Travel Reports by Aaron Chong view profile of Aaron Chong

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Note: The opinions and views expressed in this user report are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of japan-guide.com.

May 18, 2019 - Matsue Horanenya - Togyosai n

The time has come to see the first day of the Matsue Horanenya festival!

Although the festival was scheduled to begin at 11 in the morning, I woke up at 7, knowing that I need to be at the riverbank at least 2 hours before the festival starts in order to get a good seat, based on past festival experience. While preparing breakfast, I met a lady from Germany had just arrived all the way from Hokkaido at the guesthouse in the morning, wanting to see the Horanenya festival that was featured in her guidebook. However, she couldn't find any information about the festival at the station and had no idea when and where it will be held. I assured her that I've read the festival website and knew all the details. We both left the guesthouse immediately after breakfast and headed for the Matsue riverbank. As expected, there was already a crowd forming, mostly elderly folk armed with huge DSLR cameras and foldable chairs. Information booths were available supplying tourists with brochures about the festival and tourist spots around Matsue. We found a good spot to see the festival at the parking lot of the oden place where I had dinner last night. I bought a bottle of water for myself and my new German friend, laid down the plastic sheet for us to sit and armed myself with my trusty festival camera.

Found the perfect spot to see the festival!

While waiting, I explained to my new friend about the festival. There was supposed to be a relic, or Mikoshi, that will be brought from the castle to a shrine called the Adakaya Shrine, located in the suburbs by boat. While the relic is being transported down the river, there will be some lavishly decorated boats called Kaidenma with people dressed in kabuki costumes circling around the relic. The Kaidenma will be circling at three different sections in between the bridges of the river. We were seated at the middle section of the river and we get to see the boats circling around three times.

I also had a chance to chat with a local who shared with me a grisly tale of the old bridge right in front of us. Two hundred years ago, the bridge that we were seeing that time was not that high and right above the water level. The bridge kept getting washed away by the river in bad weather and the locals saw this as a sign of God's wrath. To appease the God, they dug a hole in the middle of the river (I had no idea how they do this) and sacrificed a young maiden by dropping her into the hole. There was no intention to raise the height of the bridge at that time as this would allow enemy troops to cross the river easily and attack Matsue Castle.

As time passed, we could already see the festivities taking shape. The parade boats, Kaidenma, were spotted heading to the starting point of the festival.At around 10.30, an announcement was made, announcing the arrival of the relic at the riverbank and the commencement of the Kaidenma performance.

Arrival of the Kaidenma troupe
Mikoshi spotted!
Festival action at the other side of the bridge

We could already hear the beating of the drums and some singing coming from the other side of the old-looking bridge in front of us. I could see the Kaidenma circling around the river. The boats have these tall masts with golden spheres on top, and we were wondering how on earth these boats will be able to pass under the bridge.

Eventually, we found out how they would pull this off. We spotted the Mikoshi passing through the old-looking bridge to our section of the river. Soon, the Kaidenma began to pass through the bridge one at a time by lowering their masts and raising them again once they have reached the other side of the bridge.

Mikoshi passing through
Here comes the Kaidenma!

And now the show begins!

Despite the drab, cloudy weather, the festival atmosphere was exciting and electrifying. There were five Kaidenma belonging to five different districts: Oumizaki, Fukutomi, Oi, Yada and Makata. Each Kaidenma have kabuki warriors, female dancers and rowers dressed in different costumes and have different chants and songs.

Unlike other festivals I've been too, there were no flutes and traditional music, only the beating of the drums and the rowers belting their hearts out with chants of Horanenya. This was one of the best festival chants I've ever heard, right up there with the Rassera chant and tune of the Aomori Nebuta Festival. The kabuki costumes were fantastic and the choreography of the warrior and female shaman dancer were impeccable.

Oumizaki Kaidenma
Oumizaki female dancer
Young chap belting out an impassioned rendition of Horanenya
Here comes the Fukutomi Kaidenma
Fukutomi female dancer
Oi Kaidenma
Oi female dancer
Yada Kaidenma
Yada female dancers
Momotaro inspired young kabuki warrior leading the Makata Kaidenma
Makata female dancer
Makata Kaidenma rowers and children wearing flower hats

All in all, this was a festival really worth watching, considering that this was only held every 10 years. Not only was the pageantry impressive, the river area of the city was so spacious and wide that it was relatively easy to get a good viewing spot, unlike other festivals with parades on city streets (in particular the Yamakasa Gion in Fukuoka). Moreover, we could see the Kaidenma performance again at the next section of the river if we want to. The timing of the festival was really great, allowing for some sightseeing or an afternoon nap after the festival.

