Full Moon Over the Hachiman Festival


Meigetsu Hachiman Matsuri

Kabuki Plus

by Komiya Akiko

Echigo textile seller

Areas in snowy Echigo Province (current-day Niigata Prefecture), such as the Uonuma and Ojiya regions, was known in the Edo Era for its cloth products, especially high-end items such as jofu (flat-woven linen) and chijimi (cotton crepe). Textiles woven during winter and laid outside on the snow were sold in Edo in the summertime by traveling merchants called Echigo chijimi. This became a seasonal sight in Edo.

Geisha with haori jackets


Geisha in Edo’s Fukugawa district became known for wearing men’s haori jackets. Fukugawa thrived thanks to its location near the popular Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, and because it was southeast (tatsumi) of Edo Castle, the entertainers were also called “tatsumi geisha”. They were known for their masculine straightforwardness and refined taste.


Edo was criss-crossed by many rivers and canals, and boats were often used to reach the pleasure quarters. Sightseeing by boat was also a typical Edo pastime. As such, boatmen ranked with firemen as the most popular occupations in the region. A good example is the Rakugo story Funatoku, where a spoiled young man pretends to be a boatman. Also, a sexy boatman named Sangoro is a main character in the play Kamikakete Sango Taisetsu by Tsuruya Nanboku.


Hatamoto were samurai appointed by the central government having the title of “ome-mie” and higher, meaning that they, unlike “go-kenin” samurai, were allowed to meet the shogun in person. Their annual salary was up to 10,000 koku. The estimated 80,000 hatamoto had no chance to polish their samurai skills given the long period of peace in the Edo Era. Some prominent hatamoto in Kabuki include Aoyama Harima in Bancho Sarayashiki and Mizuno Jurozaemon in Kiwametsuke Banzui Chobei. Mizuno was a real hatamoto family with a salary of 3,000 koku.

Eitai Bridge


Eitai Bridge was constructed in Edo in 1698 to connect Nihonbashi to Fukagawa. In August 1807, the bridge collapsed under the weight of festival viewers gathered excitedly for the Hachiman Festival, which was being held for the first time in 12 years and after a rain delay of four days. Some 1,500 people were said to have drowned. This bridge is featured in a number of Kabuki plays, notably Kamiyui Shinza and Kozaru Shichinosuke.

Fukugawa Hachiman Shrine


Officially named Tomioka Hachiman Shrine. Honoring the spirit of the ancient Emperor Ojin and the Seven Gods, it was built on reclaimed land in 1627. The renowned annual event still takes place every 15 August and is comparable in scale to Edo’s Big Three festivals (Kanda, Sanno and Sanja). Audiences in Fukagawa famously throw water on those carrying the large portable shrine to help cool them down. As other festivals take place in early summer, the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival is easily Tokyo’s best known midsummer event.

Hachiman Matsuri Yomiya no Nigiwai

This is the domestic drama by the celebrated Kawatake Mokuami that served as the source material for Meigetsu Hachiman Matsuri. Miyokichi’s lover is not the boatman Sanji but an unemployed samurai Hozumi Shinzaburo, and the main story is an internal household struggle related to a treasured sword and the revelation that the textile salesman Shinsuke and Miyokichi are siblings. The play was a big hit, incorporating popular topics at the time such as the disaster at Eitai Bridge and the Echigo textile salesman.

Use of actual water


The staging of Miyokichi’s murder uses real water to represent the heavy night rainfall. The presence of actual water offered a cool atmosphere in Edo summers, when there was no air conditioning. The energy of the scene is well conveyed by intense fighting and splashing. The rain is difficult to capture in photos or videos and cannot convey the excitement felt by audiences who experience it firsthand.