Every year in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture hosts Japan’s largest samurai parade. Known as Shingen-ko Festival, this annual celebration honors Takeda Shingen who ruled over Kofu during Sengoku period of Japanese history.
Tango no Sekku commemorates his sons by placing iris stalks (shobu) and dried mugwort (yomogi) at their homes to ward off spirits and ensure strong lives for their sons – this custom is known as Tango no Sekku.
Tracing the History of the Samurai Day Parade
Many are familiar with Japanese warrior culture as it existed during the Sengoku period (1467 CE to 1600 CE) of feudal warlords and their spectacular processions, yet its roots go further back. The Ashikaga Shogunate celebrated warrior culture during this processional that features full armor samurais as well as dancers, musicians, and children dressed in ritual clothing – dating back at least 14 centuries!
Kofu hosts an impressive modern samurai parade every spring in Kofu, which once formed part of daimyo Takeda Shingen’s domain. This annual reenactment requires participants to practice throughout the year; an actor may even play Takeda Shingen himself to add gravitas and star power; over 1,000 people typically don samurai gear during this event with officers from Takeda Shingen’s 24 generals donning armor which makes an impressionable display.
Kanazawa holds an annual Samurai Parade to mark the arrival of Samurai Lord Maeda Toshiie in 1583 at Kanazawa Castle, as part of their Fall Festival featuring over 2,000 residents dressed as Samurais or Princesses wearing costumes from centuries past.
Kyoto hosts this parade called the Shingen-ko Festival, which commemorates the legacy of Takeda Shingen, a renowned general from the Warring States period. The festival includes a reenactment of Takeda Shingen’s Koshu Battalion Deployment, and attendees dress in traditional and samurai costumes of the Sengoku Period.
During the Shingen-ko Festival, a reenactment of Takeda Shingen’s Koshu Battalion Deployment takes place, allowing attendees to experience the rich samurai culture through traditional attire, weaponry, and ceremonies.
Symbolism and Cultural Significance
Contrasting with some festivals that focus solely on entertainment, this one takes its reenactments very seriously. Samurais who take part are highly-trained professionals prepared for battle; therefore they practice throughout the year in order to put on an excellent show. While other types of participants such as taiko drummers and maidens in traditional clothing also join, the stars remain the samurais; especially at its crescendo when the parade reaches its climax as riders mount horses, showcasing Takeda Shingen’s cavalry formations. And then advance towards Sunpu Castle.
This event stands out from any other parade with its unforgettable atmosphere and vivid sense of history, taking you right back to battlefield. Your senses will be overwhelmed with horses roaring and swords clanging as it seems as if you are standing right on top of enemy territory – as warriors charge through, proclaiming warcry with an unmatched sense of purpose in modern society.
Unique to this parade is its timing; it coincides with Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi), an important Japanese holiday where families come together to wish health, happiness and prosperity to their young ones. To mark this event, they traditionally fly Koinobori windsocks outside their homes as well as decorate samurai dolls or helmets with auspicious images like oak or cogongrass leaves to mark this special event. Samurai Day Parade events offer attendees a truly special celebration experience in Japan, complete with Kashiwa mochi (stick rice cakes filled with sweet red bean filling and wrapped in oak or cogongrass leaves) to make this truly unique. All of these things contribute to making Samurai Day Parade one-of-a-kind!
Traditional Gear Showcased in the Parade
At the Samurai Day Parade, you’ll witness some of the traditional equipment and weapons used by warriors of Japanese history – swords such as the katana and tachi as well as bows and arrows and armor. Plus, try on costumes from previous parades while learning basic movements, sword handling skills, mannerisms of speech unique to Samurais from experienced Samurais!
Samurai Day typically falls on a weekday, which gives schools permission for students to take a half-day holiday and attend the parade and celebrations. Many will line up hours prior to Samurai Day to secure their position near the parade route while some even camp overnight to secure their place.
Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine is one of the best and defiantly most authentic destinations to witness a Samurai parade each year; with well over 1,000 warriors gathering there in full warrior attire for this festival-like procession.
Toshogu Shrine is truly remarkable, giving visitors an idea of life during Japan’s Age of Warring States Period. Declared a World Heritage Site since 1999, Toshogu Shrine makes for an amazing stop on any Japan tour.
There are a number of theme parks throughout Japan which recreate ancient towns from feudal Japan, offering attractions, live shows, museums, shops and restaurants from that era, so you will be able to immerse yourself in true historical Japanese culture. These historical-based theme parks provide great ways to experience Japanese history while learning more about samurai culture and society.
If you want to experience a Samurai parade but can’t make it to Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Sendai Aoba Festival offers an ideal alternative. This historical parade boasts armored soldiers from different group contingents as well as portable shrine processions all leading up to Aoba Shrine where Lord Masamune Date lies in repose.
Community Participation in the Samurai Day Parade
Experiences related to Samurais are offered for those wishing to partake in this unique cultural celebration, from armor and costume dress-up opportunities, through martial arts workshops on weapons and fighting techniques used by these ancient Japanese warriors, all providing participants with an immersive insight into Japanese warrior culture which once played such an influential part of this country’s history.
Samurai were hereditary military nobility and officers from the daimyo class that ruled medieval Japan until their abolishment during Meiji era (late 1870s). These military nobles held great prestige and enjoyed special privileges; today many Japanese locals and tourists recognize this piece of their rich cultural history.
Samurai Day parades provide visitors with an excellent opportunity to step back in time and experience Japan’s ancient warrior culture firsthand. You may witness or participate in any number of these parades that have long been an expression of pride for their respective communities.
Shingen-ko Matsuri in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture is held annually towards the end of cherry blossom viewing season and honors a powerful warlord from Sengoku period known for his military acumen and keen mind. This festival is well attended each year and recognized in Guinness Book of World Records due to the huge crowds dressed as samurais attending this popular event.
Other samurai parades commemorate historical figures. For instance, the Matsue Warrior Procession recreates the arrival of Horio Yoshiharu and his soldiers into Matsue four centuries ago.
Other parades feature warriors from nearby towns and villages in an elaborate procession, while the Kuragake Castle Festival in Kuga, Iwakuni City commemorates the Battle of Kuragake from 1555 between local villagers and five U.S. Marines stationed nearby at Iwakuni base.