Kiryu is in the southeast part of Gunma Prefecture. Gunma Prefecture is located in the northern part of the Kanto Plain, about 100 kilometers northwest of Tokyo. Perhaps the most outstanding physical characteristics of Kiryu are its lovely green hills and mountains and the two rivers which flow through the city. As the seasons come and go, Kiryu is constantly changing in color.
The Watarase and Kiryu Rivers flow through the city. The Watarase runs from northwest to southeast, and the Kiryu river runs from northeast to southeast. Eventually, the Kiryu River flows into the Watarase, at a point southeast of the city.
There are many hills and mountains around Kiryu. The city is located not far from the foot of Mt. Akagi, a dormant volcano. The other mountains around Kiryu are not volcanoes. They are covered with beautiful trees. Umeda, a district on the north side of the city, is well-known for its cedar trees. Red pines are also common in the area. Of course, in the springtime, the city is characterized by its lovely cherry trees which bloom in various parks and around public buildings.
|The Four Seasons
Springtime comes to Kiryu in mid-March. Along the streets of the city you can see plum, cherry and dogwood trees blossoming during April and May. In particular, many adults enjoy sitting under the cherry trees at night, singing karaoke and drinking sake.
Columbus Street, named after one of Kiryu's sister cities, is lined with pink and white dogwood trees and red and white azalea bushes. The combination makes a striking picture in spring.
In addition, tulips and other spring flowers bloom in great variety in the city parks. Public planters are filled with pansies.
Flowers are not the only sign of spring in Kiryu, however. Another characteristic is the arrival of the seasons first strawberries - considered a spring fruit in Japan. Spring is also the time when children begin school in Kiryu. As it happens, the cherry trees are usually in full bloom as the children begin a new school year.
Summer in Kiryu is divided into two parts. The first part, from early June to mid July is the rainy season. The temperature is cool, but because of the high humidity, it often feels very uncomfortable. People often hang "teru teru bozu" (rain goblins) on their verandas to drive away the rainy days. This rainy season is critical for the growing of rice in Japan.
Once the wet, rainy season passes, however, the days grow increasingly hot. August is the hottest month. In addition, there is high humidity. During this part of the summer, people enjoy eating cool foods like somen - cold noodles, watermelon and kakigori - shaved ice flavored with fruit syrups. Another favorite pastime for children is lighting firecrackers at night. Many households hang wind chimes on the veranda in order to catch the summer breezes, reminding one to think cool even if you don't feel cool! Mosquitoes proliferate during the hot humid summer months and many families burn katori senko which drives away the pesky insects. Katori senko, a kind of incense, is traditionally burned in a pig-shaped burner... the smoke curling up out of it like a curly pigtail.
There are many fine days during autumn in Kiryu. The mountains surrounding the city turn golden brown and the days are cool and breezy. In October the fragrant olive trees (the official tree of Kiryu City) bloom and the air is filled with their fragrance. This is the season for sports festivals at schools. Persimmon trees laden with bright orange fruit bear witness to the arrival of fall. Bitter persimmons are threaded together and hung in chains under the eaves of houses. As they dry in the autumn sun, an edible white mold forms on them, transforming them into a sweet dried fruit enjoyed as an accompaniment to green tea during the winter months. Fall is also the season for mushrooms which are very popular in Kiryu and eaten in many different ways.
Winter blows into Kiryu with a fury. The city is well-known for its kara kaze or strong winter winds which blow off nearby Mt. Akagi and send chills through the bones of the city's heartiest citizens. Despite the cold winds, however, there are usually only one or two snowfalls per year. During this cold, dry season, people enjoy sitting at the kotatsu (heated table) eating hot soups and stews like oden and kenchin jiru - a local favorite made with vegetables and flavored with miso. Warm sake is a pleasant drink to warm the spirit as well as the body.
Winter sports are popular as well. Kiryu has an ice skating rink and ski resorts abound in Gunma Prefecture. The high point of the winter season is the New Year holiday. Traditionally, families visit shrines and temples and enjoy eating special foods cooked only for the New Year celebration.
Primula kisoana miquel (The Kiryu primula known locally as "kakkoso")
|Summer brings the arrival of a whole host of curious insects - kuwabata (stag beetle) and kabuto mushi (goliath beetle) which children enjoy collecting. But most treasured of all are fireflies. Although they have become increasingly rare, they can still be seen near Kuro Creek in the Hishi district and in the Kawauchi District. Efforts are being made to protect their habitat to encourage their repopulation.
