Matsue Do Gyoretsu, the Matsue Drum Festival

Every Autumn, Matsue hosts a drum festival where everybody is encouraged to join in and pound on the giant drums that are hauled on floats through the streets. It is an ancient and very loud festival, where massive drums on floats are pulled through the streets of Matsue. Every neighbourhood has their own drum, so competition to have the best drumming performance is fierce each year. Held yearly mid-October in the afternoon. In 2013 this event will be on the 20th of October. Drums will gather around Matsue castle around noon and the parade will start at 1 PM.

People along the way often are invited to step up and have at the drums, and invitation that extends to anybody who’s in town that day. An increasing number of those invitees are foreigners, many of whom have quietly found their way to Matsue over the years, drawn by the drum festival and the city’s bountiful other charms.

drum festivalMatsue Drum Festival is called “Do Gyoretsu” in Japanese, meaning “Do Drum Parade” it combines the efforts of 30 neighborhood association. These “do” drums, carried atop a special shrine-like carriage called miyazukuri have a diameter of two meters (6.5 feet) and are struck loudly by a bunch of drummers, while being pulled by children arrayed in ‘happi’ coats. The drums are accompanied by bamboo flutes and Changara cymbals. The sound of this energetic procession echoes through the city not only on the day of the festival, but also every evening in the run-up to the day as groups all over town gather to practice in their respective areas. Dozens of neighbourhood associations take part, and they all have their own specific carriages, styles of drumming, and outfits.

This traditional procession reenacts the welcoming arrival of Princess Iwa-hime, belonging to the Fushimi-no-miya family, a branch of the Imperial Family of Japan, who came all the way from Kyoto to marry Matsue Lord Nobuzumi Matsudaira in 1724. And just a little side story, the name of Kyo-mise (京店) shopping area in central Matsue came from that time, when merchants decided to decorate their shops and streets as to look like Kyoto (京都), in order to please the princess and try to make her feel at home.

All the floats gather outside Matsue Castle grounds on Sunday at 12 noon where an official opening ceremony is held. This usually also includes ‘maki-mochi’, the throwing of pounded rice cakes which are meant to bring good luck to those who catch them.
The drumming will start thereafter, with the carriages departing from the castle at 2 pm. As they proceed, they groups will split into two different parade routes and go through the main streets of the city until 4 pm.

The weeks before the festival, please feel free to go to the many drum sheds throughout the city where the neighborhood associations would practice their selected drum routine on the evening, and have a go at drumming yourself ! One of shimadai’s student who is now practicing is our Carlos-san from Paraguay.

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