The Heike Matsuri celebrates a legendary tragic love affair that took place between two members of rival samurai families—the Heike clan’s Tsurutomi-hime and the Genji Clan’s Daihachiro Nasu—over 800 years ago (source).
Here is the story according to Sumiko Enbutsu, a writer for the Japan Times:
After their defeat in the battle of Dannoura in 1185, some of the Heike warriors and their companions supposedly fled into the deep shadows of Shiiba’s forests. A youthful Minamoto warrior, Nasu Daihachiro, chased them down and was shocked to see the refugees living in thatched shacks. A rush of pity for their wretched life inspired him to fall in love with Tsurutomi, a Heike nobleman’s daughter. The lovers lived happily together for three years, but were cruelly separated by order of Shogun Yoritomo.
The bereft princess nevertheless gave birth to a daughter, and generations of their descendants thrived in Shiiba, claiming the Nasu family name. The story of their lost love is told in “Hietsuki-bushi,” a work song sung to a shakuhachi accompaniment (source).
In addition to the usual festival fare, this festival offers a variety of local foods and traditional performances that have carried on Shiiba’s unique customs through generations. The crowning event is the Heike Parade, which reenacts the story of Tsurutomi-hime and Daihachiro.
The boys wear traditional Genji Clan clothing and the girls dress as Heike maidens while they parade through the town with a variety of musicians and dancers. See Tsurotomi-hime’s intricate 12-layer kimono costume in all its glory, while enjoying the food, drinks and revelry during the parade. This festival is certainly one you won’t want to miss!