Sawara (佐原)

Sawara City 「佐原市」

Located in Katori City 「香取市」, Chiba Prefecture 「千葉県」, Sawara 「佐原」 is a small town which prospered during the Edo Period (1603-1867) as a transport hub for rice shipments into the capital and is known as “Little Edo” due to the preservation of traditional residences, merchant shops and warehouses from the Edo Period.

Sightseeing boats allow visitors to soak in the atmosphere of the historical streets and some boats also ferry passengers from the city and out into the majestic Tone River 「利根川」.

My visit to Sawara was on the day of its festival and most of the streets were closed to traffic, thus I made my way towards the city centre by boat as there were shuttle services along the Ono River 「小野川」.

  

These are some of the traditionally dressed folk who help to ferry passengers in their boats.

  

It was early evening but the sky was already pitch black! As the boat made its way along the Ono River, it felt like we were travelling back into the past when the historical buildings came into sight.

Here is one of the carefully preserved buildings which is called Shojou and used to be a shop specializing in tsukudani.

 

Other old buildings can be seen as you wander along the streets of Sawara. According to some tourism officials, they welcome film-makers to their town.

Weeping willows can be seen along the canals and it makes a picturesque sight! Too bad I was only there for the evening so I don’t have any pictures of how the town looks during the day.

 

As usual, I have a fascination for manhole covers in Japan as they are usually decorated with some motifs of the city.

The town is also known for its festival, the Sawara Taisai Festival, where floats topped by giant dolls, representing mythological Japanese warriors and heroes, are wheeled through the streets and this was the purpose of my visit – i.e. to attend the festival (click on the link to read more about the festival).


GETTING THERE:
Sawara is located about 20 kilometres northeast of Narita Airport. It can be reached from Narita Station by train along the JR Narita Line (30 minutes, 1-2 trains per hour). The historic town centre is about a 10-15 minute walk from the station.

By express bus: Tokyo Station – Sawara Station; about 1 hour 30 minutes
By train: Tokyo Station – Sawara Station; about 1 hour 20 minutes (express)

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Categories: Chiba Prefecture (千葉県), Hokuso Area, Japan, Sawara (佐原), Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Sawara Big Float Festival 「佐原の大祭」 in Katori City

The Sawara Taisai 「佐原の大祭」 or Sawara Big Float Festival is deemed as one of the Kanto three major float festivals and is a traditional festival that dates back more than 300 years. The festival takes place twice a year, once in summer in the Honjuku area (on the east side of the Ono River, supported by the Yasaka Shrine), and once in autumn in Shinjuku area (on the west side of the river, supported by the Suwa Shrine). There are 10 floats paraded in summer and 14 in autumn.

As summer is the season when many diseases surface, the festival is held to ward away evil spirits and sicknesses. The festival in autumn on the other hand is held in appreciation for the good harvest and also the hope for another upcoming good harvest.

Instead of a mikoshi (portable Shinto shrine), heavy wheeled parade floats are dragged through the streets by festival-goers using huge ropes. Sawara’s floats feature huge colourful representations of gods and other Japanese mythical heroes (princesses, samurai, courtiers, etc..) riding on top of the floats. These figurines are as tall as 4 metres high and are made of wood, which is then subsequently covered with plaster. The figurines, made by well known craftsmen from the Edo and Meiji periods, are recognized for their artistic and cultural values.

I visited on the first night of the festival and arrived by boat which alighted me at this part of town.

Spotted this float and I immediately went over to have a closer look.

Wow…looks impressive! This float features a military leader 小楠公 (楠木正行).

 

The next float which came by showcases a Japanese legendary prince of the Yamato dynasty 日本武尊.

 

Entire music troupes can be found seated on the floats and they fill the streets with the sounds of “Sawara-Bayashi”, one of the most famous traditional Japanese festival music in Japan.

 

Many young people practice with the aim of becoming one of the musicians on the floats – they think it’s cool and a status symbol. Thus, they practice almost every day in their primary and secondary schools and join a music group, aspiring to be good enough to get selected.

 

The festival is also regarded for the designs of lions and dragons engraved around the base of the floats, which each tell different tales.

Typically about 100 to 120 people are required to pull the floats. You can imagine how heavy they are (especially with the music troupes on board)!

The next float features a 14th-century samurai 大楠公 (楠木正成).

 

This one is of a character from Japanese mythology 瓊瓊杵尊.

The acrobatic spinning of the floats called “No-no-ji-mawashi” 「のの字廻し」 is quite a dramatic spectacle. Such powerful speed can cause the float to create ruts in the road surface.

Along some of the streets, we encountered two floats going in opposite directions and there was just enough room for them to pass alongside each other. As you can see, the streets were filled with people and it was very crowded!

I had only managed to spot 5 out of the 14 floats that night as you never know where you’ll see the next one cos they are always on the move.

The next event which happened came as a surprise to me – we were ushered to a shop and passed these costumes to wear over our clothes and were told that we were going to experience pulling one of the floats! My verdict is that it is not as easy as it looks as the float is indeed extremely heavy and difficult to move!! It certainly needed a lot of coordination effort from all the participants (plus momentum too!).

