Festivals of Japan: Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu
By John Asano
The Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu is a spectacular autumn cultural festival that takes place at Yumoto Onsen in Hakone, west of Tokyo. Hakone is a spectacular location for the festival with stunning mountain scenery, amazing views of Mount Fuji and packed with traditional onsen hot springs and ryokan inns.
The festival is held every year on November 3, which is a national holiday in Japan fittingly called Bunka no Hi (Culture Day). The Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu features marching bands, dancing girls and a grand feudal lord’s procession.
The highlight of the festival is the re-enactment of a daimyo (feudal lord’s) procession, which features around 200 costumed locals in historic attire. The costumes are historically accurate with superb attention to detail and include samurai warriors, court attendants, geisha and beautiful Japanese princesses. The parade is accompanied by marching bands and traditional dancers, known as geigi, who traditionally entertain guests at sake parties with song and dance. The atmosphere is loud and lively as the samurai warriors, armed with spears, bows, and guns march through the streets to the cheers of ‘Down! Down! The Lord comes!’Photo by Erik
The procession is a recreation of a common sight during the Edo Period (1603-1868), daimyo gyoretsu, which was also known as sankin kotai. It was a system established by the Tokugawa Shogunate, who ruled Japan to prevent its subordinate lords from rising in rebellion. The Shogunate Government hoped to financially weaken the daimyo by making them travel back and forth between the capital Edo (modern day Tokyo) and their domains in alternate years.
The cost of maintaining households in both places along with the cost of the grand procession, placed considerable financial strain on the daimyo making it impossible to wage war. Unfortunately, the daimyo’s wife and heir were required to remain in Edo the whole time, literally as hostages.
The Daimyo Gyoretsu parade departs Sounji Temple at 10:00 am and travels the 6 km course along the old Tokaido Road in the onsen town before arriving at the final destination, Yumoto Fujiya Hotel at around 2:30 pm.
The Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu is one of Japan’s most exciting and spectacular autumn cultural festivals held at the picturesque Yumoto Onsen.
Location: Yumoto Onsen, Hakone
When: November 3 (Bunka no Hi)
Time: 10:00 am to 2:30 pm
From Tokyo take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen to Odawara Station and transfer to a non-JR train such as the Hakone-Tozan Line or bus to the Hakone area. For a cheaper option, take the Odakyu Odawara Railway from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Hakone-Yumoto Station.