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A Day of Samurai, Kendo, Taiko, and More at the Matsumoto Castle Festival

Every November on Culture Day, Matsumoto City puts on a huge city-wide festival that features all kinds of Japanese cultural goodies ranging from taiko drum performances to martial arts competitions, to the main event: the samurai parade around downtown!

Crowd and samurai parade participants gathered at Matsumoto Castle for the official festival kick-off ceremony

Crowd and samurai parade participants gathered at Matsumoto Castle for the official festival kick-off ceremony

The samurai parade starts off in Matsumoto Castle’s inner garden, where over one hundred people a dressed in the traditional wear of samurai, soldiers, court officials, and there’s even a princess. A taiko drum performance (video below!) and a speech by Matsumoto’s mayor officially kicks off the festivities before the parade procession marches out into the streets.

The samurai procession gathering at Matsumoto Castle before heading out

The samurai procession gathering at Matsumoto Castle before heading out

Taiko performance in the castle garden

Taiko performance in the castle garden

One of the most popular members of the samurai procession ;)

One of the most popular members of the samurai procession 😉

Besides the samurai parade and taiko, there were numerous other street performances that included not only traditional culture but also contemporary culture like street dancing and magic shows. I was lucky to run into this dance group in the photo below who performed a traditional women’s dance in beautiful blue kimono:

Traditional dance with autumn leaves

Traditional dance with autumn leaves

One of my personal favorites out of the festival events was the Kendo and Naginata Competition. It took place right in the castle garden, so you could get up close and watch the dueling, hakama-clad contestants show off their swordsmanship and naginata (aka polearm) skills.

Dueling kendo contestants

Dueling kendo contestants

En Garde!

En Garde!

There are so many events going on during this festival that it was hard to see them all (there’s also a big tea ceremony, Japanese archery competition, etc.), but if you missed something this year, you’ll always have another chance next year on November 3rd! It’s also a great time to plan a trip to Matsumoto because the autumn leaves are out in full color as well 😉

For more event info, see the event page or follow us on Facebook (we also have a Facebook event listing).

Mini Quartet Concert at the Kurassic-kan on Nov. 11

As the 4th event in the Kurassic-kan’s “Kura no Yube” series, a few members of the Shinshu University Orchestra will be putting on a mini quartet concert! One week before, the orchestra will be playing a big concert at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, so this mini performance allows those in Matsumoto to get a little taste of the live music too 😉

If you’re a classical music fan, the cost is only 500 yen, so don’t miss out!

Event Details

Place: Kurassic-kan on Nakamachi Street (map)
Date: Nov. 11, 2017
Time: 5:30 p.m.–6:45 p.m.
Admission: 500 yen

(P.S. you can also bookmark the event on our Facebook page)

Japanese event poster for the Kura-no-Yube mini concert

Japanese event poster for the Kura-no-Yube mini concert

Free Martial Arts’ Demonstrations and Instruction

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Traditional forms of combat are alive and well in this castle town! The 11th Matsumoto Amateur Sports Association is hosting their Martial Arts Festival on Sunday, December 10, 2017. This interactive event exhibits 12 martial art styles including less seen forms of combat such as bayonet fencing and spear fighting. In addition to seeing demonstrations of all 12 styles, participatory classes will allow you to learn some of the techniques.

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The following 12 forms of martial arts will be offered: Kendo (Japanese fencing, Judo, Kyudo (Japanese archery), Karate, Aikido, Jukendo (bayonet fencing), Sumo, Naginata (polearm fighting), Shorinji Kempo (Shaolin Kung fu), Nippon Kempo, Taekwondo, and Kobudo (traditional Japanese weaponry)

Date & Time: Dec. 10, 2017 (Sun), 9:00–16:00

Location: Matsumoto City Sogo Taiikukan (5–1 Misuzu, Matsumoto City 390-0801)

Access Via Public Transportation: The nearest bus stop is Sogo Taiikukan Mae.
Take the 120 bus–Yokoda Shindai Loop Line, the 130 bus–Shindai Yokoda Loop Line, or the 32 bus–Asama Line (via Shinshu University).

