Friday, September 23, 2011

Kiyosu Castle

From 12th to 16th August during Obon holidays, hubby and I visited his ancestral home at Ichinomiya city in Aichi prefecture. On 14th August, we visited Kiyosu Castle located in Kiyosu city which is adjacent to Ichinomiya city. Kiyosu Castle is a flatland castle. The castle was built by Shiba Yoshishige of Shiba clan, the military governor of Owari province, in 1405 during Muromachi period. This castle was built as a defensive stronghold meant to protect Orizu Castle located in Inazawa city, the seat of Owari province's government until its destruction by fire in 1476 during a battle evoked by Oda clan. After the loss of Orizu Castle, the government shifted to Kiyosu city and Kiyosu Castle became the main castle, which brought prosperity to the city. In 1555 Oda Nobunaga captured Kiyosu Castle and established his residence there. The castle became the base of his operations to conquer and unify entire Japan during Sengoku period. After the death of Oda Nobunaga at Honnoji Temple in Kyoto, a big meeting was held at Kiyosu Castle to decide his successor, and Nobunaga’s second son Nobukatsu became the lord of the castle in 1582. Nobukatsu started large scale renovations of the castle in 1586, and the castle was transformed into a great structure with three-tiered system of outer, middle, and inner moats. The castle and its surroundings extended 1.6 kilometers east to west and 2.8 kilometers north to south. Afterwards the owner of the castle changed to Toyotomi Hidetsugu and Fukushima Masanori during Toyotomi clan rule in Sengoku period. Also, the castle was an important base for Tokugawa clan during the Battle of Sekigahara. After the battle, the owner of the castle changed to Matsudaira Tadayoshi (fourth son of Tokugawa Ieyasu), and Tokugawa Yoshinao (ninth son of Tokugawa Ieyasu). During Yoshinao’s ownership of the castle, Kiyosu city became very important and the population of the city grew, and there were more than 60000 residents. In 1610, Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered that the capital of Owari province be moved from Kiyosu to Nagoya, and the new capital was completed by 1613. In fact, parts of Nagoya Castle were constructed with the extensive use of building materials taken from Kiyosu Castle. Thus Kiyosu Castle and its surrounding town vanished in what is known as the ‘Moving of Kiyosu’. The original golden shachihoko of Kiyosu Castle are now kept at Sofukuji Temple in Gifu prefecture. The castle ruin has now become a park known as Kiyosu Koen. The current Kiyosu Castle was rebuilt in 1989 and is a four-storied ferroconcrete building. It is a partial reconstruction of the original castle and was built as a centennial celebration for the modern-day city of Kiyosu. The present castle complex has an area of 11000 square meters.

Kiyosu Castle is located about 17 kilometers southeast of hubby’s ancestral home and it took us 30 minutes to reach the castle by car. Hubby borrowed his father’s Audi car and he felt great to drive it. After parking the car at a parking area located to the east of the castle, we walked for about five minutes to reach the castle complex. We entered the complex from the eastern side. We bought tickets worth 700 Yen per person as admission fee to enter the castle keep called Tenshukaku and a museum hall that displayed goods related to an ongoing popular NHK television drama series named ‘Go - Himetachi no Sengoku’ that depicts the life of princesses and feudal rulers of Sengoku period. We, however, visited only the castle. At the entrance near the eastern side of the castle complex, we saw a statue of Nohime who was the wife of Oda Nobunaga. The castle keep Tenshukaku looked wonderful from the eastern side of the complex. A crest of Oda clan was on display outside the castle keep. We took a few photos of the keep and the crest.
Hubby in his father’s car at a parking area near the castle complex

I am standing next to the statue of Nohime

The castle keep Tenshukaku as viewed from the eastern side of the complex. A crest of Oda clan is displayed.

Hubby standing in front of Tenshukaku

I am standing next to the crest of Oda clan

We entered the castle keep premises from the back entrance gate named Karametemon located adjacent to the south of the keep. We walked along the Japanese garden and walked past the main gate named Otemon located on the western side, and reached outside the castle keep premises. This is because we wished to enter the castle premises from the main gate. On leaving the castle keep premises from the west, right in front of us we saw a beautiful red bridge named Otebashi Bridge located over Gojo River. The bridge, the river, and the castle are the symbol of Kiyosu city. We leisurely walked along the bridge and took a few photos. From the bridge the castle looked amazingly beautiful. Afterwards we walked back towards Otemon Gate and saw a castle staff standing at the gate dressed as a samurai.
Tenshukaku as viewed from the southeast of the complex. Steps located on the left side of the photo lead to Karametemon Gate.

Otebashi Bridge

I am standing on Otebashi Bridge. Otemon Gate and Tenshukaku are seen in the background.

