Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Takatori Castle Festival 高取城祭

Takatori Castle Festival

Nara Prefecture near Tsubosakayama station.
Every November this small town holds a festival to celebrate the history of Takatori Castle.

The castle itself is now in ruins, only some of the walls, gatehouse and foundation remain of the castle but the castle town of Takatori still has the stone street and a number of old houses remaining. Takatori Castle was first built in 1332 as a sprawling complex with about 27 towers. It was an important military asset and was considered one of the three great mountaintop castles (along with Bicchu Matsuyama and and Iwamura). It  was involved with a number of revolts in the area and Oda Nobunaga ordered the castle to be abandoned in 1580 when Yamato Koriyama was named the ruling castle of the area. It takes about an hour to hike to the location of the castle ruins. The photo below, from a university in Nara, is a computer generated replica of what the castle would have looked like during its heyday.
[photo: Nara Sangyo University, Takatori Castle CG Project]

The Takatori Castle Festival in held in the old castle town of Takatori. You can visit a small local museum that hosts a gallery of photos depicting the various castles of Japan, this museum also features some local crafts and, interestingly, a Guiness Book of World Records certificate for the largest aluminum can pyramid (a record that Simpsons fans may recall from the American cartoon).
The town also has some old breweries (or brewery warehouses?) that are open to the public. During the festival there is a flea market and many vendors on the street selling food and warm drinks (the event does take place in late November which can be a bit cold for wandering around outdoors).
The main feature of the festival is the parade of people in samurai era costumes and the following demonstration of firearms and swords.

A palanquin (or kago in Japanese, 駕籠), a type of transportation used by nobles in the samurai era, being carried by a team of palanquin bearers (koshi-kaki, 輿舁き).

A group of historical reenactors get dressed up and bring guns (replicas?) from the period of Takatori Castle and laboriously load blank rounds with gunpowder that is set off with a slow-burning fuse.

Some of the reenactors also performed a demonstration of tameshigiri (試し切り = cutting of rolled up, wet straw mats) with Japanese swords.
There were also performs who provided a dramatic sword fighting show. They were wearing Shinsengumi costumes but the performance was not attributed to any specific historical event.

The event also hosted a number of yosakoi dance teams. Yosakoi dance is a theatrical style of team dancing which involves colorful costumes, large waving banners, wooden clapping devices (naruko, 鳴子) and pre-recorded music inspired by a yosakoi’s forerunner song.

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