This weekend, Kanazawa celebrates the 63rd Annual Hyakumangoku Festival, beginning on Friday the 6th and ending on Sunday the 8th. The largest festival in the prefecture, it’s definitely one you should see in one capacity or another – and you’ll have many chances this weekend to get in on the action.
First, the history. Hyakumangoku, or 百万石 in Japanese, refers to the 1,000,000 koku, (or about 5,000,000 bushels, if you know your farm measurements) of rice that Lord Toshie Maeda purportedly oversaw during his rule. This made his domain the richest one in the Edo Period, since wealth was measured in how much food you could provide to your army back then, rather than pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. But the purpose of the festival comes from before that time, when Maeda first moved into Kanazawa Castle to rule over present-day Ishikawa. He and his entourage marched through the city to the castle and settled in for a good long lordship. To symbolize this, the main parade (held on Saturday) starts from Kanzawa Station and ends at the Castle.
The festival activities kick off Friday evening, however, with a children’s parade and a lantern ceremony. The children’s parade starts at 6:40 at the Shiinoki Reception Hall (the fancy building in the park across from City Hall in downtown) and circles around downtown, past Kohrinbo 109 and over to Hirosaka. But, if you live in Kanazawa, you can go to your neighborhood’s elementary school and probably see a local parade. The children put on happi and carry red lanterns on sticks. Usually there’s a tiny shrine on wheels and a miniature taiko drum on the mix, too.
At 7pm on Friday there’s also a lantern ceremony at the Asanogawa, right next to the Higashi Tea District. About 1,200 Kaga Yuzen lanterns are set into the river upstream and gently float down the river for about a kilometer or so. People line up along the banks to enjoy the view and snap LOTs of pictures. Get there early and be prepared for a crowded time. But, it’s well worth it.
Saturday is the main day for the festival, with the aforementioned parade. At 2pm, right before the parade in front of Kanazawa Station, there’s a huge taiko performance. After they clear the drums out of the way (usually around 2:30), the procession, headed by Toshie Maeda, make their way from the Station, turning at Musashigatsugi (Omicho Market), then down to Kohrinbo, along the road in front of City Hall, the between the Castle and Kenrokuen Garden before finally entering the Castle grounds through the Ishikawa Gate. Here’s a graphic of the route (Japanese, courtesy of http://100mangoku.net):
Children? Floating lanterns? A huge parade? I bet you’re thinking that’s all the festival has to offer. Well, you’re in for a surprise, because the party continues immediately following the parade, at 6pm. That’s when the huge dance parade/party kicks off, beginning at Minamicho (near the Bunkyokaikan, for all you JETs who go to ESS events) and in Kohrinbo. Thousands of people dressed in kimono and yukata take to the streets, dancing famous dances from Ishikawa. Anyone can join, as the music blares through all of downtown and the dances are fairly easy to learn and imitate. The dancing continues for about two hours, ending around 8pm.
At about the same time as the dancing (from 7 – 9 ) in front of Kanazawa Castle, you can see a Noh play acted out in front of a huge bonfire. Talk about a cool Japanese experience!
Finally, on Sunday, you can see traditional dancing and tea ceremonies at Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenrokuen Garden (respectively). The Tea Ceremonies go from 8:30am to 4pm, and admittance is 1,500 yen. The dancing (oddly enough called Bon Shogatsu, a mash-up of the two biggest Japanese holidays – the Bon festival and New Year’s) goes from 11am to 4:30pm.
Don’t miss this year’s Hyakumangoku Matsuri! For more information, check out these useful sites: