A Festival of Revenge in Odawara

May 27th, 2009 | By Shane Sakata | Category: Festivals

Ukiyo-e Utagawa Kuniyoshi The Soga Kasa-yaki Matsuri is held annually each May and is a festival that honors an act of revenge by the Soga brothers that took place in May 1193, over 800 years ago.

In 12th century Japan, territorial battles were commonplace and were often bloody affairs.  Warlords enacted elaborate military attacks with the sole purpose of gaining control of more land and thereby increasing their status in the eyes of the Emperor or Shogun of the day.  The story of the Soga brothers is such a story:  it is considered of the three great vendettas in Japanese history and has been dramatized in both noh and kabuki plays since the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Two warlords, Sukechika and  Kudo, were entrenched in a bitter battle over land on the Izu peninsula in the Chubu Region of Japan.  Sukechika took some of Kudo’s land by force and in revenge Kudo had Suechika’s son, Sukeyasu Kawazu, killed.

Sukeyasu Kawazu left behind a widow a two sons, Sukenari and Tokimune who were four and two years old at the time of their fathers murder.  The boy’s mother eventually remarried and the boys were adopted into the new husbands family and took the surname of Soga.

For eighteen long years, Sukenari and Tokimune Soga dreamed of avenging their fathers death and the opportunity finally came in May 1193.  The brothers surreptitiously joined a hunting party in Odawara that Kudo was a member of and on a stormy night the brothers succeeded in their mission by killing him with their swords. (Pictured on the right is a uniko-e print depicting the brothers practicing their swordsmanship on a pile of snow by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1798 – 1861)

It is said that after the Soga brothers avenged their father’s murder by killing Kudo, they burned a pile of umbrellas.

It’s a true tale of bravery and loyalty but the story doesn’t have a happy ending, both Sukenari and Tokimune Soga were captured and killed for their act of revenge at the respective ages of twenty-two and twenty.

Today, young children dress up as the Soga brothers and set fire to old umbrellas in front of their graves during the Soga Kasa-yaki Matsuri to commemorate their memories.

Event Details:

Date: May 28, 2009
Location: Jozenji Temple in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture
Times: The umbrella-burning ritual takes place at 11:30AM and 8PM
Access: JR Gotemba Line to Shimo-Soga Station (approximately two hours by train from Tokyo station), and then walk 5 minutes.  (Shimo-Sogo Area Map)

Image Credit:  Wikimedia, The Soga brothers practising swordstrokes on a heap of snow

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  1. I’m guessing that the 47 Ronin are another of the vendetta stories. What is the third?

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