Every year on the second Sunday in October, 30 handmade “Ryusei” rockets are launched into the sky above Shimoyoshida in Chichibu City, Saitama. The Ryusei Matsuri is derived from a Shinto ritual and is one of the annual festivals dedicated to the local Muku shrine.
Ryusei are handmade rockets measuring 15-20 meters in length and weighing about 30-50 kilograms. There are 27 schools that create Ryusei and each has their own techniques and technology that have been passed down for generations. The materials used include a pine tree and bamboo cut down from the mountain and dried for more than 2 years. The pine tree is hollowed out, bamboo hoops are attached the ignition cartridge is filled up with 5 kilograms of black powder. Each school displays their unique characteristics with customized ornaments, called Shoimono, in the form of paper umbrellas, fireworks and parachutes, and these are loaded into the top part of the ignition cartridge. Surprisingly, it can take up to a year for a Ryusei to go from the planning stage to completion as builders rack their brains to make more and more elaborate rockets.
The gallery is crowded with tens of thousands of spectators watching the festival. Visitors spend the day at the festival, having a picnic lunch and drinking sake and beer.
The first launch is at around 8:40am and the 30 Ryusei are launched one after another at 15-minute intervals. A ceremony by the Muku Shrine in held mid-way through and the last rocket is launched at 4:45pm. Builders and spectators alike hold their breath at the moment of each launch.
Roaring sounds fill the air as the fuse is lit and a Ryusei is launched. The sight of the rocket soaring up into the sky and trailing a cloud of smoke is breathtaking. When the rocket has climbed a few hundred meters, the Shoimono ornaments make their appearance. As everything successfully reaches completion, the year-long efforts of the rocket makers are rewarded by the generous applause and cheers of the spectators.
The launch of dynamic handmade rockets is not the only appeal of the Ryusei Matsuri, but the stories of the team behind the rockets and the parties in the viewing gallery are also highly enjoyable. This festival is a perfect way to spend an Autumn day in Japan.
The Ryusei Matsuri
Date: Sunday, October 12, 2014 Approx. 8:40-17:00
Venue: Yoshida Muku Shrine (Chichibu City, Saitama)
Access: Get off at “Ryusei Kaikan”,the last stop of the special temporary bus for “Ryusei Kaikan” departing from Seibu Railway Seibu-Chichibu Station. 10 min walk from Ryusei Kaikan stop.