Program: Public exhibition and participatory classes for each style

9:30–11:50  Open Practice & Participatory Classes

13:00–16:00  Public Exhibition

(Times are subject to change.)

*You can also bookmark the event on our Facebook events page.

Matsumoto Castle Festival Guide and Other Notable November Events (2017)

The biggest event in November is the Matsumoto Castle/ Citizen’s Festival on the third that features all kinds of cultural treats! Check out individual events below. You can also bookmark your favorites on our Facebook events page.

Castle Festival and Citizen’s Festival:

Boys and Girls Kendo and Naginata Competition

Students of kendo and naginata (a type of Japanese polearm/bladed spear) show off their martial skills in the castle garden. Part of the Matsumoto Castle Festival.

A kendo match in progress!

A kendo match in progress!

Date: November 3
Time: 9:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden
Free admission into the garden

Castle Autumn Tea Ceremony

Enjoy traditional matcha green tea among the fall colors right in the castle garden. Part of the Castle Festival.

Relax with matcha and special Japanese sweets

Relax with matcha and special Japanese sweets

Date: November 3
Time: 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden
Cost: 500 yen per seat (includes matcha and a Japanese sweet). Free admission into the garden.

Samurai Procession

A parade of samurai, ninja, and Japanese princesses and lords in downtown Matsumoto. Part of the Matsumoto Citizen’s Festival and the Castle Festival.

Samurai parading through the streets

Samurai parading through the streets

Date: November 3
Time: 12:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
Location: Castle and Downtown

Taiko Performance at Castle

Powerful taiko drum show at the castle, performed as the Samurai Procession departs toward downtown Matsumoto.

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Date: November 3
Time: Two performances, one at 12:00 p.m. and another at 3:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden

Japanese Archery (Kyudo) Competition

Catch a glimpse of Japan’s longbow archery tradition. Part of the Castle Festival.

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Time: 8:50 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Location: Kyudo Dojo (map)
Cost: Free

More Events in November

“Twin Illumination: Secrets of the Seven Jewels” Light Display

Elaborate displays of lights set up in the Alps Azumino National Government Park. See a video from the park’s Facebook page here.

Twin Illuminations poster

Twin Illuminations poster


Illumination from a previous year (from Azumino's tourism website

Illumination from a previous year (from Azumino’s tourism website)

Date: November 11, 2017 (Sat) through January 8, 2018 (Mon)
Location: Alps Azumino National Government Park (15 min by taxi from JR Toyoshina Station)
Cost: Adults – 410 yen, JHS and younger – 80 yen, Seniors: 210 yen

Kamikochi Closing Ceremony

A ceremony that marks the last day of Kamikochi’s open season. Dress warm if you plan to go! (Also listed on the Kamikochi website here with a photo)

Date: November 15
Time: St at 11:30 am
Location: Kamikochi, Kappa Bridge

Falconry Performance at Castle

Falconry has been a samurai tradition since the Edo Period (1603-1868). See it action at this live stage performance in the castle garden. Check out a photo on the bottom of the Autumn Events page on the Castle website.

Date: November 19
Time: 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden (Free admission into the garden)
*There will also be a free lecture (in Japanese) about falconry from 1:30–3:30 p.m. in the Ote Community near the castle.

Traditional Japanese Shamisen Music, Dances, and Songs and Culture Festival

Japanese Title (Matsumoto Arts and Culture Festival)

Japanese Title (Matsumoto Arts and Culture Festival)

See performances by students of traditional Japanese including traditional songs sang along to shamisen music and dances performed in kimono. Songs are of two types: hauta (唄, short songs that are a part of geisha culture) and nagauta (長唄, long songs). There will be several different songs and two different traditional dances. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see the classical culture of Japan!

Date: November 19
Time: St at 1:00 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Performing Arts Center, Small Performance Hall (map)
Cost: Free!

Old-fashioned Guns Impress at Matsumoto Castle

This past weekend, the 29th Old-fashioned Gun Firing Exhibition was held at Matsumoto Castle! I didn’t get to see the show in person, but thanks to one of the bloggers (Nishimori) from the Japanese web page (see article here), we have a couple of nice photos to share from the event!

