1000 Samurai warriors in Nikko!

This coming weekend (October 16th and 17th), if you happen to be in Japan and the Kanto area, you have the opportunity to attend a large festival and celebration held at Toshogu shrine in Nikko. The Shuki Taisai Grand Autumn Festival is a smaller version of the Shunki Reitaisai – Grand Spring Festival held in May, and includes traditional performances and rituals. Visitors will get a close up experience of old traditions in a grand setting.
Nikko Toshogu shrine grounds (with snow in February).
The Parade of 1000 Samurai Warriors
The main attraction of the autumn festival is the Hyakumono-Zoroe Sennin Gyoretsu, meaning Parade of 1000 Samurai Warriors, where around 800 participants dressed as old time samurai march in procession throughout the shrine grounds. The autumn parade is a bit smaller than the one in spring, where there are actually 1000 samurai. This parade is taking place on Tuesday October 17th.
 
Parade of 1000 Samurai Warriors. Image source: https://www.tochigiji.or.jp/event/1506/
The parade consists of a mikoshi (a type of portable shrine) carried by a group of shinto priests, samurai warriors carrying weapons such as spears, bows and arrows and guns. There are also cavalry taking part in the parade. The samurai are dressed in old traditional warrior outfits and the wast number of participants makes it a impressive sight.

The parade starts at Nikko Futarasan shrine, goes through the grand approach to Toshogu shrine and heads for the Otabisho (temporary resting place for mikoshi). 
The grand path leading to Toshogu shrine. This is where the parade takes place.
It is said that the Parade of 1000 Samurai Warriors is suppose to recreate the scene where the grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate (in year 1600) and who is enshrined in Toshugu, was being transferred from Mount Kunousan in Shizuoka Prefecture to Toshugu shrine in Nikko.
Parade in traditional clothing from the Kamakura period, Asakusa in Tokyo.
Yabusame
As part of the celebration there will be a performance of yabusame on Monday October 16th. A type of kyudo, Japanese Archery, yabusame is archery preformed on horseback. The use of Japanese bows has a long history but the combination of archery and horse riding got popular during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) when the shogun realized that his Samurai was lacking in archery skills and ordered them to practice by shooting arrows as the rode their horses.

In yabusame the archers shoot three arrows at three different targets, while on a galloping horse. It is a really fascinating and impressive sight.
Skilled archer at yabusame performance in Asakusa, Tokyo.
How to attend
The Shuki Taisai Grand Autumn Festival is held on the same two days every year, October 16th and 17th, meaning that it sometimes falls on a weekend but usually not. The 2017 event is taking place on a Monday and a Tuesday. The Parade of 1000 Samurai Warriors is held on the second day (17th) and the yabusame performance on the 16th. It is a well known and  popular event visited by many tourists as well as local Japanese, and trains and roads to Nikko is expected to be crowded. Also, the actual festival area will be crowded during this time so make sure to arrive with time to spare.   

There is some commentary in English (as well as Japanese) which makes it easier for foreign tourists to understand the meaning of the different components of the parade. 

Monday October 16th 
The event starts at 12:30 with a Japanese drum performance
12:40 Yabusame parade in front of the five story pagoda
13:30 - 14:30 Yabusame performance at the approach to Toshogu shrine. 

Tuesday October 17th
The day starts with a few rituals at the shrine, but these are not open to the public.
11:00 the mikoshi (portable shrine) is carried throughout the shrine grounds and The Parade of 1000 Samurai Warriors begins. .
Around 13:00 the parade is over and the mikoshi returns. 


How to get to Nikko Toshogu shrine
From Tokyo you can take Tobu Railway or Japan Railways to Nikko. The trip takes about 100-120 minutes and after arriving you can take a bus (normally takes about 10 minutes) or walk about 30 minutes to the National Park where the temples and shrines of Nikko are located. Here is a detailed guide on how to get to Nikko.

I personally recommend walking, since you pass by beautiful scenery and buildings including the famous red Shinkyo bridge. 
Newly restored Yomeimon gate at Nikko Toshogu,
I really enjoyed yabusame when I attended a performance in Asakusa, but if you only want to visit Nikko one of the days I would recommend to go on the 17th since that is when the main event with the large parade takes place. Of course Nikko and Toshugu shrine is always worth a visit, be it during the grand festival or not. This world heritage site is a very beautiful and fascinating place full of temple and shrine buildings surrounded by serene Japanese nature.   

Let me know if you have visited Toshogu shrine, maybe even during the The Shuki Taisai Grand Autumn Festival?

Johanna Forsberg