The Dosan Festival in Gifu
The Dosan Festival in Gifu City is one of the biggest and most spectacular festivals in Gifu Prefecture. The festival celebrates the memory and achievements of Saito Dosan, a local samurai warlord who is credited with the establishment of Gifu City.
Saito Dosan was a fearsome samurai warlord who was known as “the Viper of Mino” for his ruthless tactics. Dosan used Gifu Castle (known at the time as Inabayama Castle) as his headquarters as lord of Mino province (southern-half of modern day Gifu Prefecture).
He is also well known for being the father-in-law of Oda Nobunga, the most famous samurai warlord during the Sengoku (Warring States) period of Japanese history. Gifu City also has its own Nobunaga Festival, but that is a story for another day.
The Dosan Festival starts with a memorial service for Saito Dosan at Jozaiji Temple (Dosan’s Family Temple). The temple served as his base and was used by Dosan for unifying the countries or territories around him. Today the temple houses artefacts and images of the famous man and Saito family. It has also been designated as a national Important Cultural Property.
Next is the parade and portable festival floats (mikoshi) that set out from Inaba Jinja to downtown Gifu City through the main street. Inaba Jinja is the oldest and most famous shrine in Gifu City and plays host to this amazing festival. The festival floats look spectacular against the backdrop of cherry blossoms which line both sides of Inaba-dori, the road leading out from the shrine. The cherry blossoms are a weeping cherry blossoms called shidare-zakura in Japanese.
The festival really kicks into high gear on Saturday night when the mikoshi and spectacular dashi floats return to Inaba Jinja. The large elaborate dashi floats are decorated with lit Japanese lanterns and feature wind-up puppets which entertain the crowds. The floats are pulled through the main street of the city back to Inaba Jinja, accompanied by taiko drum music by the people sitting in the floats.
Dashi floats have been around for hundreds of years in Japan and play a central role in Shinto festivals that celebrate the gods. They are considered to be vehicles for the gods, and allow the gods to leave the shrine and come out and visit you.
The floats are magnificent and have a world of history to them that is passed down from generation to generation. They are prepared and sponsored by local businesses and organizations.
The atmosphere during the night festivities is electric with energetic shouts and cheers from the enthusiastic participants and the sounds of traditional Japanese music. If you can only see one part of the festival, this has to be it.
At their destination, the floats are lined up in the open space in front of the giant torii (shrine gate) at Inaba Jinja, which gives you a great chance to compare them side by side. The climax of the festivities on Saturday night is a fireworks display which signals the end of the first day of the festival.
The main event on the Sunday is the Kogane Park flea market, which feature antiques, kimonos and ceramics.
The Dosan Festival is held on the first Saturday and Sunday of April in Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture. The event is one of Gifu’s signature festivals, so make sure you mark it down on your calendar for 2016.
Date: The first Saturday and Sunday of April
Hours: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (times vary according to the event)
Location: Downtown Gifu City
Gifu City is located a short 20 minute train ride away from Nagoya, and is about 2 hours away from Tokyo via Shinkansen and JR train from Nagoya. To reach Gifu City take a JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya, followed by a JR train from Nagoya to Gifu Station via the Tokaido Line.