 

Each of these floats are actually made by the people from different towns and each area has their own style. Some of the rich merchants in Sawara have the wealth to hire people to construct beautiful floats. As of today, Sawara has 2 geishas but in the olden days when more geishas existed, they were hired, together with kabuki actors to be involved as part of the float procession.


Here’s my video with snippets from the festival:


If your visit to Sawara can’t coincide with the festival dates, you can view two of the actual floats which are on display at the Float Hall of the Dashi Kaikan Festival Float Museum 「水郷佐原山車会館」 and videos of both the summer and autumn festivals are also screened there.


Like any other Japanese festival, you can usually find temporary stalls lined along the streets selling food, sweets and even traditional game stalls are available too.

You can buy grilled “Ayu” fish on a skewer.

Street scene.

Chocolate-coated bananas come in a variety of flavours like melon, strawberry, lemon and milk.

 

Typical festival food like okonomiyaki can be found.

There was also a stall selling wagyu steak!

I wasn’t quite sure if the goldfish were for sale or whether this was a game stall where you have to catch goldfish using paper nets.

 

Some interesting Japanese foodstuffs were being sold at this stall.

Even sweet potato ice-cream is available here!

I walked past this fresh produce stall and found their tomatoes were as big as apples.


The Big Float festival of Sawara

Dates:
Summer: Fri, Sat, Sun (3 days) after 10th July
Autumn: Fri, Sat, Sun in the 2nd week of Oct

Time:
10:00~22:00

Access:
By train: Take the JR Narita line to Sawara Station and walk 15 mins
By car: Higashi Kanto Expressway, 10 mins from Sawara-Katori exit
By High-way bus: Kanto Railways Green Bus from Tokyo Station for Hokota-station, getting off at Yasaka.
Keisei bus, from Hamamatsu-cho, or Tokyo-station, bound for Choshi, via Sawara: Get off at Sawara station north exit, and walk 20 mins.

For more information on the festival…
In English: http://www.katorishi.com/en-matsuri.html
In Japanese: http://www.city.katori.lg.jp/05sightseeing/taisai/index.html
Click here for the brochure (pdf)

To read more about Sawara, click here.

Categories: Chiba Prefecture (千葉県), Festivals (Matsuri), Hokuso Area, Japan, Sawara (佐原), Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Auberge De Manoir KITTEI (オーベルジュ ド マノワール 吉庭)

Kittei 「吉庭」 is a Japanese-French fusion restaurant, which resides in a converted old traditional house in Sawara, Katori City. Its dining area overlooks their beautifully landscaped gardens. I was there for dinner and it was rather dimly lit outside so I couldn’t really appreciate the exterior of the building and the gardens.

Table setting – Hmm…I don’t recall ever using chopsticks when having French cuisine! LOL…

It’s interesting that the restaurant serves dishes based on seasonal ingredients.

Prior arrangements had already been made for our dinner so I don’t know what the exact names of the dishes (which we had) are on the restaurant’s menu.


Appetiser – I couldn’t quite figure out what some of the items on this plate were but there was a slice of sweet potato, salmon, pork and shark cartilage! We only found out it was shark cartilage much later when someone enquired what that crunchy stuff was! (see bottom left on the plate, under the leaf – it was much crunchier than jellyfish)


Kinoko (i.e. mushroom) Cream Soup – This felt like one of those cappuccino soups which has a smooth texture and is a little frothy at the top. It was aromatic and the pleasant flavour of the mushrooms lingers on your tastebuds with every spoonful.


Sautéed Snapper with Edamame in Asari Clam Soup – I was pleasantly surprised to find 3 clams hidden under the slice of fish and the edamame (枝豆, soybeans) gave a different dimension to the flavours of this dish. The soup was light and tasty and I consumed every bit of it!


Pork with mustard sauce, potato, roasted garlic, bacon and french beans – The meat was extremely tender and the accompanying side dishes went well with it. I don’t like garlic and donated my share to the person seated next to me, who absolutely loved it!


Soba – Didn’t quite expect to eat Japanese soba at this stage of the meal! The soba with seaweed was served piping hot but I felt the dipping sauce (or was it soup?) was too salty for my liking!!


Dessert – The chocolate cake had coffee powder sprinkled on top and tasted a little like tiramisu but it was more like cake than tiramisu (if you know what I mean). This was accompanied by a scoop of strawberry sorbet and single slices of pineapple, grapefruit and a grape.

Overall, it was quite a nice meal and was rather filling!


Auberge De Manoir KITTEI 「オーベルジュ ド マノワール 吉庭」

Address: i-789-2, Sawara, Katori City, Chiba Prefecture 287-0003.
Tel: 0478-55-0350

Opening Hours: 11:30~14:00, 17:30~21:00 (Closed on Mondays)
Reservations are highly recommended.

Access:  5 min walk from JR Sawara station 「佐原駅」 on the Narita line

Here’s a copy of the map (in Japanese) which is from the restaurant’s website:

Categories: Chiba Prefecture (千葉県), Hokuso Area, Japan, Sawara (佐原) | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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