On Sunday, Matsushiro celebrated their annual Sanada Jumangoku festival. Taiko performances, artillery displays, and traditional dances were held at the castle before a procession of Sanada clan warriors paraded through the gates. History lovers from around Japan came to participate in the event, bringing beautifully crafted suits of paper armor with them.
The Jumangoku festival celebrates Matsushiro’s samurai roots. Built around relics like Matsushiro Castle, the Sanada Residence, and the Bunbu Military School, the town has a history that goes back to the Warring States Period over 450 years ago.
Then, the area was a battleground for Shoguns Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who fought many battles at nearby Kawanakajima. Matsushiro Castle was built at that time as Takeda’s stronghold. During the Edo era, it was given to Sanada Nobuyuki (formerly of Ueda) and the area prospered. Future Sanada lords helped establish Matsushiro’s silk-reeling and dying industries as well as the Bunbu Military School, which became a model for schools throughout Japan.
Highlights of the Festival
An hour before the procession, the Sanada artillery squad exhibited their traditional flintlock pistols and rifles outside on the castle green. The men would step forward and on the leader’s command (“hanate!”), they fired their guns in thunderous bursts. Their impressive display was only matched by the cannons fired shortly afterward in front of the castle.
After a short taiko drum performance in warrior dress, the Matsushiro Jumangoku parade began. Soldiers from the Warring States and Edo Periods filed through the gate and over the bridge, the former in bright red armor with golden accents and the latter in grey robes with straw hats.
Most of the armor-wearing participants made the armor themselves. A full suit of armor is made by weaving colorful string through specially made paper. Each suit may have over 12,000 holes to weave, taking about 6 months to complete. Each year, participants bring even more spectacular creations to the festival as they learn more about the techniques used to create such armor hundreds of years ago.
Sanada Masayuki, Sanada Nobuyuki (Masayuki’s son), and Princess Komatsu (Nobuyuki’s wife) were featured prominently in the parade on horseback. The Sanada line continues to this day, and the current generation of Sanada (14th generation since their arrival in Matsushiro) participated in the parade as well. The procession circled Matsushiro, making their way back to the castle about two hours later.
The Matsushiro Jumangoku Festival is held annually on the second weekend of October, with a variety of events on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, several performances are held beginning from 9:30 am while the main procession departs from the castle at 12:45 pm. The parade circles around Matsushiro for around two hours, returning to the castle around 2:30 pm.
How to Get to Matsushiro
Matsushiro can be reached from Nagano station via the Matsushiro line bus. It leaves every half hour for Matsushiro from the #3 platform of the Zenkoji exit. Get off at the Matsushiro Eki stop.