by Ceallach Stevens
Being a first year JET, I am still not exactly sure what sort of high jinks I get myself into when I sign up for things. Will it be fun? Will it suck like an empty matter space? However, Samurai are awesome, festivals are awesome, so both together should just double the awesome, right?
Yeah, it was pretty awesome.
The parade at the Aizu Festival shows off the different warriors who fought for the Aizu clan from the sixteenth century up until the Boshin Civil War, which pitted the collapsing Shogunate against the Reformers who had rallied around Emperor Meiji. The festival itself dates back to 1953 in order to honour those who had died during the Boshin War.
The parade focused primarily on Boshin War participants. Among the more famous of the bunch, there was the Shinsengumi, who famously fought for the Shogunate and were nicknamed the Wolves of Mibu, and were clearly visible in their vibrant blue jackets. The female troops, Joshitai and Naginatatai were also represented, having also fought during the Boshin war. Many of the Samurai were more than happy to show off their swords and even allow tourists to hold them. I may or may not have geeked out over being offered a chance to play with a wakizashi.
Not all participants were samurai though. Some were dressed as the warrior’s attendants. Others were lords and ladies, as well as a few notable figures. Teruhime, a princess of the Aizu clan, rode on a cart decked out in a full kimono. She too had assisted in the defence of Tsuruga castle. A couple non-combatants marched in the parade as well. Henry Schnell, a Prussian arms dealer to the Shogun, and the family nanny Okei. Due to the popularity of the NHK drama, Yae Nijima brought up the rear of the parade, riding in a cart with her family.
After the parade and some fried chicken, we went to Tsuruga castle for a tour. English tours were offered on the day of the festival, and our guides did their best to explain how the castle was defended and the significance of various artifacts and buildings. The interior of the castle had been turned into a museum, and displayed portraits of the various lords who lived in the castle, as well as notable figures that defended it. At the top of the castle was one of the best views of Aizu and the surrounding mountains.
Exiting onto the castle grounds, there was a large stage set up for various shows and demonstrations as part of the festival. Some of the shows included dances, historic plays put on by local acting troupes, Naginata demonstrations, concerts and poetry recitations.
The festival was full of fun experiences, great street food and was an interesting way to learn about the local history of Aizu, and that of Japan as a whole. I would definitely recommend this festival, and I would love to experience it again in years to come.