Ghost cats seem to be popular in Japan right now with the super-popular character "Jibanyan" from the Youkai Watch franchise, so of course a festival based around the story of ghost cats would attract hundreds of participants in the lesser known area of Tokyo named Kagurazaka.
Bakeneko is a mixture of the words "Bakemono" which means monster, and "Neko" which means cat in Japanese and Japan famously loves spooky tales. Close to Iidabashi, Kagurazaka boasts a long traditional style street called Kaugurazaka dori which is famous for kimono, Japanese sweets and tea. Such a traditional place was a perfect setting for a festival honoring a creature from many Japanese folklore tales. The story of bakeneko is very ambiguous; some stories say that bakeneko are cats that were killed by humans and turned into vengeful spirits, others say that bakeneko can shapeshift into humans and others say they can raise the dead.
The festival runs annually on the 10th of October, so if you have a penchant for ghost animals, or even just a cat lover, make sure to head to Kagurazaka dori next year.
This festival is a tribute to bakeneko and features a parade down Kagurazaka dori, where hundreds of people cosplay as different versions of cats. Some people chose a very classic "monster cat" cosplay, while others went for cute cat-eared maids, Cheshire cats and famous Anime characters.
The street was chock-full of people, all wearing cat ears, it was all very obscure and Japanese. With the old-style setting I did feel as though I was living in an actual anime. There were many spectators in normal clothes who came to watch the parade, and some oblivious bystanders wondering why everyone was dressed up!
There was also music being played through the street speakers and somehow their choice of tunes were all Michael Jackson and Queen, which added to the obscurity. At first people were just waiting around for the parade to start so there were many opportunities to make friends and take pictures.
One man was seemingly dressed up as Freddie Mercury, shaking maracas and giving out candy, I am not sure what his connection with bakeneko was but it was pretty entertaining. I didn't take any candy though.
Some of the outfits were very intricate and a lot of time and effort went into crafting them. A lot of them used clay masks and paired them with traditional Japanese kimono or samurai armor, which was very reminiscent of kabuki theater. There were even some original characters that people had created, which made it a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Parade itself was wonderful, there were so many participants and everyone was smiling. The age range of participants went from little koneko children and babies, right up to elderly neko samurais, the parade ran though Kagurazaka dori down to the local shrine. Then finally as the crowd dispersed, the youngsters went to the local game center and took Purikura (Japanese photobooth) photos.
The festival itself didn't have many stalls, which is what is expected of a normal matsuri in Japan. Usually there would be market style food vendors serving up huge helpings of yakisoba and takoyaki. There were a couple of tables serving some hot food but that is definitely something that could have been improved upon next year. Luckily, Kagurazaka has a fantastic selection of both Japanese and French food so there were plenty of places to get something to eat, we decided upon a restaurant/cafe that is actually on the river running through Kagurazaka and Iidabashi. You can sit on the decking and enjoy a selection of Italian food, sweets and cofefe and even go for a row on the river! It was so romantic.
Eventhough it was a festival about cats, I ended up falling in love with a beautiful cosplaying sheepdog! (@potedazo on instagram). Being so close to Halloween, meant that everyone was in the cosplay spirit!