It is rare for the same small Japanese town to be home to 2 festivals as different as those held in Towa, Nihonmatsu City. Towa is a satoyama – this means that the town has been built around the patches of arable land located on the border of mountain foothills.
The above photos shown you the kind of views you can expect to see in Towa. It really is a tiny town, but it has beautiful shrines, and very intriguing festivals.
Towa’s Flag Festival
In the year 1055, the Minamoto samurai who ruled the area of Fukushima that includes Towa was being defeated in a war, with only a handful of healthy warriors left. They stayed the night in Towa village, where the Minamoto had an intense dream, in which a heavenly maiden told him that praying at Benzai Tengu Shrine(弁財天宮) would bring him victory in the war. Following the commands in his dream, he did just so the next day.
That evening, snow fell very heavily in the area, so heavily that the trees surrounding Towa were all topped with snow. The next morning, the enemy troops looked up at the mountain, and mistook the snow-topped trees for the flags of Minamoto’s army. The sheer number of these flags meant that defeat was inevitable, so the enemy troops fled, and Minamoto continued to rule over the area.
The mountain where the enemy saw the flags was thereupon referred to as Kohatayama (木幡山). If you look at the kanji that make up this name, it literally means ‘Tree Flag Mountain’.
For the last 950 years, in order to show respect for the gods of the shrines, the Towa Flag Festival has been held. The highlight of this festival is a huge procession of large flags, which makes its way around the town and up to the Okitsushima Shrine at the top of Kohatayama.
The sight of these flags being carried around the mountainous Kohatayama is really impressive from the photos that I’ve seen. I definitely want to go and see it for myself next year.
Held on the 1st Sunday of December every year (this year’s date is December 2nd 2017).
Even when it’s not festival time, I think that Kohatayama and Towa village is worth a visit. The bright-red 3-tiered pagoda is especially breathtaking.
It is a very picturesque, rural town, with peaceful shrines and temples. Without a car, it can be very difficult to access though.
Harimichi Dynamic Floats Festival
This festival’s history stretches back to 1585 when it is thought that a string of bad harvests led to the population of Towa becoming malnourished and ill. The local people prayed for the return of their health by creating huge figures, which they paraded around the town.
The shinto music and dancing known as kagura 神楽, and the traditional performances known as hayashi (囃子) have continued to be integral parts of the festival to this very day. One thing that has changed, however, is that the festival figures are now decided by the young people in the town, who generally choose to base the designs of their floats on popular anime characters.
It’s quite interesting to see the contrast between the traditional performances and the very recent pop characters together in one festival!
This festival is held on the 2nd Sunday in October every year, from 13:30 to 15:30
You can access a map showing the route of the dashi around Towa village from the link below
Other posts about Nihonmatsu City
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