Reliving the past – Shibayama Haniwa Festival

It was a beautiful wintry day blessed with plenty of sunshine. Overhead, aeroplanes soared across the skies, leaving behind wispy trails of white clouds in their wake. Statues of Haniwa soldiers could be seen lined up on both sides of the road as we drove into Shibayama.

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The festival ground of the Shibayama Haniwa Festival

The Shibayama Haniwa festivities were ongoing with parades, dances and a street market when we arrived. This festival has been held on the second Sunday of November every year since 1982. The Kofun period dates to around 250-538AD and is characterised by their keyhole burial mounds, as well as their Haniwa clay figurines. As the site of numerous Kofun settlements, Shibayama itself is a treasure throve of history.

A rock band had set up base outside the Haniwa museum so we had to pass them to enter. The museum though small, holds a collection of Kofun artefacts unearthed around the area. Write-ups and models offered a glimpse into this intriguing civilisation from 2,000 years ago.

Haniwa Museum at Shibayama Chiba
Haniwa Museum at Shibayama
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Haniwa Museum Shibayama
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The display of Haniwa Figurines

Having familiarised ourselves with this chapter of Japanese history, we slipped over to the Kannonkyo-ji Temple, where the Kofun procession was due to start.

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Kannonkyo-ji, Shibayama
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Kannonkyo-ji, Shibayama
Shibayama kannonkyo-ji Haniwa festival
The numerous plaques adorning the entryway to Kannonkyo-ji

The sound of Chinese pipes and gongs heralded the arrival of the procession as people dressed up in Kofun-era clothing paraded in. The “commoners” were dressed in clothing made of hemp with red trimmings, while the “courtesans” wore dresses of more colours. However, their faces were all decorated, some with two large red circles and others with a band of red paint around their eyes. Jewelries of bronze and silver adorned their garments, glittery under the strong sunlight.

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Haniwa festival parade
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Haniwa festival parade
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Parade proceeding to the Kannonkyo-ji
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Performance at the pagoda at Kannonkyo-ji
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Girls dressed up as spirit maidens at the Haniwa Festival

The procession was followed by a thank you speech by the “village elder” and then a  traditional dance performed by the spirit maidens. After the performance concluded, we meandered around the rows of yattais (street stalls), enjoying the snacks and browsing various trinkets for sale.

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Soba master demonstrating the art of making soba near the Kannonkyo-ji
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Yattais selling Japanese snacks at the Haniwa Festival in Shibayama

Eventually, we found ourselves on a small path leading out of the parade grounds. Perched on the a small hill was a restaurants specialising in traditional Japanese meals.

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A traditional restaurant near the Haniwa Festival in Shibayama
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A simple fare of rice balls, cakes and soup

The food though simple, was nonetheless wholesome. As we sat outside, enjoying the warm sun with the cool breeze, we couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a beautiful day.


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