Hubby standing on Otebashi Bridge

I am standing with a castle staff dressed as a samurai

We entered back inside the castle keep premises from Otemon Gate and saw a Japanese rock garden in front of Tenshukaku. The arrangement of rocks in unraked sand looked so aesthetically pleasing. Inside the premises, we also saw a Japanese garden with pine trees and a small ornamental carp pond located southwest of Tenshukaku. We took rest near the pond for some time. It was so relaxing.
Japanese rock garden in front of Tenshukaku

The rock garden and Otemon Gate as viewed from inside the castle keep premises

Japanese garden along with a small ornamental carp pond

Hubby standing near the pond

The castle keep Tenshukaku is a three-level, four-storied steel-framed reinforced concrete structure, and covers an area of 773.01 square meters. It is a wonderful structure and is a replica of the original Sengoku period castle. Tenshukaku features a gabled and hipped roof that incorporates roof ornaments like golden shachihoko, a mythical animal intended to ward off fire and evil spirits. The brilliant red balcony balustrade of the fourth story looks stunning.
The castle keep Tenshukaku as viewed from the west

Tenshukaku as viewed from the west-northwest

Topmost story of Tenshukaku along with the red balcony balustrade and golden shachihoko (side view) on the roof

We entered inside Tenshukaku and saw that traditional castle construction techniques are incorporated throughout its design. Polished wooden stairs lead up to each floor. On the first three floors, there are displays of swords, roof tiles, samurai armors, and many other artifacts that give information about the history of Kiyosu city, Kiyosu Castle, and its feudal lords who ruled Owari province during feudal era. The fourth floor is the top floor with a lookout balcony. A model of a golden shachihoko is displayed at this floor. A taiko drum and a small golden statue of Oda Nobunaga performing traditional Atsumori warrior dance are also displayed at the top floor.
Replica of Sengoku period warrior helmet displayed at the second floor of Tenshukaku

Model of a golden shachihoko displayed at the fourth floor

A taiko drum and a small golden statue of Oda Nobunaga displayed at the fourth floor

Next, we went to the balcony of the fourth floor and got a wonderful view of the castle surroundings. Kiyosu city with many high rise buildings looked great from this height. There are railway tracks nearby and we saw several trains pass by.
Hubby enjoying Kiyosu city views from the lookout balcony of the fourth floor of Tenshukaku. A stone shachihoko ornament of the third floor roof is seen here.

I am standing at the lookout balcony

Japanese Garden of the castle keep premises, Otemon Gate, and Otebashi Bridge over Gojo River as viewed from the lookout balcony. A shinkansen train is seen passing by.

Otemon Gate and Otebashi Bridge over Gojo River as viewed from the lookout balcony

We returned back to the first floor of Tenshukaku and saw a display of suits of samurai armor made out of recycled beer cans, which visitors are encouraged to try on. But hubby was in no mood to wear such heavy armor suit as it was a very hot day. I wore a feudal era princess dress and took a few photos for the sake of memory. It was a wonderful experience.
I am wearing a feudal era princess dress and posing

A castle staff helped in arranging the dress so nicely

Another pose wearing the feudal era dress

Next to the castle keep Tenshukaku there is a culture hall museum named Geino Bunkakan, which is designed like a palace and used for events and meetings. In addition, there is another museum hall in the castle complex with displays of goods from a popular NHK television drama series. We skipped visiting both these museum halls. We bought cute dolls of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his wife Chacha at a souvenir shop located inside the castle complex.
Cute petit dolls of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (left) and his wife Chacha (right)

In spite of the fact that hubby was initially a bit reluctant to visit Kiyosu Castle as it is reconstructed just two decades ago and not old enough, we enjoyed our visit to the castle.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Akita Kanto Matsuri Festival

On 6th August hubby and I went to see Akita Kanto Matsuri Festival. Kanto Matsuri is a pole lantern festival that is held in Akita City every year from 3rd to 6th August. It is one of the top three summer festivals of Tohoku region along with Nebuta of Aomori and Tanabata of Sendai. Kanto Matsuri dates back to the middle of the 18th century. It originated from the combination of ceremonies that included prayers for good grain harvests as well as the protection of physical health of people by purifying the body of evil spirits. The festival has been designated as an important intangible folk cultural property, and every year about 1.1 million people watch and enjoy the performances of lanterns lit in the shape of ears of rice. A Kanto consists of many candle-lit paper lanterns suspended from a bamboo frame that is topped with a gohei, and symbolizes the golden ears of rice. Kanto poles are of different sizes with the largest measuring 12 meters, weighing 50 kilograms, and having 46 papers lanterns. There are three other kinds of smaller Kanto poles measuring 9, 7, and 5 meters in length, weighing 30, 15, and 5 kilograms, and having 46, 24, and 24 paper lanterns, respectively. People enjoy seeing the highly skilled performers balance the Kanto without gripping the poles on the palms of their hands, foreheads, shoulders, or lower backs.

