The second Saturday in November is, hands down, my favourite day of the year in Sukagawa. Every year, for the last 400 or so years, Sukagawa city had held the Taimatsu Akashi and it’s a pretty spectacular event to watch.
400 years ago, in the warring states period, Sukagawa was a castle town run by the Nikkaido clan. At the time, the head of the clan was the widowed Daijou, aunt of the legendary founder of Sendai city, Date Masamune.
Date had been moving through Tohoku conquering and uniting the area, and when he reached Sukagawa, he sought to conquer it too. However, the local people refused to roll over and let him take their town without a fight. Although their resolve was strong and they held their ground, Date had an inside man, Moriya Chikugo, who let loose a fire in the clan’s temple. It quickly grew out of control and swallowed by a sea of flames, Sukagawa castle and most of its inhabitants met their tragic end that night.
The Taimatsu Akashi began as a memorial service for those people, and holds many ties to the original event. Each taimatsu represents the lives which were lost, the flames used to light them originate from the rebuilt shrine, and the event itself is held over the castle’s ruins.
Despite its sad beginnings, I feel like this event really shows us the true spirit, history and community of Sukagawa. The festival is only the final product of months and months of hard work from the entire community.
Banners are made, bamboo is harvested, tatami and straw are donated, and around 30 giant 10m pillars (taimatsu) are constructed by local companies, associations, and the Junior and Senior high schools.
Building the taimatsu is a complicated, time consuming process. Using dozens of 10m long bamboo poles and bamboo hoops of slightly varied diameters, a frame is constructed. It’s then laid out on top of a huge sheet of used tatami, and tightly stuffed with rice husks and straw. The tatami is then wrapped around the frame, stitched closed and bound with ropes. A ladder that has also been constructed is affixed to the side. (Excepting the Dai Taimatsu, which is scaled without a ladder.)
The people of Sukagawa are hard workers who believe strongly in cultivating a strong sense of community and belonging in their town. I see this every day, but at the Taimatsu Akashi, all of their hard work is rewarded and shared when we gather together to bask in the warm glow of the burning Taimatsu and remember the people who died to protect their town.