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Ok horse lovers you will be green with envy when I tell you this! During my recent travels in Northern Japan I was extremely fortunate to attend a famous festival of horses in Japan in the town of Takazawa, Iwate.
The annual Chagu Chagu Umakko Horse Festival is not simply a parade of horses, but the whole farming district gets involved with a gorgeous display of flowering gardens and people from afar and the local community flock to the parade in their thousands to watch the spectacle.
This festival takes place the second Saturday of June every year and is a 15 kilometre parade commencing from Takizawa along the streets to Morioka, for both farmers and their large draught horses. It originated from the tradition to celebrate the completion of the rice planting job “taue” in their fields which is a significant achievement after such a long and hard toil.
The impressive horses were owned by the Samurais, farmers and lumberjacks in Iwate prefecture and became world renowned for their resilience during the world war campaigns. People in Iwate cherished their horses as if they were a member of the family and they lived in close quarters to them in ‘L’ shaped thatched roof houses called “Nambu Magariya”.
The parade is to pay homage to the horses, or do “omairi”. The festival in olden days was celebrated to reward the horses by the farmers who would use them to plough their fields. The farmers would also take the horses to the shrines and pray for their good health and safety.
Every horse is colourfully dressed and adorned not only with accoutrements, but also many bells that ring “chagu chagu”, whilst they march down the streets. Tiny children, exquisitely attired, straddle the giant horses and they are led by colourful ropes by one or two adults either side of the horse.
At the commencement of the parade at the Sozen Jinja, a shrine which is believed to be a mascot for horses in Takazawa, there is a carnival type atmosphere with about one hundred horses, riders and handlers gathered.
The grounds surrounding the shrine are like an “eat street” with delicious food stalls and sideshow type entertainment for the children. I tried a strawberry ice concoction which was made from minced frozen strawberries, a dollop of sweet sticky condensed milk and fresh cream – delicious!!
Once the parade commences people line the streets to watch the colourful display go by and I imagine that this continues for the entire 15 kilometres of the march. The little children sitting atop the massive horses wave and smile at the crowds which completely melts your heart. They are so cute!
After the parade we were taken to one of the “Nambu Magariya” houses for a tour and we got to meet and pet one of the Chagu Chagu Umakko horses and its little foal.
There was traditional drumming, singing and dancing performances, plus a ceremony where you have the opportunity put your head inside the mouth of a large lion puppet, which is supposed to bring you happiness!
Following our wonderful experience at the horse festival we were whisked away for lunch and then a visit to the Morioka Handi Works Square where you are able to view and purchase traditional locally made Iwate crafts, engage in a craft workshop, take a look through another Nambu Magariya house and browse the giftshop. We participated in the baking of a Nambu Sembei cookie workshop and then we made our own miniature Chagu Chagu Umakko horses crafted from wood and decorated to resemble the horses in the parade.
The Chagu Chagu Umakko Festival was not only a classic example of Japanese culture and tradition, but it also portrayed the strong bond between man and nature. Being an animal lover I was enchanted by these giant stoic creatures resplendent in their adornments. As for the cute little children in black and white costumes and polka dot scarves – they were adorable. I must confess that this was one of the highlights of Northern Japan for me!
Where is Takazawa: Takazawa is located in the centre of the Iwate prefecture in Tohoku or Northern Japan and is 8 Kms from Morioka City or 10 Kms from our accommodation at the Prince Hotel Shizukuishi.
How to get there: We flew from Tokyo with All Nippon Airways ANA to Akita Airport and then were shuttled to Shizukuishi. However you can catch a train from Tokyo to Morioka City.
Where We stayed: We stayed at the Prince Hotel Shizukuishi which was very handy to Takazawa.
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Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)June 28, 2016
What a fantastic experience, Kathy. I agree, the children are adorable. The festival looks so well organised and comprehensive. I love the idea of the workshop where you get to make your own replica. What an educational experience it would be to take your family to.
KathyJune 28, 2016
I can see you taking your students there next year on a school excursion! Seriously though it was a fantastic experience and something very different to the festivals we have here in Australia. It was certainly a highlight of the trip. :)
RuthJuly 1, 2016
Wow! The event looks like the perfect opportunity to learn more about the area. The houses and the horses are beautiful. Did you plan to attend or did you happen to be in the correct place at the correct time?
KathyJuly 1, 2016
Hi Ruth I was very fortunate to be invited on a media familiarization trip to Northern Japan last month. The trip was organised by ANA Airlines and Prince Hotels in Japan and we had our own tour guide who had organised our itinerary throughout Tohoku. It was a fabulous experience and the Horse Festival was a highlight. :)
budgettraveltalkJuly 1, 2016
You were so lucky to be invited on this trip Kathy. It would be nice to be taken around and shown the best bits. You certainly had an action packed trip. I bet you were happy to be home to have a rest. Those kids are so cute and the horses too.
KathyJuly 1, 2016
Yes I was extremely lucky Jan. Our organiser from Prince Hotels, representative from ANA Airlines and our tour guide all did a marvellous job with the itinerary and getting us around in Tohoku to see the best bits. We crammed so much into our six days and it was all very enjoyable. It really sold me on Japan. :)