Twice a year, Matsumoto Castle hold a special gun show where you can see (and hear!) old-fashioned matchlock guns and muskets fired on the castle grounds. The shows are performed by different old-fashioned gun clubs from Matsumoto and other parts of Japan. It’s not only impressive to observe the guns themselves, but the gun club members dress in traditional samurai armor so you can really imagine what it might have been like to be a soldier at that time.

In formation and... bang!

In formation and… bang! (Photo credit: Nishimori)

The old-fashioned gun clubs posing in front of the castle.

The old-fashioned gun clubs posing in front of the castle. (Photo credit: Nishimori)

Matchlock guns like the ones fired at the exhibition were supposedly used at Matsumoto Castle, which has specially constructed windows that allowed the soldiers to shoot from inside the keep.

Also, if you love to learn about old-style guns like these, then you won’t want to miss the superb matchlock gun museum inside of Matsumoto Castle! Here, there are over 140 matchlocks and other armaments on display (Learn more about the gun exhibit on the Matsumoto Castle website).

If you missed the actual shooting demonstration, you can see it twice a year in the spring (April or May) and in October. (Event info here)

Matchlock guns, some with beautiful designs, in Matsumoto Castle

Matchlock guns, some with beautiful designs, in Matsumoto Castle

Asama Hot Springs Torch Festival: Night of Flames and Fun

“Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting holes burned in” was the advice I got when asking how I should prepare for Asama Hot Springs’ Torch Festival (called “Taimatsu Matsuri” in Japanese). My work colleagues and I had been invited to participate in the festival and when I first imagined what a “torch festival” would be like, I envisioned a procession of people each carrying their own little handheld torch through the town like you see in movies about medieval Europe.

Not even close.

The torches were not small, handheld fire sticks—they were humongous, flaming bundles of straw that weighed hundreds of pounds, were taller than me, and required at least ten people just to drag through the street.

Torch passing under the lantern light arches

Torch getting carried through Asama Hot Springs

Constructed from the straw, these giant torches represent the success of the autumn harvest. Every year in October, several groups ranging from the local kindergartens to the traditional inns in Asama Hot Springs make their own torch, and on the day of the festival, they light them on fire and bring them burning to the local shrine as a kind of offering. Once they arrive at the shrine, the torches are thrown into a huge fire which continues to grow as more of fiery offerings arrive. The fire creates thick plumes of smoke that rise into night sky, which also have an important role to play: the guardian spirit who has watched over the crops and the harvest here on earth “rides” the smoke to return to his home in the heavens.

Our group was to carry the torch for Umenoyu Hot Spring, one of the largest. So to get ready for the ceremony, we donned our festive happi coats, wrapped a towels around our heads (to help keep burning ashes off of our hair), and drug our torch into the road to await the official bringer of the fire.

Lighting of the torch

Lighting of the torch

Once lit, it was time to carry the torch to the shrine, as task requiring a total of one hour and whole lot of strength. Though I say “carry,” I think “drag” is probably a better word. Our torch was so big and heavy that it took six or seven of the young men in our group to surround the body of the torch and support its weight using their backs, while the rest of us grabbed the two attached ropes in order to pull and drag it along the path.

Ready, set, heave!

Ready, set, heave!

To my surprise, as we moved down the street, they continued to douse torch with water, at first almost extinguishing the flame. It didn’t take long to figure out why, however: the longer we heaved smoldering bundle of straw through the streets, the stronger and stronger the fire grew, burning through the core of the torch and causing chunks of fiery straw to rain down onto our heads and back. It quickly became difficult to keep the fire tame, no matter how much water we poured on top. At times the flames grew so tall that they threatened to scorch the lantern lights hanging across the arches above the streets.