While the city flower is the salvia or red sage, Kiryu boasts of a wildflower which grows only in its mountain environs. It is the kakko-so (Primula kisoana miquel), a rare variety of primula, characterized by its chandelier clusters of pink blossoms. This lovely wildflower can only be seen in the springtime, growing in the deciduous forests on Narukami mountain.
The city is surrounded by hiking trails leading through the woods and forests. Climbing Azuma and Narukami mountains are popular activities throughout the year.
Fishing is popular in both the Watarase and Kiryu Rivers. Ayu (sweetfish) fishing season opens in June and the rivers abound with fisherman in wading gear at this time.
|SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CITY
Kiryu is a textile center and boasts a 1300 year tradition of textile weaving. Evidence of this long history can be seen throughout the city. Factories with saw toothed roofs to allow light onto the factory floors and tiny canals can still be seen here and there in the city. The canals drew water from the rivers which then drove water wheels, providing power for silk throwing machines. In addition, in outlying areas, the canals supplied water for irrigating fields.
|ENTERTAINMENT, FOOD AND NIGHT LIFE
As a small town, Kiryu has limited night time entertainment. Young people go to the movies, bowling or eat out. Karaoke singing at karaoke boxes has become a popular pastime for small groups of all ages. Basically, a karaoke box is a private room equipped with audio/video machines for singing. In addition, food and drink can be served to the group which pays an hourly fee for the room. Larger parties, called enkai, usually reserve rooms in traditional Japanese restaurants which are also often equipped with karaoke machines.
Eating in Kiryu can be a fun adventure. Many of the restaurants and eateries have long histories and traditions. Of course, traditional Japanese dishes like tempura, sushi, soba and udon are readily available.
Kiryu is gaining a reputation as an udon town - noodle shops abound offering a great variety of cold and hot buckwheat and flour noodles.
tempura udon - a very popular noodle dish
|An udon expert rolls out the dough and prepares the noodles for drying.
Sauce Katsudon... a dish originated in Kiryu
In addition, Kiryu has become famous for its sauce katsudon, a savory pork and rice dish.There are many interesting foods to sample at snacks (drinking establishments) and izakaya (taverns). These serve a la carte dishes which are good accompaniment to beer, whiskey and sake.
Another tradition are trucks, converted into kitchens-on-wheels, which roam through the neighborhoods at night selling ramen (Chinese style noodle), shumai (steamed dumplings) and roasted sweet potatoes, called yaki imo. One can hear the shrill steam-powered whistle from their trucks as they wander down the streets and alleys, calling out "Yaki imo, ishi yaki imo!" (Roasted sweet potatoes - stone roasted sweet potatoes!).
Kiryu residents also enjoy the cuisines of countries like China, France, Italy and Korea, to name a few of the popular styles of cuisine found in foreign food restaurants in the city.
The Kiryu Yagibushi Festival
Yagibushi is the traditional folk dance of Gunma Prefecture. Yagibushi became popular in Kiryu during the Taisho Era (1912-1926).
At that time, Kiryu was a prospering textile city. Many festivals were held celebrating local industry during spring and summer. In 1964, these various festivals (the Commerce and Industry Festival, the Gion Festival, the Tanabata Festival, and the Fireworks Festival, etc.) were combined into one great celebration. At this time, a costume parade was added to the celebration. The combined event became known as the Kiryu Festival. Eventually, yagibushi dancing became the central event and the festival was renamed the Kiryu Yagibushi Festival. It is the biggest event in the summer for Joshu Yagibushi (Joshu is the old name for the Gunma area) and is loved by one and all.
The festival occurs on three successive days early in August. On festival evenings, yagibushi bands perform their lively music in a yagura (elevated stand) around which people dance.
The main streets of Kiryu are closed to traffic during the festival, and people enjoy walking along the streets, admiring the colorful tanabata decorations (decorated bamboo), eating festival treats and playing carnival games. It is also traditional to wear yukata (summer kimonos) and geta, or wooden sandals. Cotton jackets called happi are also popular.
The tanabata decorations recall the Tanabata Festival which actually occurs on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. This festival honors the star Vega, the princess of which is traditionally regarded as the Weaving Princess. During this festival, people write wishes on colored paper and tie them to the bamboo branches.
