Kasama Chrysanthemum Festival
One of the best things about Japan is the number of festivals. If you know where to look (which admittedly takes a bit of skill), there’s pretty much always a celebration of something happening somewhere. There are big festivals celebrating each season, as well as festivals for certain events, such as culture day or childrens’ day, and then there are shrine festivals, which usually involve a parade in honour of the deity of the local shrine, and last of all are festivals of local culture, such as the sweet potato harvest festival in Tokai and the chrysanthemum festival in Kasama.
Kasama is a pretty little town to the west of Mito, our nearest sizeable city. We discovered it by accident (as we often do) when whimsically following our sightseeing road map, the closest we could get to a decent atlas without paying a LOT of money. The map has handy photographs of tourist highlights marked on each page, and it was en route to one of these a few weeks ago that we stumbled upon Kasama and heard about the chrysanthemum festival in November.
The day of the Chrysanthemum festival was sunny and warm; surprisingly warm in fact for November. The drive is, as usual, a pretty one through miles of now empty rice and potato fields. It’s quite interesting to see the change in the appearance of the landscape when it relies so heavily on agriculture. Unlike at home, where the main use of farmland is for livestock, here the land is all planted, and so it changes dramatically with the seasons. On the drive to Kasama, we could see rows of rice tied up and hung on long lines to dry in the sun, while all of the fields were pinpricked with bent-backed old men and women in huge wellies, baggy trousers, aprons and large hats starting to harvest the potatoes.
Kasama itself has a mostly pedestrianised town centre which is either meticulously kept or very recently redone (possibly both!). We parked at one end of the street for bargain price of 300 Yen (that’s £2.50 for all day) and walked into the town. We could see the chrysanthemum straight away.Each corner and shop front had its own bright display of huge tall individual stems with their bright, heavy heads, as well as large kite-shaped trellises laden with smaller chrysanthemums. I didn’t realise how many different types of chrysanthemum there are. I think I liked the spherical, yellow ones the best, but there were also huge purple and white ones, small daisy ones, dark, velvety wine-coloured ones and so many more. They lead all along the street to the Inari Shrine at the centre of town.
Last time we visited, the shrine entrance was undergoing building work, perhaps in preparation for the festival, so it was nice to see it uncovered and in all of its flowery, sun-soaked glory. Each Shinto shrine in Japan has a large red wooden gate marking the entrance, and then a pathway or steps up to the main shrine. In Kasama, this walkway is lined with small shops selling food and drink, souvenirs and offerings for the shrine deity. The deity or “kami” enshrined at Kasama is the Inari deity of grains and other foodstuffs, making it an important shrine for praying for a good harvest. It is believed that white foxes (“kitsune”) are the messengers of this harvest god, and you can see a lot of statues, souvenirs and paintings of foxes all around the town.
As well as the main shrine, there are a number of secondary buildings, all built in the same beautiful traditional style with red wooden rooves with the characteristic flared shaped of Japanese traditional buildings. These buildings are all enclosed by a boundary wall, creating a sort of small, sheltered village of gardens and shrines. On this particular day, the boundary walls were lined with canvas stalls all housing hundreds and hundreds of chrysanthemums. It was really a feast of colour. The bright yellows, whites and purples of the chrysanthemums in long rows, the blue and white canvas covering the stalls, the painted red wood of the shrine, a huge green wisteria in the centre of the courtyard, red and orange maple leaves leaning over the walls and above it all a beautiful clear blue sky. It was hard to capture the spectacle of it all on camera.
We walked all around the shrine and then out into the town again. We peeked in some of the shops selling famous Kasama pottery and I found a gorgeous unglazed grey and white ceramic vase. At lunchtime we went into a nice straightforward ramen place and had a delicious bowl of hot noodles each. There is a famous sushi in Kasama called inarizushi, which consists of sushi rice stuffed into a pouch made from fried tofu, but we didn’t try it this time. We did buy a huge steamed pork bun from a street vendor though, and it was really delicious and very big!
Once we had seen all the chrysanthemums in the town and had our lunch, we headed to one of the parks on the edge of Kasama and spent a couple of hours happily wandering through pine forests and then back through a rose garden as the sun was setting. The forest path led us up rather steeply and we had a beautiful view from the garden-side of the mountain on our way back down. It was a beautiful festival and a wonderful day, and there’s still so much of Kasama that we’ve not yet visited. I can’t wait to go back and explore some more.