Pouring buckets of water on the torch

Pouring buckets of water on the torch

Torch passing under the lantern light arches

Torch passing under the lantern light arches

Chunks of flaming straw falling off the torch

Chunks of flaming straw falling off the torch

Besides all the fire, another one of the fun “highlights,” if you will, of this festival is getting your face smeared with torch soot. Not only the torch carriers themselves, but even most of the spectators (whether they like it or not) end up with a layer of charcoal black “make-up” on their cheeks before the end of the night. My first thought was that it must be some kind of rite of passage that proves you were actually there, but in fact this little “ritual” does have some meaning, as it is said to help protect one’s good health for the next year.

There is no escaping getting black smeared all over your face.

There is no escaping getting black smeared all over your face.

Needless to say, we all had our faces smeared black by the time we reached the bottom of the hill below the shrine. Our last task was to muster our remaining strength, drag our torch up to the big fire, and shove it into the flames (which felt more like an inferno when we got close to it). Luckily, after making it up the hill, we just needed to give our torch a good shove before firefighters clad in spiffy, silver fire-proof suit took over, quickly deconstructing the bundles of straw and tossing them into the fire.

Mission complete—the guardian spirit was now riding home with the help of our torch’s smoke! And for us, it was time to head back and take dip in the hot spring :)

Firefighters burning the torches as they arrive

Firefighters burning the torches as they arrive

Mission complete!

Mission complete!

If you want to see this fiery festival for yourself and maybe get your face rubbed in torch soot, the Torch Festival takes place every year on the night of the second Saturday of October. The best part is that you’ll be right in the center of Asama Hot Springs, one of Japan’s best hot spring towns, with plenty of beautiful ryokan and hot spring hotels to stay at, or for a quick visit, there’s the big public bath, Hot Plaza Asama.

Matsumoto Soba Festival

The 14th Matsumoto Soba Festival was held at Matsumoto Castle this past three-day weekend October 7 – 9 (Sat – Mon), 2017. Soba, which means buckwheat, is also used to refer to buckwheat noodles. Due to the high altitudes and harsh winters of Nagano Prefecture, soba has long been cultivated as it is a robust crop that can withstand the elements.

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Since the festival was held on the outer edge of Matsumoto Castle, you could also enjoy the view of the historic wooden structure while browsing the various stalls. While the castle is walking distance from JR Matsumoto Station, temporary bicycle and scooter parking was also available at businesses around the castle.
 

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20171008_143011With nearly 20 soba vendors from all over the country, there was a variety of tasty noodles and broths to try. Soba is served both hot and cold.  While Nagano Prefecture is especially famous for its soba, other vendors representing prefectures such as Hokkaido, Fukui, and Fukushima allowed visitors opportunities to savor their spins on the dish.

 

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Soba noodles served cold in a tsuyu broth and topped with grated radish, chopped onions, and bonito flakes.

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Rows of food stalls offered freshly made soba and also dried soba to take home. Local fruits, vegetables, crafts, and more were also being sold, including apples, another Nagano specialty that is now in season. Other food trucks and stalls offered tacos, grilled meats, crepes, and more.

If you missed the festival, fear not, you can still find many local restaurants offering great soba year round!

Awesome October Events in Matsumoto (2017)

Are you in Matsumoto this month? Check out these exciting events and festivals that will give you a chance to experience local food, culture, and crafts!

You can also bookmark these events on your Facebook here on our Facebook event page.

Shinshu Matsumoto Soba Festival

A great festival for foodies where you can try not only soba from all around Japan, but also other kinds of local foods and crafts. The theme of this year’s festival is “slow food, slow life” and there will be over 50 booths.
sobafest

Dates: Saturday, October 7 to Monday, October 9
Time: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Castle Park

Hotaka Shrine Boat Festival in Kamikochi

A beautiful ceremony held on the waters of Myojin Pond in Kamikochi.
hotaka

Dates: Sunday, October 8
Time: 11 a.m.–12 p.m.
Location: Myojin Pond/Hotaka Shrine in Kamikochi

Matsumoto Castle Joint Tea Ceremony

A big tea party put on by five different Japanese tea ceremony schools. Enjoy sipping traditional matcha green tea right in front of Matsumoto Castle!
teaparty

