Tohoku Region: Matsuri Festivals

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Almost 5 years have passed since the Great East Japan earthquake. To remember such an event, the Tohoku Rokkonsai has become a series of established annual events to help in the restoration of Tohoku, as the years went by, since the first time it was held in Sendai city, thru Morioka city, Fukushima city, and Yamagata city.

Holding Rokkonsai continuously has the significance to pass on the lessons of the disaster to the next generation, and to deepen the bonds among the people in Tohoku. In 2015, the setting of Tohoku Rokkonsai is laid in Akita city.

The souls of 6 festivals wishing for the restoration of Tohoku gather in Akita to send out the brightness of Tohoku to Japan and also to the world, and unite the hearts of the visitors, as well as the local people.   

AOMORI NEBUTA FESTIVALTohoku 67

An incarnation of the Japanese-style Tanabata “Star Festival,” the Nebuta Festival in Aomori City is one of the Three Great Festivals of the Tohoku region. The main draw is the large floats made from washi paper. Essentially giant paper lanterns, they can be up to 9 meters wide and 5 meters tall. Carried by hand, the floats are accompanied by dancers and musicians, who encourage audience participation. The floats are paraded over several nights and on the afternoon of the final day, after which some are floated in Aomori’s bay. Spectators are then treated to a two-hour firework display.

Most of the Nebutas are based on characters from Chinese historical novels, Japanese Kabuki or myth. The origin of the festival is uncertain but as the story goes it may developed from Tanabata which was imported from China during Nara era (710-794 A.D.).

It is an important intangible folk cultural asset designated in 1980.

Average number of visitors since 2012: 3,000,000

Date: August 2-7

Access: JR Aomori station

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AKITA KANTO FESTIVAL

One of the Three Great Festivals, the Kanto Festival in Akita City stands out for the parade of performers carrying long bamboo poles called kanto. Dozens of paper lanterns are hung on the poles. The carriers balance the ends on their hands shoulders, waists. Even their foreheads and necks! Of course they are accompanied by music, featuring taiko drums, flutes and chanting.

The highest point of the festival is to see the performance of the holders. They move the heavy Kanto from their hands to their shoulders or their foreheads keeping their balance.

Average number of visitors since 2012: 1,400,000

Date: August 3-6

Access: JR Akita station

 

MORIOKA SANSA ODORI FESTIVAL 

Morioka City’s summer festival is said to originate from an episode long ago, when the people were terrorized by an evil demon named Rasetsu. The deity Mitsuishi-kami heard their prayers, and he drove Rasetsu away forever, causing the grateful people to dance and chant in celebration, as they do today in the Sansa Odori. The festival boasts the world’s biggest taiko drum parade, certified by Guinness World Records. Dance instructors call out to spectators for an on-the-spot dance lesson.

Average number of visitors since 2012:

1,200,000

Date: August 1-4

Access: JR Morioka Station

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YAMAGATA HANAGASA FESTIVAL

This festival’s parade brings to Yamagata City taiko drums, beautiful floats and over 10,000 dancers in flowered costumes. More than a million people come each year to witness the variety of stunningly choreographed dancing. Spectators are encouraged to jump in and participate.

Dancers dance along to a dance song called “Hanagasa Ondo” and march throughout the town holding Hanagasa which is a sedge hat with red flowers. It originated in Taisho era (1912-1926), based on the song that construction workers were singing when they pound the grounds before they built the houses.

Average number of visitors since 2012: 900,000

Date: August 5-7

Access: JR Yamagata station

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