The 21st Hino Shinsengumi Festival
Last weekend was one of Hino’s biggest annual events – the Hino Shinsengumi Festival! The two-day festival is held each year in May around the time of local Shinsengumi hero Hijikata Toshizo’s death anniversary. On the first day of the festival, actors and samurai fans from around the country gathered in Hino for a Shinsengumi impersonation contest. Then, on the second day, the contest’s winners took on the roles of Shinsengumi leaders for the festival’s main event: a massive Shinsengumi parade through Takahata and Hino-shuku.
What really sets the Shinsengumi parade apart from the average local parade is the attention to detail in recreating Shogunate-era troops of Shinsengumi samurai. Hundreds of participants donned the Shinsengumi’s distinctive blue uniform and met first thing in the morning to practice what the Shinsengumi did best – swordfighting! New and returning participants alike worked together to practice smoothly drawing and sheathing their blades, and experienced groups did run-throughs of mock sword battles to perfect their shows for the afternoon parade.
With all their preparations in place, the ten Shinsengumi corps lined up in formation before the statue of Hijikata Toshizo at Takahata Fudo-son. Among the ranks were everything from average students and citizens to seasoned performers, with “samurai” both from here in Hino and as far away as other continents! Aizu, an old ally of the Shinsengumi throughout the Boshin War, also sent a group to join the parade, a favor Hino returns each year at their Aizu Festival.
After a brief ceremony in front of the statue, the troops filed out one by one to begin their first of two parades.
From Takahata Fudo-son, the parade marched in a loop to Takahatafudo Station and back, then moved to the Hino-shuku area around Hino Station for a parade circuit passing Hino-shuku Honjin, Yasaka Shrine, and other historically relevant locations in the city. All along the way, the Shinsengumi members engaged with spectators, waving and posing for photos, like this Inoue Genzaburo lookalike. Periodically, individual corps paused and drew their swords for kachidoki, an energetic victory cry with blades brandished.
When they weren’t watching the Shinsengumi Parade, festival-goers could cruise down the parade route or stop by one of the festival rest-areas for some Japanese-style food and fun. There were festival classics like yakisoba and shaved ice, as well as local soul-food favorites like baked curry bread. There was plenty to see and do, such as check out portable parade shrines and hayashi music, watch dance performances, or duck into one of the nearby museums for an especially enthusiastic crash course on the Shinsengumi’s ties to the area.
After the parade finished its lap of Hino-shuku, the participants made their way to the festival’s closing ceremonies, where this year’s Hijikata performer and event officials wrapped up the 21st Hino Shinsengumi Festival amidst cheers and thunderous applause.
2018 is the 150th year since the end of the Boshin War, and this year’s festival also happens to be the last held during the Japanese Heisei calendar. With a record 50,000 visitors at this crossroads in time, everyone was excited to keep the Shinsengumi’s makoto spirit alive for another 150 years to come. While the two-day Shinsengumi Festival seemed to have gone by in a flash, as Hijikata fervently declared, “I’m sure we’ll all meet here again next year!”
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