During my exchange programme at Kyoto, my friends and I had set aside our first weekend for a trip to Nara. We had purposely chosen to go to Nara on that day because of a festival that was going to take place (Kasuga Wakamiya Festival) making it the perfect chance to see traditional dances, processions and eat festival street food, all while playing with the deer at Nara park!
The moment we reached Nara we could feel the excitement in the air. There were food stalls lining the street and festival goers were making their way towards Nara park. Preparations for the festival were already taking place.
Those taking part in the festival were dressed in traditional attire, carrying some props such swords, umbrellas and tree branches. We then watched the first procession for a while, where the children performed a ceremonial dance!
By then it was already noon and we were getting hungry so we went to the street food stalls to get something to eat. There were stalls selling yakisoba, okonomiyaki, takoyaki and other street food favourites! There were also games stalls for kids with prizes to be won.
After eating to our heart’s content we watched the main procession of the festival before deciding to walk towards the main shrine.
This is the highlight of the festival known as the Jidai Gyoretsu (procession of different eras) and features traditional costumes dating from the Heian period to the Edo period. Participants are dressed as priests, feudal Lords and even samurai!
Along the way we saw horse races taking place in the central walkway. The festival was first held to pray for the end of an epidemic and for a rich harvest, and has remained one of Nara’s largest events ever since.
The procession also features displays of sword fighting, kendo and traditional drums, and although some of these displays require tickets, most of the procession is free to view for the public!
I highly recommend this festival for anyone planning to visit Nara in December, it gives a fantastic insight into Japanese traditional culture and fashion, and is also great for those who like animals, as you can feed the deer in the park and take photos with the horses!
It’s a real experience to see a Japanese festival and I highly recommend that you do a bit of research to find out if there will be festivals around the area you plan to visit. With the food and festivities, it’s a lot of fun, and really gives an all rounded, all Japanese experience!