Miki, my new home town

Recently, I enjoyed the chance to stay with a host family and attend Banshu Miki Matsuri, the autumn festival in Miki City, Hyogo.

An autumn festival is a quintessential part of Japanese culture and is a must-see if you visit at this time of year.

During the festival, men from each neighborhood carry around gigantic mikoshi, or portable shrines, finally carrying them up the 85 perilous stone stairs of Omiya Hachimangu, the city’s big shrine, for the climax of the festival.

First, all the mikoshi gather and set up for their long day of parading.

I got a chance to see them getting ready and was lent a happi coat for the occasion!

The happi coats are pretty interesting – there’s a different one for each neighborhood in Miki.

The mikoshi are so huge that each one is housed in a special structure built specifically for it. This one is three stories high!

In the evening, traditional food stalls line the road leading up to the shrine, and the streets are filled with reveling festival-goers.

After the mikoshi finish their suspenseful and terrifying climb up the stone steps of the shrine, everyone gathers at the top to sing traditional songs and celebrate.

Festivals like these really embody the spirit of community togetherness that you find in local areas of Japan. You can tell that the festival has been enacted in the same way for untold years. The collective effort of the mikoshi carriers is truly amazing.

I also had the chance to see some other sights in Miki. Miki is famous nationwide for its hardware and cutlery. Craftspeople there have been making high-quality tools and knives for centuries.

You can see some of the coolest of these old-fashioned tools at the Miki City Hardware Museum.

Here’s an example of Japanese-style bellows. Western bellows are pumped with both hands, but Japanese bellows are worked with a pole that can be operated with one hand. Apparently, Japanese blacksmiths used to pump the bellows with a foot while using both hands at the forge!

Here are some gigantic saws, with their distinctive shapes.

Finally, Miki knives! Knives from Miki are prized for their quality. After my visit to the museum, I actually stopped by a hardware store and picked up a (fairly affordable) luxury knife of my own! Apparently, foreign tourists often purchase Japanese knives to bring home. The knives are not only highly functional, but have attractive traditional designs as well.

When I brought home my Miki knife later, I was astonished how different it was from the cheap knives I had been using so far. Cooking is a lot easier! My Miki knife simply falls through vegetables like they were thin air. (And, yes, it has neat swirls and Japanese writing on it.)

After spending a lovely night with my host family, I visited the Miki Horse Land Park.

I had never heard of this facility before, but I love horses (used to ride as a child) and was amazed to learn that anyone can visit the park for free and watch professional horse events!

There’s a lot on display inside the buildings. Here’s a carriage that was once used to carry the imperial family.

And here I am on a hilarious exercise machine that is supposed to make you feel like you’re riding a horse.

On the day we visited, there was a dressage event going on. Here’s one competitor after her run.

And check out this sweet pony! There’s a lot for children to do, like carrot feedings and pony rides, and the park also offers riding lessons for a reasonable price.

This scale was once used to weigh horses. I love how it says “no springs – honest weight”. You can also see the logo of JRA, the Japan Racing Association. Horse racing is very popular in Japan.

The grounds are big and beautiful, and there are also trails, campsites, and lots of things to do for the non-equestrian.

I took first place! (I wish.)

Even the manhole covers around the park are decorated with 馬, the character for “horse”.

Well, my one-night stay was only enough for a small taste of all that Miki has to offer! Miki is famous for its sake and fresh vegetables, and is also blessed with plentiful historical sites and shrines and temples. It also has a large number of sports facilities, including a huge skate park!

Of special interest is the Miki Hardware Festival, or Kanamono Matsuri, which will be held this year on November 3rd and 4th. You’ll be able to shop for tools and the beautiful Japanese knives, see blacksmiths in action, and more. Not to be missed!

More info on the festival here (Japanese): http://www.mikicci.or.jp/kankou/matsuri.php

Miki City Hardware Museum
Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM. Closed Mondays and December 29th to January 3rd.
Address: 5-43 Uenomaru-cho Miki-shi, Hyogo 673-0432
Telephone: 079-483-1780
Fax: 079-483-1780
Website: http://www2.city.miki.lg.jp/miki.nsf/0/4FDA3D607DEC0D1E49256CA7001AC7C2 (Japanese)

How To Get There

Miki City Hardware Museum
From Sannomiya: Take the Hankyu or Hanshin lines to Shinkaichi. Change to the Kobe Dentetsu (Shintetsu) line bound for Arima and get off at Mikiuenomaru Station. (Total trip: 60 minutes)

Miki Horse Land Park
Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM. (Closes at 4 PM November through February.)
Address: Miki Horse Land Park, Bessho-cho Takagi, Miki-shi, Hyogo 673-0435
Telephone: 079-483-8110
Website: http://www.miki-hlp.or.jp/ (Japanese)

How To Get There

Miki Horse Land Park
From Sannomiya: Take the Hankyu or Hanshin lines to Shinkaichi. Change to the Kobe Dentetsu (Shintetsu) line bound for Arima and get off at Miki Station. From the station, take the bus to Asahigaoka bus stop (10 minutes), or take a taxi. (Total trip: 70 minutes)

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