Castle Town “Hita, Oita” the Shogun’s Demesne: Historical Town, Festival and Culture
Hita is a western city in Oita, one of the prefectures on the island of Kyushu, and located on the border between Fukuoka and Kumamoto. The city is surrounded by Mt. Aso, Mt. Kuju and other mountains, from which spring water comes down to the plain area and has long supported the lives of people. Blessed with such natural resources, Hita once prospered as one of the areas under the direct control of the Tokugawa shogunate (such area was called “Tenryo”) during the Edo Period (17th – 19th century) and has had many old buildings and historic townscapes from the time handed down over generations to this day.
In early November when the evening chill has grown a bit sharper, I visited “Hita Tenryo Festival,” which recreates the prosperity of the area in the past, and “Sennen Akari (Light of 1000 Years),” in which bamboo lanterns are lit beautifully at night.
Here I would like to share with you my experience of visiting these festivals and other tourist spots around Hita.
Tenryo Hita Hakimono (Footwear) Museum
Hita is one of Japan’s three major producing areas of geta, Japanese traditional wooden sandal, along with Shizuoka and Hiroshima. Using an ample amount of cedar material available in the mountains of the area, a lot of geta sandals have been produced in Hita since the time when the area was under the direct control of the shogunate as a “tenryo” area. Hita is still widely known as a footwear producer today.
While the museum exhibits a wide range of collections from typical and traditional geta sandals to those with more modern and unique twists, especially noticeable here is the large pair of geta sandals displayed along with the photos of sumo wrestlers. Customarily, the champion of the grand sumo tournament in Kyushu is presented with a large geta sandal from Hita and the display here shows the actual-size sandal and some of the related photos. Any sumo fan will be excited to find the names of such famous sumo wrestlers as Takanohana and Tochiazuma here. Information: Map
Iwao Yakuho Nippongwan Kan (Pharmacy)
Iwao Yakuho Nippongwan Kan is a pharmacy which has long been in business since the Edo Period and today mainly offers Chinese and other kinds of medicinal herb products. Looking at one of the panels here telling that they had a hit product called “Nippongwan” back then, I was murmuring to myself “what was it effective for…?” when the store staff talked to me and said, “It was said to be effective for any kind of health issue. Soldiers used to bring it with them. It was considered a kind of lucky charm.” Information: Map
Kuncho Brewery has also long been in business since the Edo Period. At the brewery, you can see old tools for sake making on display and try tasting and purchase sake. Japanese sake can only be produced in an area blessed with pure quality water. Hita is a perfect place for sake making in that respect and the sake I tried here was very rich in flavor and mild in taste. Information: Map
Hita Tenryo Festival and its Daimyo Gyoretsu (Daimyo’s Procession)
Hita once prospered and attracted many people back in the Edo Period. But later as the area throve more in the agricultural and forestry industry, it started to lose its appeal as a tourist destination. Then some groups who were concerned about the future of Hita started to discuss how to make use of the historic townscape of the city and make people want to visit and keep coming back to Hita. This civic initiative led to the first Hita Tenryo Festival, which was organized in 1979.
The greatest feature of the festival is “Daimyo Gyoretsu (Daimyo’s Procession),” in which marchers parade in gorgeous traditional Japanese clothing dressed as feudal warlord and samurai vassals. The marchers make a stop in the middle of the parade to provide photo opportunities, so people can take photos with the friendly feudal lord and the princess. While such an interaction between those marching in the procession and the general public would have been utterly unimaginable back in the Edo Period, it surely makes this event very fun and approachable to visitors.
Sennen Akari (Light of 1000 Years)
It was around 4 PM when dusk started to fall when I heard the announcement; “We ask a favor of all visitors. Please kindly help us light the lanterns.” In this event, the festival venue in Hita is lit up fantastically with cooperation from all the visitors. Such a process creates an interesting sense of unity among the hosting staff and visitors in this event. Cooperation from tourists is much needed because it is an event produced only by citizens without any governmental support. But no one I saw in the event looked reluctant in lending out their hands. They were willingly and pleasingly lighting up the lanterns.
While the lighting up time is from 5 PM until 9 PM, some of the lanterns naturally go off in a strong wind or as the candle burns out. The local event staff was trying to keep as many lanterns lit as possible until 9 PM, which well exemplifies their love and commitment to the festival.
Until this visit to Hita, I had been thinking that Hita’s popularity as a tourist destination today owes greatly to the prosperous past when it was directly controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate. That sure makes a large part of the reason for Hita’s popularity but what I learned in the visit was that local citizen’s strong commitment and action have also made an enormous contribution in making the city what it is today.
It would be my great delight if you turn your thoughts to the local people as well as the atmospheric townscape and the festivals whenever you have a chance to visit Hita in Oita Prefecture.
<Hita Tenryo Festival>
Event Period: 2nd Saturday and Sunday of November, Every Year
Time: 9 AM – 5PM
Venue: Tsukikuma Park, Mameda Area, Hita City, Oita
Access: JR Oita Station à JR Hita Station (1 Hour 39 Minute Ride on Limited Express) à 20 Minute Walk from Hita Station
Event Period: 2nd Friday, Saturday and Sunday of November, Every Year (Starts a day prior to the Tenryo Festival)
Time: 5 PM – 9 PM
Venue: Areas along Kagetsu River, Hita City, Oita
Access: Same as Hita Tenryo Festival