Kawagoe Festival: My first experience in 2019

The Kawagoe Festival is an annual event that happens on the third Saturday and Sunday of October. I saw it for the first time in 2019. After attending it, I realized I should have experienced it far earlier than I did. It was colorful and brilliant! For photography, it was amazing.

A brief history of the Kawagoe Festival

Today, Kawagoe is in Saitama Prefecture. But in feudal Japan, it was a province. The daimyo, Nobutsuna Matsudaira, ruled it.

His clan, the Matsudaira, created the Tenka Festival. That commemorated its role in pacifying medieval Japan. After all, they had an illustrious member, Ieyasu Tokugawa.

Ieyasu was the unifier of modern Japan. He created the Edo era which paved the way for modern Tokyo. That is a pretty deal. I’m happy to say he is my favorite historical person from the Sengoku Jidai (period of warring states).

And that is why we have the Kawagoe Festival. It has been going in one form or another since 1648. The event is so important it is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

How was the 2019 festival experience?

There are also some night events, but I didn’t see those in 2019. I only attended the day parade. The major part of that was the dashi (street floats). They differed from the mikoshi I’ve seen many times at the Sanja and Sanno festivals. Those are very small and carried upon the shoulders of bearers. The Kawagoe ones were huge, up to ten meters high, and ornately decorated.

They looked like mountains on the move from down the street. Huge crews in happi coats pulled them with thick ropes. With entertainers and musicians onboard, it was an enormous spectacle. No wonder huge crowds go.

I was amazed by how the dashi were controlled. When they stopped, the upper superstructure spun around. Spectators could see what was going on onboard. And when they rounded street corners! Crews pulled with the ropes and crossbars to nudge the wheels in the right direction. They made it look easy.

Fujifilm camera gear used for the Kawagoe Festival:

  • Camera Body: X-T2
  • Lenses: XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR

Photographer safety tip

There is one thing you should be careful of with this festival. It is very crowded. Keep any young ones you take on a tight leash! Sometimes, a crush can develop with so many people in a small area.

On top of that, the dashi are simple constructions. They don’t have modern safety devices as cars do (so I’ve observed). Getting them to stop in a short distance is difficult, if not impossible.

So what I want to say is this. It’s easy to lose awareness when photographing these exciting events. To avoid danger to yourself and those around you. Keep an eye on how close you are to the dashi. It would be most embarrassing if crowd control had to physically move you away from them.

Wrapping up

This festival was great, and I highly recommend it. I can’t wait to go again. The night events are probably even more amazing. One day, that will happen too!

My first visit to the Kawagoe Festival was delightful. The only disappointment was I couldn’t stay for its entirety. I live quite a distance away, so I couldn’t stay. How about you, have you seen it?

For articles about other festivals in Tokyo, look at:

For more Kawagoe Festival photos, click these external links:

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