, many regional governments were trying to revitalize local communities, offering them 10 million yen each as a start up fund. With the population and prosperity of their area in serious decline, the local people of Busshozan jumped at this opportunity. They decided to exploit the town's historical setting and turned their annual autumn festival into a two-day event featuring a procession of the daimy? and his retainers dressed in Edo period costumes, a spectacular fireworks display and various other forms of entertainment.


"Lady-in-waiting" waiting for the parade to begin.


"Princess" practicing her riding before the procession starts

The festival was so successful that it has continued ever since, drawing crowds of up to 150,000 people annually. It is now supported by local sponsors, including the supermarket chain Marunaka (recently taken over by the non-local Aeon). Sponsors purchase advertising space along the route such as these banners below.


Advertising banners on route to temple

The procession featured at the festival, however, is not a re-enactment of the daimy?'s temple visit. That, the organizers thought, would be too dull. Instead, it's a re-enactment of the Daimy? Gyoretsu. Here's a little background to this custom, followed by a look at some of the points of interest at the festival.

Daimy? were the rulers who once governed the individual territories in Japan. During the Edo period (1603-1867), all daimy? were forced to spend every other year at the Tokugawa court in Edo. Their families were required to live in Edo full-time. Known as Sankin K?tai, this system gave the ruling Tokugawa clan political and economic control over the country. The daimy? expended huge sums of money on travel to Edo alone (in contemporary terms, between 300 and 500 million yen ? Wow!!). And that doesn't even count what was spent on maintaining family households in the capital The custom thus successfully weakened the daimy?'s financial and military power. The fact that their families were hostages in all but name further ensured the daimyo's allegiance to the Tokugawa government and their military support in time of need. The Sankin K?tai system, which established peace and stability after a long period of warring among the various states, lasted over 250 years until the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867.

So imagine yourself in an Edo-period town with warriors striding through streets. Behind them follows a grand procession of retainers and kimono-clad ladies-in-waiting.





People drop what they are doing to kneel in the road, their heads bowed low. Any hapless soul who unwittingly crosses the procession's path could be cut down for his rudeness, the only exception being the midwife hurrying to deliver a baby.

Well, what Pat and I saw wasn't quite like that but it was nevertheless impressive, not to mention fun! I'll leave that, however, for my next article. In other words, to be continued!!!

This blog's writer

Cathy Hirano

I've lived in Japan since 1978. After graduating from a Japanese university with a BA in cultural anthropology in 1983, I worked as a translator in a Japanese consulting engineering firm in Tokyo for several years. My Japanese husband and I moved to Takamatsu in 1987 to raise our two children in a slower-paced environment away from the big city pressures. We've never regretted it. I work as a freelance translator and interpreter and am involved in a lot of community work, including volunteering for Second Hand, a local NGO that supports educational and vocational training initiatives in Cambodia, and for the Takamatsu International Association. I love living in Takamatsu.

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