AIZU-WAKAMATSU AUTUMN FESTIVAL
Of Aizu-Wakamatsu city's four seasonal festivals, the Aki-Matsuri (Autumn Festival) is the most popular. While celebrating the Aizu region's rich Samurai culture, the festival is also a time for remembering those who gave their lives in the Boshin civil war. Held September 22nd to 24th, the Aki-Matsuri features a number of events that attract visitors from all over Northern Japan.
This year's festival began the morning of the 22nd with a drum and fife parade of 2500 local elementary students. Lantern processions, which met in the centre of town, followed later in the day. There was also a competition to see who could construct the best Andon, or paper lantern. Traditional Bon dancing in the streets came next, with locals and tourists alike being encouraged to join in. Officially scheduled events ended at 9:30, but the party continued well into the night.
The following day began with the highlight of the Autumn Festival, theByakko-gyoretsu, a procession of about 500 people clad in traditional costumes from different periods in Aizu's history, which set out from Tsuruga Castle. The event began on the castle grounds with demonstrations involving cannon, swords, muskets and martial arts given before a stage where locals dressed as successive Aizu Daimyo, or feudal lords, looked on. The parade through the city followed, with groups of different male and female "warriors" interspersed with the occasional Daimyo on horseback.
Equally as interesting
as the armour of the parade participants is some of the history behind
the event itself. Long ago, Tsuruga castle was the Aizu clan's seat
of power in the region now known as Fukushima Prefecture. With the decline
of the Tokugawa Shogunate's power in the mid 1800's, clans in the southwestern
part of Japan struggled to re-establish a national government centred
on the Emperor. Clans from northeastern Japan opposed restoration of
the Emperor, and the Boshin civil war was the result.
The Aizu clan, being directly related to the Tokugawa lineage, had a vested interest in maintaining the shogunate, and the status quo. Therefore, under the leadership of the Daimyo Matsudaira, the clan fiercely battled the attackers from the southwest. Among Tsuruga Castle's defenders were the Byakko-tai, a corps of boys under the age of eighteen. From the nearby Mount limori, the Byakko-tai watched the battle rage, and mistakenly believed that Tsuruga Castle had been set aflame.
Despondent over their apparent defeat, nineteen of them committed ritual suicide according to the code of the Samurai, and out of loyalty to their Daimyo. This is why the parade held during the Autumn Festival is always completed with the procession of local boys representing the revered Byakko-tai.
The parade was also remarkable for the dress of its participants. Representing different periods, each group had a different style of dress with the fierce weaponry and armour of the Samurai giving way to the brightly patterned silks of the Daimyo of more peaceful times.
While Aizu - Wakamatsu is always an interesting and historic place to visit, it is even more fascinating during its Autumn Festival, which reveals the rich culture and tradition of the region. Held every year during the week of the autumnal equinox, the festival never fails to delight the 20,000 or so visitors who travel to see it.