Shiroishi Battle Festival. Onwards!

When Armors and Swords Collide : Shiroishi Oni-Kojuro ‘Battle’ Festival

Japan has a rich history as a nation but many people from all around the world know one aspect of its history particularly well: the samurai — the sword-wielding warrior class that thrived from the medieval through pre-modern Japan. Though the in modern days, samurai has vanished from the face of the earth, but it is said that Japanese people still honor the samurai code of honor, and in some cases — festivals related to samurai are held. Today I’m going to write about one.

Shiroishi town in southern part of Miyagi prefecture is maybe a far-out place away from the hustle-bustle of power struggle happened in central of Japan during the warring period by the end 16th century, but even in present day it celebrates its connection to one of the most important history events of Japan.

As I mentioned in my previous post, every year around October Shiroishi holds one of the coolest festivals in Japan: Oni-Kojuro Festival. The festival is held in front of Shiroishi Castle, a small yet elegant castle, to commemorate the Siege of Osaka, the decisive battle that marks the beginning of Edo Period with the ascent of Tokugawa Shogunate.

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As a summary, Oni-Kojuro Festival immortalizes the participation of a local clan, the Katakura, lord of Shiroishi and loyal retainer of famous Sendai lord Date Masamune, in the Siege of Osaka. Led by the clan head Katakura Kojuro, who holds the moniker of ‘oni’ (demon) due to his skill and prowess in the battlefield, Katakura clan army played an important role in ensuring the victory of Tokugawa forces against its rival Toyotomi forces. As such, reenactment of the said battle involves a lot of volunteers in intricate full-armors, telling the story from the perspective of the winning forces in the style of narrative drama.

Having interest in Japanese history myself, I have always wanted to see the festival with my own eyes. In first of October 2016 I finally managed to come to the festival with two of friends. When we reached the castle ground around ten in the morning, there were people everywhere. The whole compound was busy with activities. There were stalls here and there. Some sold festival food, and some offered you a chance to wear samurai armor for souvenir photograph.

Because the main event was scheduled to start after high noon and we came a bit too early, we decided to enter the castle first to view the hustle-bustle from the top of the castle (Pro tip: don’t wander around too much if you want to get the best spot to watch the festival. Just come a bit early, secure some space to seat then just sit and wait. Otherwise you won’t get the front row. The Japanese are notoriously patient — they sit and wait =D)

After a quick visit to the castle we took a walk around to the nearby shrine and samurai mansion. The shrine is just to the right of the castle main gate, but the samurai mansion requires you to walk a bit around ten minutes. The mansion is small but it offers you a good glimpse to the life of a middle-class samurai household at the time. I recalled the street in the vicinity of the mansion would be pretty in spring when the sakura trees bloom.

Just right after 12PM the event officially started. First, we were treated with a parade of all the participants of the battle. One by one the players were entering the stage. Red armor wearing warriors represent the forces of Sanada Yukimura, a general of Toyotomi clan that defended Osaka Castle, while black armor wearing warriors represent the forces of Katakura Kojuro of Tokugawa forces. It was an impressive sight as they lined up facing each other on each side of the castle ground.

The story started as the generals played their skits on the raised platform, followed by them going down and instructed tactics to their warriors. Then the sound of horn was heard and the battle began. All of the sudden was in disarray, for the combat between the red armors and the black armors was inevitable. Swords clashed. Warriors shouted. Such thick atmosphere, as if the grim reaper is watching waiting for souls to collect. Everything was by the script yet it felt so real.

Shiroishi Battle Festival. Onwards!
Shiroishi Battle Festival. Onwards!

The glorified battle ended with the defeat of Toyotomi clan’s forces. The ending unfolded when Toyotomi general Sanada Yukimura discussed the terms of surrender and entrusted his youngest daughter Oume to Katakura clan. I was enthralled with the appearance of the said daughter when she appeared from the back of the warrior’s lineup, walking slowly down the surrender procession accompanied with her maidservant with such a sad yet firm face. That very scene was in contrast with the previously chaotic battle, and added a distinct flavor of the reenactment. In reality though, he entrusted his daughter before the fall of Osaka Castle not after his defeat, although this is a small detail I could just get by.

With that the festival came to an end around two in the afternoon. It was scorching hot but I was glad I stayed until the end. Before leaving Shiroishi, I did a short walk towards the beautiful Kessanji Temple in the south. I found a cool looking bamboo groove near the temple, though unfortunately it leads to a graveyard so I dared not to explore more.

All in all, I really enjoyed the festival in particular and the visit to Shiroishi in general, and I think everyone would also enjoy it should you ever come to Shiroishi. So on October, try to visit Shiroishi if you got the chance. Oni-Kojuro welcomes you to his castle!


 

Date and times around October each year
Access information From Tokyo:Take shinkansen and get off in Shiroishizao station (approx 2 hours).

From Sendai:

Take JR Tohoku Line and get off in Shiroishi station (50 minutes).

Useful sites Official website:Click here (Japanese language only)

Refer to this site for English information:

Click here

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