The samurai is a subject of Japanese history that continues to fascinate me, and the mere mention of doing something or going somewhere with a samurai connection will inevitably get me excited. In 2015, my friend and I ventured to Sendai in the Miyagi Prefecture largely to sate my obsession with Date Masamune (I blame Japanese pop culture and Sengoku Basara). There are a few photos of me standing in front of statues of various samurai in Japan because if I pass one I can’t resist.
From a purely historical perspective, however, Takeda Shingen is probably my favourite daimyo (feudal lord). Today, he is best known as a savvy strategist and deadly use of the cavalry charge in battle, his legendary rivalry with Uesugi Kenshin, a rival daimyo, and eventually his dramatic death in battle. Of course, there is no shortage in the history books of samurai conquering enemy territory and being deadly in battle, so perhaps my fondness for Takeda Shingen is based partly on his awesome kabuto helmet and love of horses.
It won’t come as a surprise that I’d love to visit Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture, the ancestral home of Takeda Shingen, to watch the annual Shingen-ko Festival. Each year on the first weekend of April, Kofu hosts a three-day festival dedicated to Takeda Shingen, with actors re-enacting various stages of the life of the great daimyo and a different famous TV actor playing the part of Takeda Shingen each year. The anniversary of Takeda Shingen’s death is 12th April.
For those of you planning a trip in 2017 – the 46th Shingen-ko Festival is taking place Friday 7 April to Sunday 9 April!
Here is the official Yamanashi tourism video from the 2008 festival. I’m surprised they haven’t made a more recent one!
The highlight of the festival is the Koshu Battallion Deployment, in which over 1,500 people dress up in samurai armour (OK, costume) and parade through the streets. It’s officially recognised by the Guiness World Records as the largest number of samurai gathered in the world. It’s possible to participate as a samurai yourself, as long as you book in advance through the Yamanashi Prefecture office and pay ￥12,000 to ￥30,000. I’d say it’s worth it!
Samurai fans will be wowed by the samurai costumes worn by Shingen, his famous 24 generals and the infantrymen. Of course, the famous actor playing Takeda Shingen will be the main draw and in recent years there is apparently some improvised dancing.
The use of horses in the festival, a symbol of Shingen’s battle prowess, also lend an unpredictable element to the festival. One year, a horse was startled and galloped off with its rider in tow, pursued by a group of anxious actors.
As well as the march, there are various stage shows and performances taking place around the city, as well as food and souvenir stalls. Typical offerings include ‘shingenmochi’ and Yamanashi special ‘hoto’ noodles. Plus, it’s sakura season, so it couldn’t happen at a better time.
The usually sleepy city of Kofu comes alive during the Shingen-ko Festival. It’s only an hour and a half from Tokyo by train, so you can either make it a day trip or stay for the whole festival! Kofu is a small city but, as well as the festival, you can visit Kofu Castle, the onsen and nearby Shosenkyo Gorge for spectacular views and walks.
For more information about the Shingen-ko Festival, visit the Yamanashi Prefecture tourism website.