27.10.2013 - 27.10.2013 10 °C
(BGM: "Miagete Goran Yoru No Hoshi O" by Kyu Sakamoto)
An acquaintance had informed me about a unique art festival in Takehara City's Historical District (町並み保存地区 Matchinami Hozonchiku), a lovingly preserved neighborhood with still-functioning buildings hundreds of years old. Dubbed "The Little Kyoto of Aki" for its uncanny resemblance to the Kiyomizudera area of Kyoto's Higashiyama District, people from around the world visit Takehara to get a sense of life in Edo period Japan. With its impressive collection of age-old temples, sake brewing houses and salt merchant homes, this part of town functions as an open-air museum of sorts, kept alive and prospering by its aging, yet diligent population.
Takehara Machinami Hozonchiku District in Daylight
In the daytime, this particular area of Takehara glows like the rosy cheeks of an eighty-year-old grandma, so my husband and I could only imagine how magical it must be all lit up like a bamboo Christmas tree. It was difficult not to want to sprint to the event in the darkness. But the narrow, lumpy "sidewalks" and gutter coverings of the surrounding neighborhoods demanded more careful stepping in the dangerous black of night.
As the narrow, uneven sidewalk gave way to the smooth, spacious promenade of the Historical District, we were helplessly pulled in towards the front gate of Shorenji Temple by the plucky, droning gallop of the Chantays' "Pipeline" of all things. A serenely-lit Buddhist temple glowing in the dark was not the place we expected 1960's American Surf Rock, but hey, this is Japan, where you gotta be ready for anything unexpected.
Somehow, with the shimmering rope lights and candles strewn across the foot of the temple's stone steps, the odd but well-played music worked in that ever so Japanese random sort of way.
Following the crowds and the endless path of glowing bamboo stalks cut at a pleasing upward angle, each one set with a flickering votive candle, we turned onto Naka no Shoji street and slowly meandered past hoards of camera-snapping photographers and tourists hailing from as far away as Nagoya and Tokyo.
We wandered on through the half-light, stars twinkling above while the temperature quickly plummeted. Couples in love clomped hand-in-hand while photographers carrying disproportionately large and heavy camera gear two-stepped and swayed in a never-ending dance, competing for that perfect shot. Sometimes, it was more interesting to watch the cameramen than the surrounding reverie. The darkness would give way to a larger rendition of an ethereal environment of twisted bamboo strips and candlelight. Some compositions lay inside the courtyards of these historic buildings, so it was tremendous fun ducking inside an old structure and entering a new and magical world, each place a unique artistic expression.
Rivers of Light
Aurora Borealis? The Milky Way Galaxy?
The city of Takehara claims to be the site of an ancient legend, the story of the Moon Princess (Kaguyahime). The story goes like this: One dark and cold night, an old man was cutting bamboo in a forest. He noticed a stalk of bamboo glowing in the darkness and sliced it open with his sword. There, lying inside the hollow chamber of the bamboo stalk was the tiniest, cutest baby girl this side of Copenhagen! The old man and his wife cared for this little sweetie like their own child. She grew up to be so lovely that even the emperor sought her hand in marriage. Knowing she could never marry a mortal, she gave each suitor an impossible challenge. With all this royal attention from the outside world, the old couple became exceedingly rich, and the Moon Princess eventually made her way back to her real home in outer space where she originally came from. Centuries later, the artists of Takehara still celebrate this sad yet charming story of bamboo and babies with their art.
Japan's Little Thumbelina
The Lovely Kaguyahime, the mascot of Takehara
A more recent heroine of Takehara, the lovely and curious high school student of NHK's animated series Tamayura, graces the front of the soba noodle shop near Ebisu Hall.
The talented teen photographer immortalized in paper and light.
Casting eerie shadows onto old white plastered walls and aged wooden fences, the candlelight flickered and dipped, sending us into a rather blissful hypnotic trance. The locals had brought out their own glowing creations in homemade paper decorated with children's illustrations, leaves, pampas grass and other findings from the surrounding mountains. Small gift shops, spacious sake storehouses, even important national heritage sites like the Shunpu Residence, had their doors wide open to the public, some with live enka or classic Japanese music floating from sliding shoji rooms.
A free, impromptu recital open to any wishing to pop in for a break from the cold.
Revelers browsed among the precious offerings of homemade crafts like local-made bamboo ware and chirimen silk figurines. Others stopped to warm up at the occasional vendor selling tasty treats such as takoyaki, fried udon noodles or piping-hot zenzai (sweet bean soup). Hot coffee was available at strategic points along the main streets.
Lining up for some delicious nighttime treats!
A Peek Inside the Magic
Too much beauty at once!
Turning onto Honmachi Dori, passing folks queued up for hot soup and coffee, galleries and museums sported renditions of famous Japanese landmarks and concepts like giant origami cranes and Mt. Fuji. We were lucky enough to stumble upon Tokyo's very own Sky Tree, a towering tale in twisted bamboo strips nearly twenty feet tall! We hadn't yet seen the real one since its completion in 2012, so this "small-scale" model was a satisfying substitute.
Bamboo Sky Tree
There was simply way too much wonderment to take in and savor with all five senses. We were surprised to learn that we'd wandered a full three hours in just this tiny part of the city! Floating through the magic of this slow, warm and gentle-hearted town, you can't help but be inspired by the way this entire community pulled all of its resources and ingenuity together to express its love of history, nature and mystery through visions of art and light.
Traditionally, the festival lasts only two nights (a Saturday and Sunday either in late October or early November). But this year, the Shokeinomichi Candle Festival spans two entire weekends (October 26～27, November 2～3), so you still have a chance to catch the event! It's recommended you arrive at the site by sundown to see all the entries and spectacles. There's a lot to take in and you won't want to miss a thing!
Access to Takehara Machinami Hozonchiku:
By Train (from Hiroshima City): take the JR Kure Line to Takehara Station (sometimes via Hiro). The Historical District is only a 15-minute walk from the station. Just follow the masses and you can't lose.
By Bus (from Hiroshima City): Take the Geiyo Bus from either the Sogo Building or JR Hiroshima Station to Takehara Station (about 1 hr).
By Car: (the long, cheap way): Take Route 2 from Hiroshima straight across through Kure to Takehara. Parking is available at nearby Michi no Eki Takehara and at other designated spots along the river.