Machida’s Jidai Matsuri, or “Period Festival” if loosely translated, is a must-go for anyone up for a time slip experience. Located only thirty minutes from Shinjuku station via the express Odakyu train, you’ll find yourself face to face with a traditional parade with people wearing costumes from the Warring States period in Japanese history. A festival held once a year, it starts off with a parade through Machida’s main shopping street – Haramachida Chuo-dori.
Court ladies following behind
Cafes, restaurants and shops lining Haramachida Chuo-dori contrasted with the parade, heightening the unique time slip experience. It’s one of the rare experiences of getting in close proximity with people donning old costumes, some even on horseback, as a portrayal of what it would have been during days of yore when samurai went with a long line of servants and helpers to visit Kamakura – a piece of Machida’s history revived. This year the management committee of this festival incorporated new groups into the parade — cosplayers dressed as characters from popular game “Touken Ranbu,” based loosely on famous swords in Japanese history — which surprisingly was a close fit with the larger theme of the event.
Cosplayers in the parade
Samurai warriors crossing the street
Follow the parade, which starts off at the beginning of Haramachida Chuo-dori, to its final stop at Serigaya Park. This park, which is surrounded by forest, was a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the main town. Even with the festival going on, the tranquility of Serigaya Park was not compromised. I would recommend heading over for a quick rest when in Machida. The rest of the festival’s events were held in the open field in the middle of the park.
After the opening ceremony there was a demonstration of the historical art of gunnery, Japanese martial arts, and drawing of Japanese swords. The displays were informative of the background of these forms of weaponry. There was a live commentary following the demonstrations, which explained how such weapons were used during the Warring States period. The commentary is in Japanese, but even if you don’t understand Japanese it would still be fascinating to watch these volunteers, still clad in costumes, set off their muskets and cut through woven poles with their samurai swords. Just like the cosplayers in the parade, there were participants from Hong Kong and Beijing in the sword-wielding demonstrations.
The last event on the list — Yabusame, or horseback archery, was the highlight of my day spent at the Machida Jidai Festival. The horses – which were local breeds of Japanese horses — seemed smaller and stouter compared to the horses I was used to seeing on TV. But watching them gallop across the field with archers on their backs, kicking up gusts of sand in their wake, was like watching Akira Kurosawa’s Ran live. It was very surreal to watch archers ride down a lane, clad in colourful armour, and try to hit two targets with their arrows.
Before the archers began shooting at targets, there was a quick ceremony – a purification ritual – which had two archers on foot, standing at the two ends of the lane, respectively shooting their arrows into the air. With that graceful display, the air around me did feel lighter and fresher.
Female archers preparing for their turn
Here’s how to be part of the festival – once you are at Machida station, take the North exit and you’ll find yourself inside the long shopping street. The parade began here. While it is an annual autumn event, the time and place of the parade and the festival may differ. I would strongly encourage visitors to check their website for more information. Visitors who are interested in participating in the parade as cosplayers or dressing up in traditional costumes can do so by dropping an email to the management. Do note that there is a participation fee.
Where the food stalls were located
I’d like to recommend that anyone interested in this festival follow the parade at the start, take your fill and then leave midway to get better seating at the park. The gunnery, martial arts and sword wielding demonstrations happen in the middle of the field, so sitting in the middle of the open space may give you a good view. Since it’s a matsuri, there were food stalls at the fountain area – get yourself a choco-banana like the ones they eat in anime and have a treat!
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/