Translated by Briony Dunbar
Let's Take A Look At Ishikawa Prefecture's Ishizaki Houtou Festival!
Nanao Cityi's Ishizakimachi, a fishing village overflowing with energy. The festival that the local sea men pour their passion into holding is the Ishizaki Houtou Festival. Let's talk about the charm and history of one of Japan's most vibrant summer festi
Written by Keisuke Yamada
In Japan there are summer events that have taken place ever since the olden days. These are called “matsuri” (祭), meaning “festival”. Japan’s festivals mainly express gratitude and prayers to ancestors and gods, as well as being one of the ceremonies that are held to bring good harvest.
There are also festivals held outside of the summer, but there is a particularly large number of summer festivals with an outstanding turn out of people. There are summer festivals that are individual to places all over Japan, and the local residents welcome tourists to enjoy every year.
One of these festivals is Ishizaki Houtou Festival, held every year in Ishikawa Prefecture’s Ishizakimachi. Let’s explore the charms and history of Ishizaki Houtou Festival, which even amongst Japan’s many festivals is particularly charged with energy.
What is Ishizaki Houtou Festival?
Nanao City's Ishizakimachi in Ishikawa Prefecture, where Ishizaki Houtou Festival is held, is a fishing village overflowing with energy. The festival that the sea men living in this fishing village pour their passion into holding every year is Ishizaki Houtou Festival. Houtou (奉燈) are the large vertical lanterns shown in the above photo. The reason that the lanterns became used in Ishizaki’s festival is as follows.
In the olden days Ishizaki had many fires, and the summer festival that was held in those days took fire damage many times over.
Then in 1889, the amidaiku (網大工 - the people doing the job of making and preparing nets) bought old, humongous lanterns from Okunoto (奥能登 - the northernmost region of the Noto peninsula) to the festival to use. Since that time, there has been no fire damage.
It is said that since that time the lanterns became used at the festival, and the current Ishizaki Houtou Festival was born. Before the use of the large lanterns, festival cars called dashi (山車 - a pull cart with wheels attached and donated ornaments) were being used.
Scenery from the prospering fishing village Ishizakimachi.
Features of Ishizaki Houtou Festival
Most festivals held in Japan are livened up by a portable shrine called an omikomi (お神輿 - an object where the deity is enshrined during a festival) being carried through the whole town and paraded to offer prayers to ancestors and the gods.
However, as for festivals taking place in the Noto area that includes Ishizakimachi, festivals where lanterns (called kiriko is the Noto area) are used instead of a portable shrine are common. The difference is that while deities are enshrined in the portable shrine, they are not enshrined in the kiriko.
Kiriko - gorgeous lanterns that each area competes over
At Ishizaki Houtou Festival, big and small lanterns are displayed for each of the seven districts of Ishizakimachi. On the front of the lanterns, three characters that bring good fortune are written in ink, and painted on the back is a picture of a samurai warrior. As there are no wheels attached to the lanterns, they are moved by men carrying them.
In addition, the seven districts are each assigned separate colors as written below:
・East district 1 - green
・East district 2 - yellow
・East district 3 - red
・East district 4 - blue
・West district 1 - white
・West district 2 - pink (this is the area which carries the tallest and heaviest lanterns)
・West district 3 - purple
The things that the people who carry the lanterns are wearing, such as the “hachimaki” headband that wraps around the head, are unified with the assigned colors.
The lanterns’ weight is around two tonnes, and the height is 12-13 meters, which is carried by 100 men. In addition, in order to sweep the eaves of the houses in the narrow alleyways of the fishing village, the lanterns are paraded while giving assertive cheers of “Sakkasai, sakkasai, iyasaksaa” that match the sound of lively flutes and taiko drums.
The fishing village’s men who carry the lanterns
Ishizaki Houtou Festival is held every year on the first Saturday of August. Of course the locals are there, but people who were born in Ishizaki also make the journey back to Ishizaki for the festival. And the season is summer! In the heat which teems with enthusiasm, the fishing village’s men carry the two tonne lanterns with all their power.
There is a break during the procession, but seeing them carrying the lanterns with enthusiastic shouts continuously from afternoon until midnight is a sight that no one could fail to be moved by.
The Tairyokigan Shinto ritual
Other than carrying the lanterns, in the evening the big-catch prayer called Tairyokigan (大漁祈願 - a ceremony that prays for a bountiful fish harvest) is performed. After the lanterns that have been carried from the respective districts in the afternoon have been carried by the men for several hours, all of the lanterns meet at the rendezvous point, Doumaehiroba (堂前広場).
It’s no exaggeration to say that the biggest highlight of the festival is the boisterous dance that is performed at Doumaehiroba throughout the Tairyokigan.
You can say that when the lanterns and men from the seven districts gather at the place (which can hardly be called spacious) and boisterously dance with the lanterns, all of the town’s power becomes concentrated in one place.
We’d really love for you to experience this power by going to Ishizaki Houtou Festival and seeing it for yourself!
ddress: Ichikawa Prefecture, Nanao City, Ishizakimachi
Opening hours: 14:00-24:00
Date: The first Saturday of August every year
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Nearest station: Wakura Onsen Station
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Telephone: 0767-53-8424 (Nanao City Tourism Association)
HP (Japanese): Ishizaki Houtou Festival (Nanao City Tourism Association)