One of the last stops on my trip to Tohoku this past summer was in the old samurai town of Kakunodate in central Akita prefecture. Both the friends I was traveling with and numerous travel sources had touted this town as having one of the most beautifully preserved Edo-era neighborhoods, and I must admit, I was not let down in the least.
Kakunodate still boasts many of the old samurai estates, so I wasn’t entirely too surprised to look down at my feet and see this manhole cover beneath them:
However, upon further research, I learned that the figures depicted on the cover weren’t merely samurai. They were samurai dolls. Apparently, every year on September 7-9, the town of Kakunodate holds a festival during which large floats bearing these dolls are paraded through the town’s streets, accompanied by traditional dancers. There are 18 floats that participate, each of them being carried through the streets to visit various shrines and old residences of former lords.
However, when the floats meet each other in the street, they must negotiate for “rights of passage” or risk being rammed as the other float tries to get by. It seems that the floats are all almost completely destroyed by Day 3, after a battle that lasts the entire night.
Even if you can’t make it to Kakunodate for the September festivities, this is one town that is worth adding into any itinerary for northern Japan.