I have taken lots of pictures and videos and stored them in my Flickr album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/124829205@N08/albums/72157708934284707

Matsue Castle - A National Treasure since 2015

My German friend decided to rest for the rest of the afternoon while I headed out to visit some of the main attractions of Matsue.

My main goal was to visit Matsue Castle, recently declared a national treasure in 2015. I have visited the other national treasure castles - Matsumoto, Inuyama, Hikone and Himeji - before and therefore Matsue Castle was in my bucket list.

View from the top of Matsue Castle

After the castle, I paid a visit to Jozan Inari Shrine, the shrine were the Mikoshi was transported out to the Adakaya Shrine and the starting point of the Horanenya festivities.

Welcome to the new era at Jozan Inari Shrine
Next festival will be held at the end of May of Reiwa Year 11 - That's ten years from now
Pictures of past Horanenya festivals

I continued on with my stroll and ended up in the samurai district called Shiomi-Nawate. I took a break with a seasonal Japanese wagashi and some cider. Matsue is one of the three great wagashi producers of Japan, after Kyoto and Kanazawa.

Castle moat and boat ride
Take a stroll under the bendy pines of Shiomi-Nawate
Seasonal wagashi in the shape of a biwa fruit
Inside my wagashi - White adzuki paste and an adzuki bean in the middle

After an aimless stroll, I ended up at the Horanenya Denshokan, a museum dedicated to the festival. Entry was free so I decided to drop in and check the place out. It turned out to be a good way to end the day as I learned more about the festival and its origins.

The festival began as a ritual whereby the lord of the castle would bring the castle relic to the Adakaya Shrine to pray for the prosperity of the Matsue domain. One day, there was bad weather and the lord was in trouble. Fishermen from the five districts of Omizaki, Fukutomi, Oi, Yada and Makata came to the rescue. As a token of gratitude, the lord invited the fishermen to escort him when he transports the relic to the Adakaya shrine and back. This sparked the beginning of the Horanenya festival that eventually took the shape of the grand spectacle that we have seen this morning.

Free entry to Matsue Horanenya Denshokan
Exhibits about the festival
Kaidenma for visitors to take souvenir photos

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List of Posts:
2019/05/25 - Matsue Horanenya - The World Heritage Sites of Hagi
2019/05/24 - Matsue Horanenya - Akiyoshido and Akiyoshidai
2019/05/23 - Matsue Horanenya - The Beluga Whales of AQUAS
2019/05/22 - Matsue Horanenya - Chunichisai
2019/05/21 - Matsue Horanenya - Matengai Cliff and the Kuniga Coast
2019/05/20 - Matsue Horanenya - Sakaiminato
2019/05/19 - Matsue Horanenya - Izumo Taisha
2019/05/18 - Matsue Horanenya - Togyosai n
2019/05/17 - Matsue Horanenya - Getting to Matsue from KIX
2016/07/15 - Hokkaido Day 14 - End of the Trip and My Top Five Highlights
2016/07/14 - Hokkaido Day 13 - Biei's Patchwork Road and the Blue Pond
2016/07/13 - Hokkaido Day 12 - The Lavender Fields of Furano
2016/07/12 - Hokkaido Day 11 - Usuyukiso Habitat and Peach Rock
2016/07/11 - Hokkaido Day 10 - Rebun's 4-Hour Trekking Course
2016/07/10 - Hokkaido Day 9 - Wakkanai, the Northernmost City of Japan
2016/07/09 - Hokkaido Day 8 - Journey to the North
2016/07/08 - Hokkaido Day 7 - Last Day in Shiretoko
2016/07/07 - Hokkaido Day 6 - Bear Watching Cruise and Rausu
2016/07/06 - Hokkaido Day 5 - Shiretoko Five Lakes
2016/07/05 - Hokkaido Day 4 - Obihiro Butadon and the Kushiro Norokko Train
2016/07/04 - Hokkaido Day 3 - Hell Valley and Heavenly Ramen
2016/07/03 - Hokkaido Day 2 - Yoichi and Otaru
2016/07/02 - Hokkaido Day 1 - Late Night Ramen Dinner
2015/05/02 - Hanami 2015 Day 6 - The Wisterias of Ashikaga Flower Park
2015/05/01 - Hanami 2015 Day 5 - Kakunodate and Long Winding Route to Aomori
2015/04/30 - Hanami 2015 Day 4 - The Lonely Sakura of Koiwai Farm
2015/04/29 - Hanami 2015 Day 3 - Matsushima and the Shiogamazakura
2015/04/28 - Hanami 2015 Day 2 - Hirosaki
2015/04/27 - Hanami 2015 Day 1 - Shibazakura in Chichibu