What do you think of when you hear “princess?” For most people, that means DISNEY DISNEY DISNEY! For others, expanses of rolling green hills, cramped forests and intimidating castles are called to mind. While these “western” influences do permeate the Japanese imagination, the term “princess” possesses something more unique.
Like with most countries, Japanese princesses were associated with the finest of the fine. They embodied grace, were cultured, and often provided a focal point for the latest beauty trends and literature. Have you ever had the chance to behold such a mythical person? I have.
In one of the hamlets in my city, a tradition has been held every year, rain or shine, since 1952. That may not be a long time, but it’s still impressive to me that a community can come together 67 times to make this event happen. What’s the event, you say? Why, it’s the Hime-sama Douchu (姫様道中)! 姫様 (hime-sama) means princess while 道中 (douchu) is hard to translate beautifully into English, as it is an old word, but in today’s world, it can mean parade. Broken down, it refers to being on the road or en route.
Long ago, during the Edo Period (1603-1868), when the Way of the Samurai was in full throttle, there was a princess. As with all local legends, her identity remains a mystery and is left to flights of fancies. She often passed through the area with her royal entourage on her way to wherever and most definitely travelled in style. According to the information blurb on the event flyer, up to 90 attendants, retainers, and soldiers walked in her wake.
Let’s put on our Geoffrey Chaucer hat and join them.
- 露払い侍 (tsuyu harai zamurai) – Heralder or Outrider, he clears the path of people
- 毛槍奴 (keyari yakko) – Bannerman; literally “the feathered [or furred] spear-bearing servant”
- 箱護侍 (hako gozamurai) – Box Bearer; “the box-holding servant”
- 警護侍 (keigo zamurai) – Bodyguard; while Japanese learners might be familiar with the word keigo (敬語), meaning “respectful language,” this kei refers to keisatsu (警察) meaning “police”
- 腰元 (koshi moto) – Chambermaid*
- 家老 (karou) – Chief Retainer; lit. “old, professional man,” he was the Major Domo
- 姫様 (hime-sama) – Princess
- 大傘持奴 (oo-gasa mochi yakko) – Umbrella Bearer; “the honorary umbrella holder,” he was also the closest protector of the princess in times of danger
- 上臈 (jyourou) – Noblewoman; “experienced woman,” her position in Japanese is described as being attached to the side of the princess
- 小情 (ko-jyou) – Female Page; “little woman,” she was the princess’s toilette attendant
- 典医 (ten-i) – Doctor, no explanation needed here
- 茶坊主 (cha bozu) – Master of Tea; “master priest of the tea,” he received guests and made them comfortable
- 駕籠持奴 (kago mochi yakko) – Palanquin Bearer; “the wagon servant,” they were in charge of carrying the princess in her royal litter
- 腰元 (koshi moto) – Chambermaid
- 長持奴 (nagamochi yakko) – Tenured Servant; “long thing bearing servant,” these guys carried the chest full of the princess’s belongings, the “long” coming from the fact the box was borne on long-poles
- 共侍 (tomo zamurai) – Retainer; “companion samurai,” see 17
- 槍持侍 (yarimochi zamurai) – Retainer; “spear-bearing samurai,” along with the tomo zamurai, they acted as bodyguards, keeping the rear of the group protected
The parade is a sight to see for those interested in experiencing Japanese culture. The folks in charge of the whole thing remained as true as possible to the costumes worn during those tumultuous times. While the wigs and make-up might be fake, they do their best to bring a bit of history to the modern day.
While you’re waiting for the parade to start, you can also enjoy common festival treats like fried chicken, sugared rice cakes on a stick, takoyaki (balls of batter with bits of octopus and vegetables), okonomiyaki (like takoyaki but in pancake form and much heavier on the stomach, usually comes with sauce and mayonnaise), and French fries. This year was a surprise for me because there was ramen and coffee. My girlfriend at the time swore that a tapioca (i.e. boba tea) stand would bring in a lot money if we decided to invest (lol).
Local bands, performers, and dance groups from all around Hamamatsu are also available to entertain you. I was happy to see some of my former students strutting their stuff as they wowed the locals and visitors. My neighbor informed me, too, that her toddler daughter would also be performing a hula dance number! Talk about adorable~!
After the parade, some of the members move to the stage to show guests traditional dances. Unfortunately, I don’t stick around long enough to see these. I can only handle the festive atmosphere for so long. I’m such a square, I know.
If you’re ever in the Hamamatsu area in the spring and looking for something to do, please check out the Hime-sama Douchu! It’s always held on the first weekend in April. See you then!