Tagajo: Blooming with History

Just a quick 14 minute train ride from central Sendai Station lies the small town of Tagajo, once the bustling capital city of the Mutsu Province in the Nara period (AD 710~794). Since its hey-day as a castle town, Tagajo has endured several natural disasters and periods of war, contributing to a fascinating historical narrative as well as creating a strong sense of resilience among its people. Fittingly, Tagajo is also home to the Tohoku History Museum (located just outside Kokufu-Tagajo Station) where you can delve deep into the stories of events and people that made Tohoku the culturally rich and diverse region that it is today.

Mid-late June is by far one of the best times to explore Tagajo, well-known for its jaw-droppingly beautiful iris festival or ‘ayame matsuri’.

Between Saturday June 16 ~ Sunday June 30 (2018), the carefully maintained fields of ‘Tagajo-ato Ayame-en’ (Tagajo Castle Ruin Iris Park) transform into carpets of just about every shade of purple you can imagine! Although the park is a very manageable size to walk around, somehow the locals have managed to plant an unbelievable three million flowers (!) of around 650 different varieties for visitors to enjoy. Whilst not quite at peak bloom when we visited (June 12), we got completely caught-up in the beauty of the park, taking more than a few hundred happy-snaps:

As with most seasonal festivals in Japan, it’s not all about the flowers! Every Saturday and Sunday during the festival period visitors will be able to enjoy a huge range of events and activities held at the park or nearby:

Matsuo Basho Haiku Poetry Tournament

  • Famed Haiku poet Matsu Basho wrote a poem about the Iris of Sendai as part of his Tohoku travel chronicles ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’. In honor of this poem, a haiku poetry competition will be held during the festival period (application details here).

Yukata Competition

Live Entertainment Stage

  • On both Saturdays and Sundays during the festival period visitors can enjoy a huge range of live performances on the central stage.

Folk Dancing

  • On Saturday June 16 (from 10:30~11am) and Saturday June 23 (02:30~3pm) , join in with the locals to dance folk dances from the Tagajo area.

FOOD STALLS & OMIYAGE

  • It’s not a real festival without food! Everyday throughout the festival period you can sample lots of tasty local food and produce, as well as your usual festival favourties: yakisoba, takoyaki, snow-cones and drinks! There will also be stands selling local souvenirs from around Tagajo and Miyagi, as well as from outside areas showing support for recovery efforts, including Fukuoka, Nara and Yamagata.

Outdoor Tea Ceremony

  • Local tea ceremony interest groups will be holding tea ceremonies on Saturdays and Sundays during the festival (300 yen to participate).

Vehicle Displays

  • Firetrucks, trucks and motorbikes from the Japan Self Defense Force, water wagons and even a mobile library will be on display throughout the festival period.

Sendai Umi-no-Mori Aquarium: ‘Mori’ the penguin!

  • Lovable aquarium mascot ‘Mori’ the penguin will be visiting the festival on its first day, Saturday June 16.

Historical Kimono Dress-up

  • Travel back in time by trying on a ‘Manyo’ costume (multilayered kimono)!

Kid’s Hands-on Corner

  • Don’t worry about entertaining your little ones! At the Taiken-corner they can enjoy a range of fun crafty activities, like flower-pressing, origami, paper cutting, bead work and other traditional games and crafts!

We recommend allotting at least half a day to enjoy the festival and have fun taking those #grammable shots! But once you’re iris-ed out, don’t go home without a visit to the Tohoku History Museum located about a 5~10min walk away from the festival, just behind Kokufu-Tagajo Station. (There are also shuttle buses running during the festival period)

Concurrent to the iris festival, the Tohoku History Museum is holding an incredible exhibition of national treasures and other culturally important artifacts from none other than Todai-ji Temple in Nara, home of the great ‘Daibutsu’ (Japan’s largest wooden Buddha)!

The connections between Todai-ji and Tohoku run deep, with Todai-ji itself overcoming repeated destruction and recovery through the course of its long history. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, Todai-ji offered to send some of its finest treasures for display in Tohoku to encourage others to visit and show support for the continued recovery of the region.

‘Todaiji and Tohoku: The People’s Prayers for Recovery’ is an exquisite, rare collection of artworks and artifacts featuring 17 national treasures and 25 designated items of cultural importance. Japan has very strict laws to control the number of national treasures/tangible cultural properties that are open for public viewing at any given time, so this is an incredibly rare chance to see many important pieces of history before they are once again hidden from the public eye.

The exhibition was opened by a delegation from Nara, including the charismatic Fumon Sagawa, 222nd (!!) Chief Priest of Todai-ji Temple!

National Treasure: ‘Shaka at birth’ bronze statue

Tapestry depicting the ‘Karmic Origins of Todaiji Temple’ (you can see the Daibutsu statue in the centre)

Seated Goko-shiyui-Amida Nyorai (meditating for five aeons). Their long hair signifies the long time spent meditating!

National Treasure: Seated Miroku Nyorai (the smaller model used as a base for the Daibutsu)

National Treasure: Kokei Shonin (he traveled across Japan, including Tohoku, for many years collecting donations to fund the second rebuilding of Todaiji Temple/the Daibutsu)

Of course, there are also plenty of permanent exhibitions to be enjoyed, too. In the grounds of the museum you can even find an Edo period farmhouse from Ishinomaki, a private residence once owned by a wealthy farming family.

Inside you can explore the rooms, furniture, farming tools and other lifestyle equipment used by the Konno family in the Edo period.

If you haven’t already eaten yourself into a takoyaki-coma at the Iris Festival, there is also a restaurant inside the museum specialising in an ancient ‘wild rice’ (古代米) or black Japanese rice.

A lunch set featuring onigiri rice-balls made from the speciality 古代米 wild rice (1500 yen). The restaurant menu also features other dishes like soba noodles and Japanese curry. 

If you’re at a loss for weekend plans or just want to venture somewhere a little off Sendai’s beaten path, definitely drop in to Tagajo! Whilst a great spot to visit at any time of year, with three million irises and rare national treasures just a stone’s throw from each other, now is definitely the best time to take advantage of some great events!


ACCESS & EVENT DETAILS


Both events are accessible via Kokufu-Tagajo Station on the JR Tohoku Line (14 mins from Sendai Station)


Tagajo Iris Festival (Ayame-matsuri)

When: Saturday June 16 ~ Saturday June 30, 2018 (10am-4pm, with special ‘light-up’ events on Saturday 16-Sunday 17 until 8:30pm)

Where: Tagajo-ato Ayame-en (Tagajo Castle Ruin Iris Park)

Entry: FREE

Parking: up to around 160 cars/300 yen a day

Access: 5 min walk from Kokufu-Tagajo Station on the JR Tohoku Line (14 mins from Sendai, 240 yen)

Google maps:

 

For more details and up-to-date info, please check the festival homepage & facebook page

 


Todaiji & Tohoku: The People’s Prayers for Recovery

When: Saturday April 28 ~ Sunday June 24 (9:30 ~ 5pm/ last entry 4:30pm)

Where: Tohoku History Museum, Tagajo

Entry: Adults 1500 yen (or 1300 yen if pre-purchased)

Access: 5 min walk from Kokufu-Tagajo Station on the JR Tohoku Line (14 mins from Sendai, 240 yen)

Google Maps: 

Check out the exhibition homepage  for more details.

*** There are also shuttle buses running between the Iris Festival, Kokufu-Tagajo Station and the Tohoku History Museum during the festival period. See the timetable here ***

 

 

 

 

 

 

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