Dates: Monday, October 9
Time: 10 a.m.–3 p.m. (Last entry at 2:30 p.m.)
Location: Matsumoto Castle Honmaru Garden (admission into the garden is free)
Cost: 500 yen per person (advanced tickets available: 2,000 yen for five people)

Asama Hot Springs Torch Festival (Taimatsu Matsuri)

An exciting, and perhaps a bit crazy, annual festival that involves bring huge, burning torches to the local Shinto shrine (Misha Shrine). The torches are up to three-meters wide!
taimatsu

Dates: Saturday, October 14
Time: 7 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Location: Asama Hot Springs

Old-fashioned Gun Firing Exhibition at Matsumoto Castle

See old-style muskets and harquebuses (matchlock guns) loaded and fired by gunmen clad in samurai armor.
oldguns

Date: Sunday, October 15th
Time: 1:30 p.m.–3 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Castle Honmaru Garden (admission into the garden is free)

Autumn Craft Picnic

A hands-on craft event in Agatanomori Park with craft-making workshops and handmade goods made by Japanese craftsmen and artists.
craftpicnic

Dates: Saturday, October 14 to Sunday, October 15
Time: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Location: Agatanomori Park

Tsukimi–A Timeless Tradition of Appreciating the Beauty of the Moon

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Tsukimi means “moon viewing”, and in Japan, gatherings are held to view the harvest moon—often in conjunction with harvest festivals. Tsukimi is officially celebrated on the 15th night of the eighth month according to the lunar calendar.

Matsumoto Castle Tsukimi

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Live music being performed within the castle.

Matsumoto Castle is celebrating tsukimi with live music performances and tea ceremony demonstrations on the castle grounds. The event is being held this week 9/29(Fri)–10/4(Wed) 5:30–8:30 p.m. It is free to enter the castle grounds and ¥500 to view the tea ceremony up close and receive freshly whisked matcha or green tea. Other light snacks are also available for purchase.

Come bask in the radiance of the moon and illuminated castle while listening to traditional music. Instruments include the shamisen and the koto, and the sound of the music floating across the grounds leaves you feeling that you have been transported back in time.

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A flower display exhibiting the Japanese art ikebana and sweets called dango add a sense of festivity to the occasion. 

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Shinto Festival & Traditional Float Display at Yohashira Shrine

Yohashira Shrine, right in the middle of Matsumoto, is holding its annual 3-day Shinto Festival (神道祭) which features fireworks and a display of the city’s traditional wooden “floats” (called butai) along the main road leading to Matsumoto Castle. Today (Oct. 2nd) is the second day of the festival, so if didn’t get a chance to see it yesterday or are just coming into Matsumoto today, you can still go check it out!

Food stalls and festival decorations at Yohashira Shrine

Food stalls and festival decorations at Yohashira Shrine

Each of the butai floats has its own unique, intricate carvings and a kind of traditional Japanese doll sitting under each float’s roof. As for the fireworks, they aren’t your typical big firework show where huge fireworks are shot into the sky — instead, you can see a special kind of “Niagara” display that make the river look like it’s been set ablaze in colorful line of fire.

Niagara fireworks

Niagara fireworks

One of the butai floats

One of the butai floats

Besides the butai display and fireworks, there will be a Shinto ceremony in the afternoon and live music throughout the late afternoon and evening. And, if you really want to enjoy atmosphere of a typical Japanese festival, go check out the numerous food and game stalls that are set up in front of the shrine and along Nawate Street! They’ll be dishing out favorites like yakisoba, takoyaki, chocolate bananas, and more.

Schedule of events for Oct. 2nd

  • Wooden Float (Butai) Display: 7 a.m—4 p.m., along Daimyocho Street (main street leading to the castle) and in plaza in front of Yohashira Shrine.
  • Shinto Ceremony: 1:30 p.m. at Yohashira Shrine
  • Live Music: 2:40 p.m. until around 8:00 p.m.
  • “Niagara” Fireworks on the Metoba River: Starts at 8:30 p.m. (cancelled in case of heavy rain)
  • Festival Food and Game Stalls: All day!
Butai floats lined up near the shrine

Butai floats lined up near the shrine

Shrine & Festival Map


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