Summer in Japan is mostly about festivals. In Tohoku alone, more than 10 summer festivals are celebrated! Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? Here are some of the best summer festivals in Tohoku that you should not miss. Quick! Jot down the details!
A float procession, portable shrines, and a tiger dance – you can witness all these in this festival. Originally celebrated to pay homage to the three shrines of Hachinohe in gratitude for good harvest and health, Hachinohe Sansha Taisai is now designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
On August 2, there will be a Kiba Dakyu (an equestrian sport in East Asia similar to polo) tournament. The festival is held annually at the Chojasan Shinra-jinja Shrine.
When: July 31 to August 4, 2018
Where: Hachinohe City Hall and Chojasan Shinra-jinja Shrine, Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture
Admission: free (reserved seats – 2,300 yen)
Also known as the Straw Sandal Festival, you get to see a huge 12-meter-long waraji (traditional Japanese sandal) paraded in the festival!
Waraji Matsuri is a fun-filled festival held to pray for travelers, with performances and activities such as dancers dancing to the reggae-inspired tune of “Heisei Waraji Ondo,” hip-hop styled “Dancing Soda Night,” waraji making workshop, and many more.
When: August 3 and 4, 2018
Where: National Route 13 (near Fukushima Station), Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture
A festival to celebrate the success of local people who managed to drive out a monster called “Rasetsu,” thousands of years ago.
Morioka Sansa Odori is also dubbed as the world’s biggest drum festival, where energetic dancing is accompanied by the rhythm of 10,000 taiko drums and people shouting “Sansa, sansa!” all the way.
When: August 1 to 4, 2018 (6:00 PM to 9:00 PM)
Where: Chuodori Street (in front of the Iwate Prefectural Office), Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture
Also known as the most festive summer festival in Tohoku, Aomori Nebuta Festival is one of the largest festivals held in the region annually.
“Nebuta” refers to the huge and colorful lantern floats designed with historical and mythological Japanese characters. The floats are made of washi paper, bamboo frames, and light bulbs.
Anyone can rent a Haneto costume and join the Haneto dance while chanting “rassera” (a shortened version of “irasshai” in local dialect which calls for onlookers to watch or join).
In recent years, pop culture-themed floats can also be spotted in the festival. The procession is a three-kilometer loop around Central Aomori and has no beginning or tail end due to some history of vagrant participants who disrupted the parade.
When: August 2 to 7, 2018
Where: Central Aomori (near Aomori City Hall), Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Admission: sidewalk – free
free seating in the paid area – 2,600 yen
reserved seating in the paid area – 3,000 yen
reserved seating for the parade and fireworks on the last day – 7,000 yen
*Tickets are available about a month before the festival on Ticket PIA and in convenience stores.
Also known as the Pole Lantern Festival, the Akita Kanto Festival is held yearly to pray for the bountiful harvest of the five grains. The highlight of this event is the balancing of Kanto (long bamboo pole) on body parts. Each pole has paper lanterns hanging from it and they can weigh between five kilograms and 50 kilograms.
Spectators are also invited to try the challenge after the parade is over! The parade is accompanied by energetic chanting and music bands playing flutes and drums. During the daytime, there will be events held at the Agora Plaza in front of Seibu Department Store.
When: August 3 to 6, 2018 (7:00 PM to 9:00 PM)
Where: Chuo Dori (between the Sanno Jujiro Crossroads and Nichomebashi Bridge), Akita City, Akita Prefecture
Admission: free (reserved seats – 2,100 to 2,600 yen)
Another name for Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is Flower Hat Festival because of the hats donned by the parade dancers that are decorated with artificial safflowers. The actual flowers are called “benibana” and they bloom in the summer in brilliant shades of yellow and red.
The parade has more than 10,000 dancers from over a hundred groups, with each group wearing different costumes. Dancers perform a variety of dances involving the flower hats, accompanied by the sound of taiko drums. Dance teachers are also situated around the parade to teach spontaneous participants who are interested to join in the fun!
The Hanagasa Odori Grand Parade is scheduled on the final day of the festival, August 7, 2018, outside of the Yamagata City Hall.
When: August 5 to 7, 2018 (6:00 PM to 9:30 PM)
Where: From Tokamachi Corner to the front of Bunshokan Hall, Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture
Witness men and women dressed up as people from the Edo period. There will even be daimyo riding on horses in this festival! All of these are to commemorate the Shounai clan, the clan of historical feudal lords of Tsuruoka.
Shounai Taisai is also a reenactment of Shounai clan’s compliance to the sankin kotai (a policy that requires daimyo to reside in Edo for a period of time).
When: August 14 to 15, 2018
Where: Shonai Shrine, Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture
Observe shrine procession on the water in this festival! The mikoshi (portable shrine) of the deities of Shiwahiko and Shiogama will be loaded onto the dragon and phoenix boats for a ride across Matsushima Bay. Joining them in the parade are about 100 boats of various sizes decorated with colorful flags.
Besides that, like most festivals, there will be dance parades, fireworks, and food stalls!
When: July 15, 2018
Where: Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture
Okay, I know that fireworks can be found aplenty during summer in Japan, but this festival is totally different. The reason? Here, fireworks masters from all over the country come to compete for the best pyrotechnic work! While they eye for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award, why don’t we eye on their works?
When: August 25, 2018 (5:30 PM – daytime fireworks, 6:50 PM – nighttime fireworks)
Where: Omagari Omono Riverbank, Daisen City, Akita Prefecture
Admission: no reserved seat – free
chair seat – 3,000 yen
box seat – 15,000 yen or 23,000 yen
If you plan on experiencing Japan’s summer festivals this 2018, why not head to the festive region of Tohoku? Surely, Tohoku will be able to keep you busy for the entire summer!