Behind the Scenes of Taimatsu Fire Festival – by Mimi Evans

Behind the Scenes of Taimatsu Fire Festival – by Mimi Evans

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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.

12226542_10156178844890693_316408477_nDate 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.

12242134_10156178844630693_1162087760_nThe 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.

12233210_10156178844940693_946492037_nBanners 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.

12242306_10156178844955693_1428195565_nBuilding 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.)

 

12212475_10156178844715693_42040697_nThe 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.12231352_10156178844615693_1045551598_n12200974_10156178844650693_452371702_n

Nihonmatsu Chrysanthemum Doll Display

Nihonmatsu Chrysanthemum Doll Display

What’s the opposite of a green thumb? Whatever it is, that’s what I have. Which is why I have a greater appreciation of flowers, so when I visited the Chrysanthemum Doll Display on Nihonmatsu’s castle grounds, I was pretty darn impressed at how many flowers they managed to keep alive.

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Welcome to Nihomatsu Castle!

I visited Nihonmatsu Castle a few weeks ago, and they had already started preparing for the flower exhibit. They built wooden structures from the ground up, just for this event if that is any indication of how much work went into this annual event. At the ticket entrance, there is a line yattai (food stalls) set up with various types of food available. I personally recommend the smoked, fried tofu skin smeared with miso paste (I have never seen it before, but it was quite nice!). Or maybe a whole fish on a stick, which I still haven’t worked up the courage to try yet.

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They have a lot of interesting displays. This display is made from a single bush of flowers!

In order to enter the exhibit, you need to purchase a ticket from the vending machine for 700 yen and hand it to the staff at the entrance. It is only valid for a day, but you are more than welcome to come and go as you please during that time frame. Perhaps take a break and have a picnic on the castle grounds?

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One of the doll displays depicting a scene from Japanese history

This is no small event, with over 950 Chrysanthemums on display and 8 different doll displays. One of my favorite Chrysanthemum displays were a bunch of flowers arranged in an upside-down bowl shape. If you look closely, you can see that the flowers are all from one bush, teased into that perfectly round shape.

Of course, the main attraction of the event were the dolls made out of Chrysanthemums. More than a random collection of dolls, they were all arranged to display different scenes in Japanese history. They even included painted backgrounds and props like life-size horses (if you end up going, try to spot the backdrop with an american flag flying off a pole, backwards!).

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I have dubbed this goat as “Nibbles” because he likes to nibble. On my fingers. And not let go.

There is even a petting zoo. Yes. Not only flowers made into shapes like butterflies and elephants, but actually live animals. Sadly, they hold specific hours in which you can pet the animals, but I still had the opportunity to have my fingers munched on by the goat when I stuck my hand over the fence to say hello.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend checking out the Chrysanthemum doll exhibit. Even if flowers aren’t your thing, it is located on castle grounds which are gorgeous and a nice place to take a stroll past ponds and small waterfalls.

It is an annual event held from mid-October to the end of November, perfect timing to see the fall colors as a backdrop!

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