The Umbrella Burning Festival

July 25th, 2015 Sogayatsu, Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

The Umbrella Burning Festival

 Image Courtesy: Turner used under the Creative Commons Licence

Soga no Kasayaki Matsuri or the Umbrella Burning Festival is celebrated at night fall on the fourth Saturday in July, in front of the Museum of the Meiji Restoration, to appease the souls of Soga brothers at their family temple, Jozenji. Legend has it that this unique festival, which is a part of the 50 Matsuri’s of Kanagawa, is one among the three famous revenge stories of Japan. This historic story is also known as a Kabuki play “Soga Monogatari (Tale of Soga).

The story dates back to1193, during the Kamakura period, when the 2 brothers Soga Goro and Juro meted out vengeance to the murder of their father.

They are believed to have attacked the murderer at midnight, by setting fire on their paper umbrellas and using them as torches. The festival is held on their obit, to appease their souls.

Juro is believed to have been five years old and his younger brother Goro three when Kudo Suketsune killed their father Kawazu Sukeyasu over a long disputed issue of feudal estate.

Suketsune who was an important vassal of Shogun Yoritomowas, was the cousin of Sukeyasu. Later, the widow married a man named Soga who adopted the elder son Juro while the younger son Goro was sent to a Buddhist temple to become a monk. But the two brothers had other plans than reciting holy sutras. They wanted to avenge their father’s murder.

Umbrella Burning Festival

Image Courtesy: Turner used under the Creative Commons Licence

The opportunity for avenging their father’s death came when Shogun Yoritomo held a hunting session at the foot of Mt Fuji.

At midnight, while a heavy storm was raging, Juro and Goro found drunken Suketsune in the company of a prostitute and killed him. The elder brother Juro was killed immediately while the younger Goro was captured.

Shogun Yoritomo executed Goro but at the same time he honoured the brother’s deed by reinstalling their mother as the legitimate owner of her late husband’s estate. Goro was 20 and Juro 22 when they died. Ever since, young boys dress in Soga Brothers’ costumes and set fire on a pile of used paper umbrellas dedicated to the brother’s family temple, Jozenji Temple.

On the day of the festival, a lot of other events also take place, such as the prayers for the deceased actors associated with Tale of Soga, a Buddhist sermon, the procession of samurai warriors and Chigo (young boys), Sumo parade, and children’s Sumo tournament are held in the precinct of the temple.

The Naples of Japan, a city blessed with a beautiful landscape and some legendary hot springs is a must-visit in late July, not just for its natural beauty but to witness its residents unity in burning down old umbrella’s along with dancing, shouting, history lessons, and demonstrations of strength in honour of the Soga brothers.

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