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Visting the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri

A great day trip from Kyoto is to Nagahama and it’s even better if you can time it to be there on the 15th April for the annual Nagahama Hikiyama matsuri (festival).  It’s a float festival where Kabuki theatre is played out by local boys aged between 5 and 12.  Kabuki is traditionally only acted by men (boys) and this festival is no different, even the female roles are played by the boys.  We’d expected a school yard performance but the whole event was extremely professional, the floats meticulously maintained and the boys took it all very seriously with no scripts or prompting.  I was so impressed, their parents and the town of Nagahama should be so proud of their efforts and ability.

Nagahama Kabuki Festival | 2aussietravellers.com

The shows is held in the Nagahama Hachiman Shrine in the morning then throughout the day the floats are pulled through the narrow streets stopping in various spots for the show to continue on.   The Hachiman-gu shrine has a history that goes back over 1000 years old and the festival itself has its own history linked to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Japans second great unifier.  Hideyoshi is said to have presented the gold dust that decorates the 12 festival floats to the people of the castle town as part of a celebration.  The floats are extremely ornate with detailed carving, tapestry and gold leaf work.  There is a museum in town where you can see some of the floats on display during the rest of the year but seeing them out in use  during the festival was fantastic.  If you can’t make it to this one it’s well worth getting to at least one festival in Japan where the floats are pulled through the streets, it takes some serious teamwork and strength.

The Kabuki itself is of course all in Japanese but you almost forget that as you watch the show.  The atmosphere, costumes, opulence of the floats and acting made it well worth taking the trip even without understanding a word of what was going on.  One of the things I like best about this festival is that Nagahama is off the major tourist circuit so even during the festival we only saw a handful of other western visitors in town.  This means that the locals engage with you a lot more, which is a fun part of travelling in another country even when the language barrier limits the depth of the conversation.  I guess because it was a little unusual I also got singled out by a couple of determined Japanese gentlemen with expensive camera equipment who asked my husbands permission to photograph me against the towns backdrop.  It was funny but a little awkward, I’m gawky in front of the camera at the best of times, I like to be the one with control of the shutter.

[columns_row width=”half”]
[column]Festivals in Japan are a fabulous way to enjoy a community atmosphere and local culture. Here's all you need to know to plan a visit to the Nagahama Kabuki Festival [/column]
[column]Festivals in Japan are a fabulous way to enjoy a community atmosphere and local culture. Here's all you need to know to plan a visit to the Nagahama Kabuki Festival [/column]
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Nagahama is a really pretty town and famous for its glass work, while you are in town wander through Kurokabe square and take a look in the small shops and temples.  A traditional meal here is served in a hotpot style, many of the local restaurants seemed to offer it and it was flavoursome and warming, even in spring it can be a bit chilly.  Back out the other side of the train station towards lake Biwa is the castle and park.  Cherry blossoms are a feature in season and while the castle is a replica it’s a great backdrop to the blossom and hanami parties that were going on.  The celebrations were quite a bit more casual here which I guess is typical of a small town anywhere, we particularly enjoyed the smaller children running around and playing  with the fallen blossom while the teenagers had a sing-a-long under the trees.

[columns_row width=”half”]
[column]Festivals in Japan are a fabulous way to enjoy a community atmosphere and local culture. Here's all you need to know to plan a visit to the Nagahama Kabuki Festival [/column]
[column]Festivals in Japan are a fabulous way to enjoy a community atmosphere and local culture. Here's all you need to know to plan a visit to the Nagahama Kabuki Festival [/column]
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Getting there

Nagahama is about 75 kilometers out of Kyoto on the eastern side of Lake Biwa.  If you have a JR Pass or are willing to take the Shinkensen combined with a local train it will take about 45 minutes, alternatively take a combination of the special rapid and local train and it will take about an hour and 10 minutes.  The scenery of the lake and passing through rural towns is really beautiful.  When we went in winter time there was quite a bit of snow on the ground as we passed through making it look like a perfect picture postcard.   It’s worth remembering you are travelling directly inland towards the centre of the country so it is significantly cooler, where areas like Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo rarely get snow, in Nagahama in February the paths were kept clear but there was snow on the ground and piled at the side of the path.  If you go for the festival in spring however the weather will be mild and it should coincide with some good cherry blossom in the parks.

Have you been to a festival in Japan?  What did you enjoy most about it?

Jan Powers Manly Markets
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shel

Wednesday 18th of January 2017

Hi, I would like to ask what camera and lens do you use for japan? thank you

2 Aussie Travellers

Thursday 19th of January 2017

Hi Shel, we have over 100 Japan posts on the site now taken on different trips and with different cameras over the years. Most are taken with Canon 450d and later the 600d with a 18-270 kit lens. We regularly use a zoom lens like this when travelling although it's not the best quality it's practical and limits the gear we are carrying on a daily basis as we walk a lot. Now I'm using the Olympus OMD EM1 with the pro lens which has a lot less zoom but I love the quality and it's smaller and lighter to carry.

Adelina // Pack Me To

Thursday 18th of December 2014

I haven't been to Japan yet (hopefully 2015!), but these costumes look lovely. I definitely would want to check this out if the timing is right.

Fairlie

Friday 12th of December 2014

I'm bookmarking (well, Evernoting actually!) all your great Japan posts.

[email protected]

Friday 12th of December 2014

Thanks Fairlie - I'm very flattered :)

Wita | Design is Yay

Tuesday 9th of December 2014

Such beautiful photos! Kyoto is my must-visit destination when I go to Japan, and thanks for your tip, I'll try to be there to see this festival.

Lauren

Tuesday 9th of December 2014

What a cool event to attend! I'd love to experience many Japanese festivals! Thanks for linking up with Weekend Wanderlust!

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