Festivals of Matsushiro
Located so close to central Nagano, Matsushiro is an excellent choice for a morning, afternoon or daytrip anytime year. But for visitors in Nagano on the second Saturday in April or the second weekend of October, the following two festivals should not be missed:
Matsushiro Spring Cherry Blossom Festival
Known as ‘hanami’ or ‘flower-viewing’, enjoying the cherry blossoms of spring is perhaps the quintessential Japanese experience. The Matsushiro Spring Cherry Blossom Festival takes place on the second Saturday in April, within the grounds of Matsushiro Castle Park. The majority of the original castle was removed in the late-19th century before fire destroyed all remaining original buildings, leaving only the stone walls and surrounding moat as testament to what once stood.
Several buildings were restored in 2004 and the inner sanctuary now boasts many mature cherry blossoms trees, the focus of this very local spring festival. Running from 09:00 in the morning, families and friends head to the park for ‘hanami’ (flower-viewing) and to enjoy the events and food vendors selling spring snacks and drinks. At night, the grounds of the castle park glow pink and red as around 500 paper lanterns offer soft light underneath the trees.
The castle grounds are one of Nagano’s best-known blossom-viewing spots, so even if you miss the festival, make sure to head over to enjoy the beautiful trees and poetic sight of their petals showering the park’s surrounding castle moat – a unique and beautiful sight.
Matsushiro Autumn Sanada Clan Jumangoku Festival
The Matsushiro Autumn Sanada Clan Jumangoku Festival takes place on the second weekend of October – on both Saturday and Sunday – the festival celebrates Matsushiro’s samurai heritage and the importance of the former rulers, the wealthy Sanada clan. Originally based in Ueda, the Sanada clan relocated to Matsushiro in the 17th century and inherited the town’s castle – then called Kaizu Castle – lands and industry. Instantly recognisable by the distinctive deep red of their samurai armour and six black circles of their ‘rokumonsen’ emblem, the Sanada clan played an important in Japanese history.
Centred around the grounds of Matsushiro Castle Park, the first day is full of traditional music and dance performances with people of local food vendors selling tasty snacks and drinks. On the second day, the festival really comes to life with a day of traditional artillery displays, taiko and dance performances and ceremonial parade of samurai and their attendants in full regalia.
Prior to the parade, an impression reenactment of gunnery using traditional flintlock rifles takes place outside the castle walls – an impressive sight with each gunner dressed in the distinctive red armour of the Sanada clan.
The main parade then departs the castle around 12:45 and moves around the town for around 2 hours before returning to the castle around 14:30. Most of the armour worn by participants will have been crafted by themselves, taking an exhaustive amount of time and reflecting the town’s deep pride in their samurai past.
If you have any interest in the Japan’s samurai past, this festival is not to be missed.