Becoming a Samurai – The Ieyasu Parade

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 39 Comments |

This past Sunday on 4th April, I was honoured to take part in a huge Japanese festival. Donning heavy metal armour coloured bright vermilion red, sitting atop a steely brown horse and grinning like a fruitcake while waving to the crowds. It’s safe to say my ‘Last Samurai’ aspirations have been fulfilled.

Every year in Okazaki (岡崎市), a city near Nagoya in central Japan, history comes to life with this fantastic parade. Okazaki is famous for being the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most influential rulers in all of Japanese history and watching the parade is said to be akin to looking at one of those long Japanese picture scrolls. Samurai in brilliant costume, battle re-enactments, colourful ninja girls and of course, Tokugawa Ieyasu himself parade the best part of 3.5km through the city greeting the citizens. My role was to play one of the 4 samurai guardians of Ieyasu, Ii Naomasa, otherwise known as the ‘Red Demon’ due to his ferocious attitude during battle.

The Four Heavenly Guardians of Tokugawa Ieyasu (四天王) were his most loyal and trusted men, serving him through the Warring States Period into the early Edo period of Japanese history. Below from left to right they are: Sakai Tadatsugu (酒井忠次), Ii Naomasa (井伊直政), Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), Honda Tadakatsu (本多忠勝) and Sakakibara Yasumasa (榊原康政).

As I wrote in a previous post, Ii Naomasa (井伊直政) was best known for his blood red armour and nasty habit of killing people over small mistakes. A solitary man, it is said that after he was killed in battle, not one of his followers committed ritual seppuku after him – something largely unheard of for a samurai general of his standing.

I’m not quite sure I could do testament to his notoriety during the parade though! Maybe I should have scowled more…

Warriors gathered under the cherry trees and being blinded by the morning light. We were blessed with great weather throughout the day.

My clan – the Ii clan – before the Ieyasu Parade. The Volunteer Association in Okazaki handles this group every year. I think it’s a fantastic scheme. Okazaki city’s foreign residents can really get involved in such a big parade and take part in the community.

Just before boarding the bus to the main starting point – Iga Hachimangu Shrine (伊賀八幡宮神社). No way I could get on the bus with those horns! Also looking quite beardy – 1 month was not quite enough to grow it out fully.

While I was busy attending to opening formalities, members of my clan were fraternising with the local peasants. Tut tut.

Now, this is really not the image a powerful and fearsome warrior should be portraying, is it? I am supposed to be a red demon and all that but, well… Kids are just too cute!

Ii Naomasa and Honda Tadakatsu no doubt chuckling about all the heads they’ll be lobbing in the upcoming battles.

I received flowers! First entertaining kids and now holding a delicate bunch of flowers. *Sobs* My reputation…

Warriors preparing to leave the shrine and begin marching.

The Ii clan flags. Ii Naomasa was said to have used the angry red colours as a way to instil fear into his enemies, although he wasn’t the first to have this idea.

Ah, loyal warriors. Good to see gender equality in the Sengoku Period too.

Off marching and looking cool. Big thanks to Dave over at Watermelon Studios for some of these pictures on his Nikon D90, and also to Mayumi for wielding my Olympus E-P1 so well throughout the day! The photos in this post are all mixed up though – can you tell the difference between the cameras?

Me mounted on my trusty horse named Rabbit. He (she?) was quite agitated the whole way, apparently due to being hungry and at not being able to trot fast enough. The gunshots at several intervals also startled him, forcing me to pull back on the reigns a little.

Only wished I could have had the freedom to gallop more. I’m sure Rabbit would have been all for it too. Maybe I could have taken out some of those lackeys below me with my sword.

Seems Rabbit also had a sense of humour! A quick flick of the tail and flash of the tongue here and there…

More colourful footsoldiers. There were so many different groups that I didn’t get to see from my position in the parade. I did note scantily-clad ninja girls, beautiful Princesses wearing kimono and spear-wielding troops though. I’ll have to come and watch as a spectator next year to see everything I missed. Was great to see the cherry blossoms and crowds from up there on my horse though!

Sen-hime (千姫), another well-known figure in Japanese history. Ieyasu remarried her to Honda Tadatoki, a grandson of Honda Tadakatsu and not long later they moved to Himeji Castle.

My friends posing with Ieyasu himself. That moustache was fake, you know, unlike mine… :p. Below, one more of yours truly. Sorry for all the camera whoring! It was a pretty cool day!

