Toorigosairei Parade

On October 10, around 70,000 people crowded along the narrow road between Hiroshima’s Toshogu and Nigitsu shrines to watch the reenactment of the Toorigosairei [通り御祭礼] a procession held every 50 years between 1666 and 1815 to commemorate the death of the first in the long line of Tokugawa shoguns, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Around 30 groups of people dressed in period costumes, put together by referring to hand-drawn depictions in records dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, made the 800m walk between the two shrines out and back. The gods cooperated by providing a dry day, though, unfortunately, clouds deprived the event of the spectacularly clear, blue skies of the days before and after.

We cycled down to the parade route about 20 minutes before the start of the outward journey from Toshogu Shrine. Nigitsu end of the route was fairly quiet, but the crowds grew as we got closer to Toshogu. In front of the shrine, people were 5 or 6 deep and elderly viewers struggled to get a better view by standing on the park benches (after removing their shoes, of course).

A barrage of loud blasts punctured the subdued air of anticipation and the 550 participants punched the air, calling out “eiei-oh” before setting out, a group of (real?) shinto priests at the head of the parade. Once it had begun we made our way back down the route to where we could get a better look at the procession.

Each group was preceded by a boy scout holding a placard with a description of the group, which was quite useful I guess, but the name of the sponsors also written on the placard seemed a little incongruous – this group of priests and the the sacred sakaki tree is brought to you by Edion Electronics!

Although well attended, the atmosphere wasn’t overtly festive and the onlookers, although quite entertained, generally remained quite subdued, giving the event something of a surreal quality. The original processions, which made a 4km journey around the whole of the castle town were attended by many tens of thousands of people. One can imagine that, although one of the city’s most extravagant distractions, the original parades, taking place in the feudal age, were quite likely a sombre affair. So perhaps the quiet appreciation enhanced the authenticity.

The one exception, when the parade felt more like a matsuri, was the parading of the mikoshi portable shrine. Heralded by banging drums and bells riinging the young men carrying, spinning and tossing the 800kg mikoshi provoked applause and shouts of encouragement. The rallying cry of “yousaya, chousaya!” was discovered in a merchant account of the parade earlier this year by a researcher at the Hiroshima Prefectural Archives.

The children’s kabuki performances also seemed very popular.

Held only every 50 years, the original Toorigosairei was a once in a generation event. Back in the summer, priests at Toshogu Shrine told GetHiroshima that they felt it would be a bit of a shame after going to all this trouble to resurrect the parade, if it were to fade from people’s memory and would like to hold it more regularly – not every year, but perhaps every 5 to 10 years. It will be interesting to see how long they wait.

Did you go to the Toorigosairei parade? Please feel free to share your own experience and thoughts in the comments below.

More videos from the parade

Click on the thumbnails to view photos at large size

Paul Walsh

Paul arrived in Hiroshima "for a few months" back in 1996. He is the co-founder of and loves running in the mountains.