The Hidesato Festival: The Height of Summer in Japan
When many people think about Tochigi prefecture, the first place that comes to mind is Nikko, known for its huge shrines and historical value in Japan. The second place is maybe Ashikaga, for the beautiful flower park. Usually people don’t think about Sano. Sano is a city in southern Tochigi which is known for the huge premium outlet mall, local variety of ramen, and imo-furai (deep-fried breaded potatoes). Although Sano receives many visitors daily from all over Japan, many people only come to experience the more commercial aspects of Sano.
Most people don’t know that Sano is home to one of the biggest festivals in Tochigi prefecture, the Hidesato Festival. The Hidesato Festival (Hidesato Matsuri, 秀郷祭り), is the biggest event of the summer in Sano. It takes place in early August every year. Although Sano is known for being a pretty quiet town, during this time the whole city seems to come alive. People are excited to see many events such as Hidesato style horseback archery, drumming, carrying of miniature shrines, musical performances, and dancing.
The festival is held to celebrate the great figure of Sano city, Hidesato Fujiwara. A lord during the Muromachi period, who fought against the Kokugi Ueno lord from over taking the Tochigi area. He also built a castle at Karasawa mountain, which later was turned into Karasawa Shrine. It is unknown exactly when Hidesato died but his descendants became lords of the surrounding areas in Kanto which many of the places are named after.
Access to the festival is very easy. It is held directly in front of the Tobu Sano station which serves both JR and Tobu railways. Since the festival offers a variety of entertainment it’s best to be there as early as possible because the venues do tend to be crowded very quickly. On the first day, the horseback archery (Yabusame) is only held on the first day at a local middle school court yard right next to the station.
In the main fountain area, there are some musical and dance performances by local artists. Of course, no festival is complete without the standard food stands. All along the main road you can easily find some of your festival food favorites, such as Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Kakigori, Karaage, etc. Up further to city hall, you can have a chance to meet Sanomaru, the mascot of Sano city. You can also meet other mascots from the Tochigi-prefectural area. Around city hall there are plenty of vendors that sell Sanomaru merchandise as well as plenty of hand crafted goods.
Although Sano city might not have a lot to offer in terms of excitement like Tokyo or culture like Nikko, there are still some great events here that manage to bring people together from all over the Kanto area.