Chichibu (Yo)matsuri: Behind the scenes

As you probably know by now, a Matsuri is a Japanese Festival, but you might not know that a Yomatsuri is a night festival. This time the matsuri took place in a small town in the mountains about 1.5 hours away by car and 2.5 hours away by public transport. The little town is called Chichibu and its matsuri is one of the three biggest float festivals in Japan.

We spent two separate days in Chichibu: the first day we could see the matsuri from a different angle as we were allowed to pull one of the floats. The second day was mainly for the fireworks and to look at the other parts of the festival.

It is quite common to see ‘battles’ between the floats during a matsuri, but this was a different kind of matsuri. There were 3 main floats on Friday. One represented women, one represented men and one represented the children.

Friday: Behind the scenes

The behind the scenes event was organized by Wattention, so we met up with a big group of internationals at Ikebukuro station (Tokyo) on  Friday morning. This event was organized to attract more attention to the Chichibu matsuri, so they would take pictures and film us during our Chichibu experience. Starting with pictures buying tickets at the train station to pictures in the express train itself, we were really ‘happy’ photo models.

When we arrived in Chichibu, we were greeted by the organizing with a big banner with ‘Welcome to Chichibu’ on it. They started this part of the day with an explanation what we were supposed to do and what we should wear. We got a traditional Japanese matsuri jacket, a head band and fancy gloves.

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Welcome when we arrived in Chichibu

After that it was time to get to the float. In about 10 minutes we arrived at the main street where the float was already waiting for us. The stars of the float were being strapped to the float, just in case so that they would not fall off the float while it was being pulled across town.

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Strapping up the stars

And of course we had to take pictures with the guys who would be the closest to the float to make sure that it would go into the right direction. Japanese people love to see foreigners dressing up in Japanese clothes, so we were quite a spectacle to see for the onlookers.

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Photo time!

It was very funny to look at the guys that were strapped to the float, because they were already completely wasted even though it was only around 1pm. They were laughing about everything and they had so much fun (at least they seemed to be having a great time) with shouting and throwing their arms in the air.

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Wasted Japanese people on the floats

Next up was ‘fixing’ the float, well at least a little bit of maintenance. They had two wooden beams and with those the Japanese guys lifted up one side of the float. Then they would put something underneath the float so that it would stay above the ground. They were oiling the wheels and god knows what else they were doing underneath the float (I don’t want to know, because the float was very very heavy and I wouldn’t want to get underneath it).

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Lifting the float

And finally, when they were completely ready after oiling the wheels and the float was back on its wheels, we got the ropes while lining up and we could start pulling the float across town. Well, we thought it would be across town, but it was only until the end of the street… Too bad that we could only attend the event for such a short time: the program just didn’t last any longer.

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Pulling the float while being filmed

Afterwards we had to return the robes that we were wearing (unfortunately). We stayed in Chichibu for a short time afterwards, because we had to go back by public transport again and we would return the next day.

Saturday: Chichibu yomatsuri

On Saturday morning we left early again, but this time with a bigger group and by car! The drive to Chichibu took a very long time though, since the navigation didn’t send us to the highway. This meant that we had a lot of traffic jams on the smaller roads until we were able to find the highway.

When we arrived in Chichibu, there was another problem: find a parking spot. Since we were pretty late, all of the event parking spots inside town were already filled up with cars, so the Japanese men that were standing next to the parking lots were directing us to parking number 7. They even gave us a map with P7 on it, so we decided that we would go there.

The quest to find parking lot number 7 took us up the mountain, because it would be near the museum on the mountain. In the end we were never able to find this parking lot, but we got to see a pretty beautiful view of the city! And there was an awesome slide as well, so we acted like little kids and enjoyed the sights and playing around the slide before we went back into town to find another parking spot.

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Views from the mountain

When we finally found a random parking spot, we could go to the matsuri. There were lots of different kinds of food and drinks again, like these awesome chocolate bananas!

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Chocolate bananas

In the center of Chichibu, you could also see a small shrine. This shrine was located near the main square where later in the evening the floats would go as well.

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Shrine

And even during the day, they were already starting with entertaining the people. They played drums and other instruments on the main square. Different groups played different music and the groups existed of people of all ages (also very young kids, about 5-6 years old, which was very impressive to see).

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Music on the main square

Around 5:30 we saw that people were already starting to find good spots to watch the fireworks and the floats, so we decided that it might be a good idea to do the same. After we found a spot we had to wait there for a very very long time before the actual fireworks and floats would show up. During this wait, we were constantly pushed by the other people that were waiting for the main event. And it was pretty cold. In the end we couldn’t see a lot from the fireworks from the place where we were standing and the police were also right in front of us, shouting to the other people that they had to move on and were not allowed to stand there.

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Float during the yomatsuri

The fireworks were not that impressive and the floats were okay, but also not that spectacular to see (for the floats mainly because the place where we were standing was not that great). We stayed there for about 3-4 hours and finally decided that we could better move to the mountain again to see the fireworks from there. We should’ve done that immediately (or we should’ve bought tickets to sit on ‘chairs’ on the grandstand.

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Fireworks, seen from the mountain

So in the end, we had two nice days, but we expected way more from the fireworks on Saturday evening.

Visited on the 2nd and 3rd of December, 2016

 

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