This event has become an immensely popular staple in the MAJET calendar and for good reason; kayaking along autumnal embankments, cosy cabins surrounded by woodlands and a festival in one of the most remote villages in Japan.
On a crisp, sunny Saturday afternoon, at Gokase-no-Sato campsite an enthusiastic group of us crowded into Gokase Nature Schools vans to be brought down the slightly terrifying switchback roads that led to the idyllic riverside. The guides provided some training to the more novice kayakers while the experienced and the brave rushed into the water.
Once in the water we kayaked down river to a nearby bridge, enjoying the high rise of fall foliage that blanketed the embankments on each side. It didn’t take us long to become expert kayakers -or to become competitive- as some raced each other back to the shore for a well deserved coffee break provided by the guides. After a quick break it was time to explore upstream and navigating between rocks while battling the current definitely added an extra challenge.
Some of us split off for a quick dip in a local onsen, which may well hold the world record for smallest public bath in Japan. To say it was a take over when we stormed in is an understatement! Cassie and Kyle had the nabe ready to go by the time the rest of us reached the cabins. Bubbling nabe pots and buzzing conversation turned to drinks and dancing till the early hours of the morning.
After waking up to incredible views over evergreen forests it was time for the much anticipated waffle breakfast and to set off for our next destination.
Shiiba, on most days of the year, is a sleepy little mountain village, but during the Heike Matsuri it really comes alive; groups of locals huddle around tables drinking sake one cups with green tea, local stalls line the streets selling crafts and produce and the whole place is just brimming with energy. The people of Shiiba are some of the friendliest (and liveliest) people you will ever meet, so it wasn’t hard to feel welcomed and a part of the festival rather than an outsider looking in. A group of us even got roped into a drinking party, and do those Shiiba locals know how to party!
The parade, the main event of the festival retells a story that took place over 800 years ago, of Princess Tsurutomi and General Daihachiro, star crossed lovers from rival samurai clans. We made sure to grab a prime spot to get a good view of the procession. And it didn’t disappoint, scores of dancers, gangs of mischievous oni, stoic samurai on horseback, elegant princesses adorned in traditional finery and even the local brass band all put on a great show. The parade itself is in two parts, so during the intermission it was time to check out the performances on the live stage and sample the local food stalls. I think we could all agree that the shika (deer) karage changed some lives that day. A personal favorite though is nadoufu (leaf tofu) which is tofu with different ingredients added depending on the season. These culinary delights are unique to Shiiba, one of many reasons to go check it out, if you haven’t already.
Shiiba is a special place, and a little hard to pull yourself away from, but as the sun was starting to set it was time to go our separate ways. One thing’s for sure though, we’ll be back.
From all of us on the MAJET Team, a big thank you to all of you who came and joined us at any stage throughout the weekend. We had a great time and we hope you did too! Our next event is our December Pub Quiz in Miyazaki City on the 9th. You can find more info and RSVP here.