We reached Akita City at about 11 am and parked our car at a parking area located near Akita Railway Station. The festival has many daytime events and we went to see a competition event named Akita Kanto Matsuri Myogi Taikai held in Senshu Park next to Hirano Masakichi Museum. The park is located about 800 meters northwest of Akita Railway Station and it took us 10 minutes to walk up to the museum. The event is free to attend but seats are not provided, and spectators have to watch the performances standing or sitting around the event area. In this event, group and individual participants compete to be the best Kanto technician of the year. It was nice to see a few of the team performers gracefully balance the Kanto pole on their palms, foreheads, shoulders, and lower backs. The performance is set to the music of taiko drums and flutes. A few times the bamboo pole of the Kanto broke to the amusement of the spectators. It was a very hot and shiny day, so we left the competition site after watching only a few performances. But it was really fun. I took several photos of the event and compiled two videos of the performances.
A group of participants waiting to perform at Akita Kanto Matsuri Myogi Taikai event

Another group of participants waiting for their turn

Balancing the Kanto pole during the performance

Balancing the Kanto pole

A performer showing off his skills

Another performer showing off his skills

A compiled video of one of the performance at Akita Kanto Matsuri Myogi Taikai

A compiled video of another performance

Later we watched an English movie at a movie theater named Lumiere Akita located near Akita Railway Station. By the time the movie got over, it was time to go and see the Night Parade, which is the main event of Kanto Matsuri. The Night Parades are held along Kanto Avenue of Sanno Odori Road located about a 20 minute walk west of Akita Station. At 6.15 pm, the straight 800-meter long Kanto Avenue was closed to the traffic in order to prepare for the event. Earlier in the day, we had bought tickets worth 2000 Yen per person for reservation of seats set up on the median of the road. The seats are usually reserved a few months in advance and we were really fortunate to get seats on the day of the festival itself.

At about 6.30 pm, various famous groups related to sports, music bands, and animation world paraded along the road. It was fun to see a person riding Velotaxi cycle rickshaw, a music band, a local professional basketball team named Akita Northern Happinets, two persons dressed in Darth Vader costume, the official mascot character of Akita prefecture Sugichi-kun, and several other local groups represented in the parade along Kanto Avenue.
Velotaxi cycle rickshaw

A music band

Akita Northern Happinets Basketball Team

Two persons dressed in Darth Vader costume


At about 6.55 pm, the Night Parade, the main event of the festival began and various performing groups carrying Kanto poles started entering Kanto Avenue and paraded along the road accompanied with taiko drum-beating performances and the playing of bamboo flutes. There were 230 Kanto poles of various sizes and the number of individual candle-lit lanterns of the Kantos reached around 10000. About 3000 people that included skilled performers supporting these Kanto lights slowly started lining up along the road. This created a spectacular sight as we were surrounded by a sea of candle-lit lanterns. We took a few photos and also compiled a video of taiko drum-beating and flute playing during the Night Parade.
Taiko drum-beating performance during the Night Parade

Performers carrying Kanto poles with hanging candle-lit lanterns lined up along the road

A compiled video of taiko drum-beating and flute playing during the Night Parade

At about 7.30 pm, when a signal was given, the 230 Kanto poles with hanging paper lanterns were all raised up at once and the performers showed off their skills. To the sound of taiko drums and flutes, and cheered on by the traditional shouts of ‘dokkoisho dokkoisho’, each Kanto pole was hoisted up by a single performer who balanced the pole on the palms of his hands, and raised it higher and higher. Next, the performer shifted and balanced the Kanto on his forehead, shoulder, and lower back. The performers changed every few minutes and continued the impressive display of their skills. We were really thrilled by the performance. The Kanto poles with hanging candle-lit paper lanterns looked stunning and mystic. Sometimes a performer lost his balance due to windy conditions, and the pole and lanterns came crashing down on power lines and on the crowd. The falling Kanto seemed a bit scary but nothing serious usually happens as the candle-lit lanterns are flamed out. The lanterns are relit and raised again. We loved the views around us and took many photos of raised individual Kanto, a few Kantos together, and the performers clad in traditional happi-coat holding the Kanto poles. From the median of the road, we took photos of many Kantos being paraded along one-way as well as both-ways of the road. I also compiled two videos of the Night Parade of Kanto Matsuri performance.

Photos of raised individual Kanto pole with hanging candle-lit lanterns and a performer

Photos of a few Kantos together and the skilled performers

A performer balancing the Kanto pole on his right shoulder

Close-up view of the candle-lit lanterns hanging on the Kanto poles

Night Parade of the brightly lit Kantos along one-way of the road

Night Parade of the Kantos along another part of the one-way of the road

Parade of the Kantos at yet another place on the road

Hubby and the Kanto poles

A Kanto and its lanterns came crashing down on the crowd sitting in front of us

Night Parade of the Kantos along both-ways of the road as viewed from the median of the road

Night Parade of Kanto Matsuri and the spectators along the median of the road

Me, crowd, and the Kantos

A compiled video of the Night Parade of the Kantos during the festival

Another compiled video of the Night Parade of Kanto Matsuri

At about 8.35 pm, the Night Parade Kanto Matsuri performance came to an end. Spectators were then allowed to take photos along with the performers and the Kanto poles for about 15 minutes. We left the festival site at 8.45 pm. We really enjoyed Kanto Matsuri festival.