A gallery of colorful pictures from the Houjidou Godai Matsuri, an annual festival held on May 3 in Odawara, Japan.

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Japan Festival Pictures - Houjiou Godai Matsuri
Annual Festival in Odawara, May 3

Each year, on May 3, several thousand residents of Odawara participate in a wonderful local festival.  The highlight is a costume parade that commemorates the journey of the Daimyo (feudal lords) to pay tribute during the Tokugawa Era.  I'm not a big fan of parades, but I thoroughly enjoy this one.  You'll see why in the pictures below. 

The festival helps me appreciate Odawara Castle.  When you live in Japan for awhile -- more than two weeks or so -- you may start to get tired of old buildings.  But festivals can bring the history of a place back to life.  Odawara Castle wasn't always the home of the Odawara zoo (a fairly depressing place, if you like animals). 

For background on Odawara Castle, click here.  Otherwise, scroll down for pictures of the parade and festival.   

Young Musicians

Prior to the parade two young girls in beautiful costumes and play skillfully and seriously on their instruments.


Festival Booths Behind the Gate

This isn't a wonderful picture, but I thought you should get an average view of the festival to put the rest in better perspective.  This is the back side of the festival behind the main castle gate.  The parade starts by going out through this gate.

Lantern Makers

Women sit under a tent roof inside one of the booths making festival lanterns.



A man and his belly wait for Yakisoba, and Okonomiaki cooks in the background.


The Parade Begins

The following pictures were taken in 2002 just inside the main castle gate.  Here the gate opens and the parade begins with a group of girls riding ponies.


Maiden Warriors

These seriously armed young girls on parade bow their heads -- either in a submissive posture, or more likely to keep an eye on the blades they are carrying. 



The visage of a solemn soldier evokes a vision of Japan's not-so-distant past.


Quiet Dignity

The parade featured thousands of locals who had fun, yet took their roles seriously.


Presentation of Banners

Each segment of the parade featured a different group from the community, indicated by the banners they are holding.


Old and Young

Sons join their fathers in the procession, weighed down by their own costumes.


Young Banner Bearers

These flag wavers strike a colorful pose before passing through the gate.


Leading the Parade

From this point forward I have mixed pictures from 2002 and 2003.  This is a view from further along the route.  A man carries the festival banner and the four girls, leading the parade on ponies, wave to the crowd.


Red Flags

A group of students dressed in red thrust their banners forward.  Actually, they are lowering their banners to pass through overhanging branches.


Taiko Drums

A group of Taiko drummers in the back of a truck join the parade in mid-route.


The March of the Shinto

"Shinto" means "believers."  These men are carrying a shrine that is supposed to house a local "god."  Shinto processions often form an integral part of local festivals.  This Shinto procession is technically a separate event, although it starts just as the parade is ending and follows part of the parade route.


Shinto Marchers Crossing Bridge

This view from across the water shows the procession from a different perspective.


Under the Weight

Many from Shinto shrines paraded with their own "gods" in this festival.  This group was oddly slow and dramatic compared to the others.  These shrines, first of all, are incredibly heavy.  Carrying them can be excruciating.  But still I suspected that Sake was a big part of the pre-festival ritual for some of these young men.


After the Parade

Two intricately dressed young women return with their group after the parade.


Girls Wielding Swords

These cute girls stood out in the blue crowd with their obvious pleasure at carrying such "serious" weapons.


Detail from Group Picture

This is a close up during a group photo.  The two girls are trying to be cool, while the boy on the left gives a measured look this way.

Sword Maiden

I've included too many shots of smiling girls and their swords, but I couldn't resist adding one more...


Four Girls "Taking Out" One Guy

Another shot of the cutest girls in the crowd, along with a high school boy whose "peace" gesture may be misplaced.


With New Friends

My wife and I pose with the same group.  We'll look for them again next year!

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2008 Andy Gray