Will also edit the video and try to get my hands on the television clip they aired with me in it to include in a later post. Victor (Gimmeabreakman) dropped in on the parade too. Thanks to everyone else who came down for the day!

39 comments on “Becoming a Samurai – The Ieyasu Parade
  1. Hi, are you still living in Okazaki? or somewhere near Nagoya?
    will do the same thing this April :)))

  2. Denn_yeh says:

    oh man now i wanna go and dress up

  3. demawo says:

    Great article, I just arrived in Toyota City and will be heading to the festival this Saturday!

    Missing out on being a samurai (Japanese classes in the morning) but still keen to watch!

  4. Joseph Tame says:

    love these shots!

  5. Joseph Tame says:

    love these shots!

  6. Harvey says:

    That's awesome! Not only were you a samurai, but you def got the coolest helmet and even horse privileges! Fabulous! That's so cool.

  7. caughtredhanded says:

    Excellent. It's a deal!

  8. Gakuranman says:

    ありがとう :P

  9. Gakuranman says:

    Definitely – if you're coming next year, drop me a line :)

  10. HIG3KI says:

    すごおおおいいい Pics Mike :D U look Awesome With That Samurai Armor ^^

  11. caughtredhanded says:

    Brilliant! Looks like you had a cracking time. I'm a massive fan of Tokugawa and the period surrounding his premiership, so this was a real treat to look at. I wasn't aware of this festival so I'll have to keep an eye on the calendar for my next trip to Japan.

  12. Jamaipanese says:

    surfed in from japansoc. Awesome photos and commentary!

  13. Gakuranman says:

    I'm sure you'd make an excellent Princess! :)

  14. nakamayu says:

    You looked very nice ! I'd like to be one of the HIME next time :)

  15. Gakuranman says:

    I like your costume! You'd make a kick-ass feudal lord ;)

  16. I'm happy that you had a great time at the parade. Good to know that you enjoyed cosplaying as Ii-sama and I'm very proud of you. Please visit my Facebook and see for yourself my lady samurai reconstitution! Thank you! MJC

  17. Mum says:

    Love it, love it, love it, you certainly look the part, I am glad I didn't meet the real samurai warrior!! xx

  18. Gakuranman says:

    Not quite sure why Ii Naomasa had the biggest horns… In fact, I don't know why samurai helmets even have those attachments. Something I must look up!

  19. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Dave. I'll try to get the videos up soon!

  20. Gakuranman says:

    That helmet was really heavy, and it kept slipping during the parade! By the end of it, my forehead looked like a runway because it has slipped back so much!

  21. Gakuranman says:

    I wonder if they have this sort of thing in other cities. I'm sure if you got to know the local organisations and your Japanese was good enough, you could probably get the chance to do it yourself :)

  22. Gakuranman says:

    ^^;;; I'm glad you liked the…pictures. :p

  23. Gakuranman says:

    Haha. He had his good side too, undoubtedly! They let one of the foreign residents play his role every year.

  24. Cassandra says:

    That looks awesome! So cool that you got to participate. Thanks for sharing all the photos!

  25. YoyoKirby says:

    Ahaha that's so awesome. You seem to have the biggest pair of horns. Why is that?

  26. Great photos, Michael! It's a shame I had to miss the parade this year, but thanks to you I can see at least a little of what I missed. I look forward to watching the video.

  27. Bruna Novo says:

    These Samurai armors look heavy… you look good as a Samurai… (^_^)'

  28. tornadoes28 says:

    Awesome. I am damn jealous. I would love to be able to do what you did. Great photos. Ii's samurai retainers may have not committed seppuku after their lord died in battle because Ieyasu was not a fan of that practice.

    And Ii Naomasa was an awesome butt kicker. :)

  29. tornadoes28 says:

    Awesome. I am damn jealous. I would love to be able to do what you did. Great photos. Ii's samurai retainers may have not committed seppuku after their lord died in battle because Ieyasu was not a fan of that practice.

    And Ii Naomasa was an awesome butt kicker. :)

  30. Superb pictures! This looks like such a great event, and I'm so glad you got the part in the end. You look great bearded! And I'm sorry to go all girlie, but samurai armour is SEXY. I could make a comment about you being 'horny' that day, but – well, I just did.

    The lady dressed as Sen-hime looks *so* beautiful.

  31. wccrawford says:

    That's pretty awesome.

    How did you get to be Ii Naomasa? Were they like 'Nobody wants to be the jerk samurai. Let's get the gaijin to do it.' ? :D I kid!

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