Translated by Takuya Erik Watanabe
Four Famous Festivals In Northern Japan
Written by MATCHA
This article introduces four festivals held in Japan's Tohoku Region in the summer. The Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, the Tanabata Festival in Sendai, the Kanto Festival in Akita, and the Hanagasa Festival are all unique and impressive.
Tohoku Region is the northernmost region in Honshu, Japan's main island. The unique festivals held in each of its prefectures are famous all throughout Japan.
Of the many festivals, the six Great Tohoku Festivals (Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, Morioka Sansa Odori in Iwate, Sendai Tanabata Festival in Miyagi, Kanto Festival in Akita, Hanagasa Festival in Yamagata, Waraji Matsuri Festival in Fukushima) held in early August attract many locals and visitors. Today we will be introducing four of these festivals.
1. Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori
Nebuta matsuri festival is held every year from August 2 to 7, in Aomori City. It is one of the largest-scale festivals in Japan, attracting over 3,000,000 visitors. The venue is about 5 to 20 minutes on foot from JR Aomori station.
Large paper dolls are pulled around the parade route on dashi (*1) while dancers called haneto dance all around them. The dashi all are colorful, three-dimensional, and very impressive. The hanetos shouting "rasserā" resounds around the venue.
If you purchase (about 10,000 yen) or rent (about 4,000 yen) a haneto costume, you can jump right in and take part in the dancing. Anybody is welcome, and participating is free! If you feel confident about your physical fitness, we recommend you take part and make some great memories of this experience.
It should be noted that there is a "Neputa Festival" (note the "P" instead of "B") in nearby Hirosaki. The Neputa Festival also uses three-dimensional dashi like the Nebuta Matsuri, as well as fan-shaped two-dimensional dashi. The dancers at the Neputa Festival shout "Yāyadō". You might like to take part in both and enjoy the subtle differences.
*1 Dashi: A vehicle for the gods; a parade float with religious connotations, pulled by rope at festivals.
Nebuta Festival: Event Information
Address: Aomori, Aomori City, Yanakawa 1-4-1
Website: Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (has translation link)
2. Tanabata Festival in Sendai
This festival is held annually from August 6 to 8 in Sendai. The venue is a 5-minute walk from JR Sendai Station. The Tanabata decorations made of paper and bamboo color the city.
Usually, seven different types of small ornaments are used for Tanabata decorations. Each ornament has a meaning, such as improvement in academics and calligraphy, yakuyoke (*2) - protection against illness and misfortune, health and long life of family, or business prosperity. Just walking around the city which will be full of colorful decorations will become a fun experience.
*2 Yakuyoke: The removing and warding off of suffering and misfortune.
Sendai Tanabata Festival: Event Information
Address: Miyagi, Sendai, Aoba, Chuo 1
Website: Sendai Tanabata Festival
3. Kanto Festival in Akita
The Kanto Festival is held every year from the 3 to the 6 of August in Akita City. The venue is a 15-minute walk from JR Akita Station. Countless lanterns shaped as komedawara (rice containers, *3) decorate the streets.
These lanterns are known as chochin (*4) and are made from rice paper wrapped around a bamboo frame. People walk down the street along to the music of drums and flutes carrying bamboo on their foreheads, waists, and shoulders. They shout "Dokkoisho, dokkoisho" as they walk, wishing for a good harvest for the year.
The sight of about 10,000 chōchin lighting up the night sky is very magical. The viewing seats cost 2100 or 2600 yen. A seating area for six people costs 20,000 yen.
Akita Kanto Festival: Event Information
Address: Akita, Akita, Omachi 2
Website: Akita Kanto Festival
*3 Komedawara: A cylindrical container made from straw. It is used to put rice inside.
*4 Chōchin: A lantern made by placing a candle in a thin frame made of split bamboo with paper around it.
4. Hanagasa Festival in Yamagata
This festival is held every year from August 5 to 7 in Yamagata City. It is a large-scale festival where 1,000,000 people visit during the three days it is held. The venue is a 10-minute walk from JR Yamagata Station. Dancers wearing bright kimono-like costumes and hanagasa hats (*5) follow after the ceremonial vehicles called dashi. They dance along to the sound of the taiko drums, shouting, "Yassho, Makasho."
All the people in a group wear the same costume. The groups dancing in synchronization are really a marvelous sight. There is a line at the end of the parade for unofficial participants so you can jump right in if you want to.
Hanagasa Festival: Event Information
Address: Yamagata, Yamagata, Tokamachi - Honcho - Nanokamachidori
Website: Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
*5 Hanagasa: A type of hat made from flowers or artificial flowers used for dancing.
Every festival is highly popular with both domestic and international visitors, meaning that the hotels nearby fill up quickly. We recommend you book a place to stay before deciding to participate in one of the festivals.