Kumamoto Mizuakari Matsuri: Candlelit Festival that Symbolizes Earthquake Recovery
Have you heard of “Nihon Yakei Isan (A Night View Inheritance of Japan)”? This title was launched in 2004 in order to broaden and enhance domestic and foreign interest in beautiful night views in Japan as tourism resource. Mizuakari Matsuri Festival in Kumamoto, which we are introducing this time, was selected as a new Nihon Yakei Isan in 2016, and is in the spotlight.
Reference: Nihon Yakei Isan homepage
Mizuakari is a citizen’s festival that utilizes local resources obtained in Kumamoto Prefecture, such as bamboo, fire, water & candles. Approximately 54,000 candles are lit over 2 days in October. It is such a fantastic sight to decorate the nights in autumn that everyone falls in love with this attractive seasonal tradition.
Highlight 1: Camphor Tree in Hanabatake Koen Park
Hanabatake Koen park is located in the center of Kumamoto City to the south of Kumamoto Castle. The first attraction is the lighting decoration at the foot of a giant camphor tree in this park. This tree is lit up with many candles held in split-open bamboo holders, and its gentle view warms up the viewers’ hearts. The camphor tree is estimated to be 600~700 years old, 29 m tall and it is designated as a natural monument by Kumamoto City.
Highlight 2: Candles with Japanese Paper Decoration
Lights made with Japanese paper and candles were seen all over the festival venue. When I looked at them carefully, papers were apparently filled with local children’s handwriting of their favorite words or drawings. Families visited the site and children’s happy calls were heard, “Yes! I found mine!” Some children were proudly smiling to cameras with their candles. That made me smile with a happy feeling, too.
Highlight 3: Floating Lanterns in the Castle Moat
Many tourists were standing at the bridge over the moat of Kumamoto Castle. They were looking at floating lanterns. I heard tremendous effort was put into a devise to keep the lanterns floating on water without floating away. Thanks to that effort, they were swaying side to side on the spot without going away, and it was as if we were looking at the stars in the Milky Way.
Highlight 4: Statue of Kiyomasa Kato
In front of the Kumamoto Castle, the statue of Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611) was lit up with colorful lights. Kiyomasa Kato was a virtuoso of castle building. He distinguished himself with his battlefield contributions, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi (~1598) awarded him the present day Kumamoto Prefecture. He also demonstrated talents in construction of infrastructure such as flood control and town planning, and established the ground work of today’s Kumamoto. He is still loved by local people in the prefecture.
Take a Break at Sakura-no-Baba Josaien
If you get hungry while viewing Mizuakari illuminations, you can take advantage of vendor stalls all over the place, or you can visit Sakura-no-baba Josaien next to the castle. You can purchase Kumamoto specialty food and enjoy it while walking, and restaurants are open until 10 PM, too.
On the day I visited an Oiran-dochu parade was being held in the Josaien. Oiran is a highly ranked courtesan of the red-light district in old days. This performance reproduced how Oiran used to parade in a procession around the red-light district to meet and greet important customers at their arrival.
The audience was enraptured by the splendid kimono and hair ornaments, and the camera shutter sounds resounded incessantly.
Mizuakari as a Symbol of Recovery from the Kumamoto Earthquake
In April 2016 a massive earthquake has hit Kumamoto and the quake recorded the intensity of 7 on the Japanese seven-stage seismic scale. Many people have lost their lives and the entire prefecture has suffered serious damage. Yet Mizuakari festival was held only a half year later in October. Under the circumstances the organizers had agonized over the decision to hold the festival this year or not. But many local people voiced their desire to hold the festival and make it the beacon of recovery from the earthquake.
While the festival had been feared to become curtailed this year compared to the past, it actually expanded in area and included severely damaged towns away from the castle area. It is astonishing that the festival has grown larger this year and truly become a symbol of recovery for the entire Kumamoto Prefecture. I cannot help but feel people’s power welling up to move forward.
<Basic Information on Kumamoto Mizuakari (Subject to change for 2017 and after)>
Dates: The 2nd Saturday and the following Sunday in October
Lighting: Approximately 6 PM to 9 PM
Festival Venues: Kumamoto Castle and around Chuo-ku Hanabatake-cho and other towns in Kumamoto City
Access: From JR Kumamoto Station, take a 15 minute bus ride to Kumamoto Castle
Mizuakari festival is a monument of desires, hopes and many other thoughts and feelings of people in Kumamoto. I strongly hope you will visit it, too.