Experiencing Oni-Kojuro ‘Battle’ Festival in Shiroishi

Japan has a rich history as a nation but many people from all around the world know one aspect of its history particularly well: the samurai — the sword-wielding warrior class that thrived from the medieval period through to pre-modern Japan. Though in modern days the samurai have vanished from the face of the earth, it is said that Japanese people still honor the samurai code of honor, and in some cases — festivals related to samurai are held.

Shiroishi town in the southern part of Miyagi prefecture may seem far-away from the hustle-bustle of power struggle in central of Japan during the warring period at the end 16th century, but even in present day it celebrates its connection to one of the most important historical events of Japan.

Every year around October, Shiroishi holds one of the coolest festivals in Japan — Oni-Kojuro Festival. The festival is held in front of Shiroishi Castle, a small yet elegant castle, to commemorate the Siege of Osaka, the decisive battle that marks the beginning of Edo Period with the ascent of Tokugawa Shogunate.

Th Oni-Kojuro Festival immortalizes the participation of a local clan, the Katakura, lord of Shiroishi and loyal retainer of famous Sendai lord Date Masamune, in the Siege of Osaka. Led by the clan head Kojuro Katakura, who holds the moniker of ‘oni’ (demon) due to his skill and prowess in the battlefield, the Katakura clan army played an important role in ensuring the victory of Tokugawa forces against its rival Toyotomi forces. As such, the reenactment of the battle involves a lot of volunteers in intricate full-armors, telling the story from the perspective of the winning forces in the style of a narrative drama.

Having an interest in Japanese history myself, I have always wanted to see the festival with my own eyes. On the first of October, 2016 I finally managed to come to the festival with two of my friends. When we reached the castle grounds around ten in the morning, there were already people everywhere. The whole compound was busy with activity. There were stalls here and there. Some sold festival food, and some offered you a chance to wear samurai armor for a souvenir photograph.

Castle main gate as seen from the top of the castle.
Various food stalls and fun ‘experience’ stalls.

Because the main event was scheduled to start after noon and we came a bit too early, we decided to enter the castle first to view the hustle-bustle from the top of the castle (Pro tip: don’t wander around too much if you want to get the best spot to watch the festival. Just come a bit early, secure some space to sit and then just relax and wait. Otherwise you won’t get the front row. The Japanese are notoriously patient — they sit and wait =D)

After a quick visit to the castle, we took a walk around to the nearby shrine and samurai mansion. The shrine is just to the right of the main castle gate, but the samurai mansion requires you to walk about ten minutes. The mansion is small but it offers you a good glimpse to the life of a middle-class samurai household at the time. The street in the vicinity of the mansion is pretty in spring when the sakura trees bloom.

Right after 12PM the event officially started. First, we were treated with a parade of all the participants in the battle. One by one the players were entering the stage. Red armor wearing warriors represent the forces of Sanada Yukimura, a general of Toyotomi clan that defended Osaka Castle, while black armor wearing warriors represent the forces of Kojuro Katakura of Tokugawa forces. It was an impressive sight as they lined up facing each other on each side of the castle ground.

The story started as the generals played their skits on the raised platform, followed by them going down and instructed tactics to their warriors. Then the sound of horn was heard and the battle began. All of the sudden it became chaotic, as the clash between the red armor and the black armor was inevitable. Many shouted, many screamed, all by the script yet it felt so real.

The red army and the black army, ready for battle!
A fierce duel between the champions of each forces!
Beautiful Shiroishi Castle on a sunny day.

The glorified battle ended with the defeat of Toyotomi clan’s forces. The ending was when Toyotomi general Sanada Yukimura discussed the terms of surrender and entrusted his youngest daughter Oume to Katakura clan. I was enthralled with the appearance of Oume, walking slowly down the surrender procession accompanied with her maidservant. Such a serene scene was in contrast with the cacophonic battle. In reality though, he entrusted his daughter before the fall of Osaka Castle, not after his defeat.

Oume, Sanada Yukimura’s daughter, was entrusted to Katakura clan during the surrender procession.
The main characters posing in the closing. Kojuro Katakura in the black armor to the right, Sanada Yukimura in the red armor to the left.

With that the festival came to an end around two in the afternoon. All in all, I really enjoyed the festival, and I think everyone would also enjoy it should you ever come to Shiroishi. Don’t forget, the mighty Oni-Kojuro welcomes you to his castle!

 

Date and times around October each year
Access information From Tokyo:

Take shinkansen and get off in Shiroishizao station (approx 2 hours).

From Sendai:

Take JR Tohoku Line and get off in Shiroishi station (50 minutes).

Useful sites Official website:

http://onikojuro.jp/ (Japanese language only)

Refer to this site for English information:

http://japan-attractions.jp/festivals

Text and photos: Jerfareza Daviano

Tohoku Ambassador Club

About Tohoku Ambassador Club

The Tohoku Ambassador Club consists of over 170 international exchange students from 27 different countries, all living and studying in Sendai City. As both local Tohoku residents and international travelers, we have all the insider knowledge and tips for discovering the amazing attractions of the Tohoku region! Follow us as we uncover your next Japan adventure, far from the crowds of Tokyo and Kyoto.

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