In festivals long past, elaborate dramas were enacted on hastily built stages sometimes employing karakuri ningyo or marionettes. These dramas were staged by local textile companies who competed with each other to produce the best play.
Nowadays, dancing has become the focus of the festival and groups vie in a competition for the title of best yagibushi dance team.
Ebisuko is a festival of Nishinomiya, a Shinto Shrine. It takes place every year on November 19th and 20th. Nishinomiya Shrine was established in Kiryu in 1901 from Nishinomiya Shrine in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture. The festival began in Kiryu in that same year.
The shrine is consecrated to the Shinto god, Ebisu, the god of commerce and prosperity. The people of Kiryu, a city where the textile industry has prospered, greatly revere this god.
Nishinomiya Shrine, located near Kita Elementary School, celebrates this lively festival called Ebisuko every year. Near the shrine many stalls are set up selling otakara (from the Japanese word for treasure or riches) and kumade (from the Japanese word for bear's paw), amulets for good fortune. These amulets are very popular among shop owners and people in commerce and are displayed in the shop or home near the kamidana, a shelf where Shinto gods are enshrined.
Many people ascend the steps of Nishinomiya Shrine during the festival to make an offering to Ebisu-sama to pray for good fortune in the coming year.
There are also many stalls selling plants and traditional treats characteristic of festivals like yakimanju (grilled buns basted with sweetened soy sauce), okonomiyaki (vegetable-filled pancakes), yakisoba (fried noodles and vegetables seasoned with a spicy sauce) and takoyaki (octopus-filled fried balls, somewhat like doughnut holes).
The lively atmosphere and beautiful autumn leaves of the gingko trees surrounding the shrine make Ebisuko a most exciting cultural affair.
Textile Manufacturing during the Edo Era
During the Edo Era (17th-19th c.), a weaving loom called a takahata was introduced in Kiryu from Kyoto. After its introduction, the textile industry developed rapidly in Kiryu.
Until the introduction of the takahata loom in Kiryu, weaving was done sitting at a handloom. After its introduction, the number of persons specializing in textiles increased significantly and the economy prospered.
Soon, Kiryu textiles compared favorably with those of Kyoto. As a result, a textile trading market was established in Kiryu near Tenmangu Shrine. A Meiji Era painting of Kiryu's Silk Market is preserved at Tenmangu Shrine.
Textile Manufacturing during the Meiji Era
During the Meiji Era, weaving looms equipped with a flying shuttle invented in England were introduced in Kiryu. Waterwheel-driven weaving looms were introduced from the United States. The number of persons who could operate Jacquard looms, invented in France, also increased. The Jacquard loom was important because Kiryu had established a reputation for beautiful brocades, which are woven on Jacquard looms. The majority of Kiryu's looms at this time were made of wood. There were few metal looms.
Kiryu continues to be an important textile center in Japan. Since the Meiji Era, Kiryu's textiles have been exported all over the world. Since World War II, the number of factories producing silk has declined, however, synthetic and other kinds of materials are being produced in place of silk. Lace production along with embroidery are also important aspects of the textile industry in the city. Kiryu takes pride in its world famous textile and fashion designers. Currently, through various forms of community development programs, Kiryu is striving to make its mark on Japan and the world as a Fashion Town. Kiryu's sister cities, Columbus, Ga. USA and Biella, Italy, are also important textile centers.
Some of Kiryu's citizens work in factories, many of which produce automobile parts. Textile companies, however, still outnumber machine/metalworking. The average number of employees in textile companies is 10, whereas the average number of employees in machine/metalworks factories is 30.
In addition to the textile industry, Kiryu is well-known as a center for the production of pachinko machines.
|CULTURE AND SPORTS
Kiryu City is proud of its large Performing Arts Center. This structure includes not only a performance hall and recital hall, but also an exhibition room, art studios, music rehearsal studios and conference / convention center. There are two restaurants located within the building as well. The performing arts center provides a locus of cultural activity for the city's citizens and promotes a sense of appreciation for both Eastern and Western performing/fine arts.
A large sports complex is located on the southwest side of the city where citizens can enjoy tennis, baseball, swimming, basketball, volleyball, etc. There are also special facilities for sumo and Japanese archery.
Every year in February Kiryu sponsors a half-marathon through the city streets. More than 5,000 persons participate in this event. Each year, the number of participants is growing, making it a major winter event in the city.