Tohoku’s Biggest Summer Festivals You Don’t Want to Miss!

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Tohoku region comprises of prefectures like Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, and Fukushima. During summer months, Tohoku will organize the best jaw-dropping festivals you will ever attend. Most of the festivals are held in August from 1st until the 7th. Be prepared to witness some of the amazing processions followed with loud bangs and a myriad of visitors. Make sure you head over to Tohoku this summer to experience the lively festivals. These are the lists of Tohoku’s summer festivals:

Aomori Nebuta Festival (Aomori Prefecture)

Aomori Nebuta Festival is possibly one of the most long-awaited festivals when summer kicks in. This year, the festival will be held from 2nd to 7th August. Throughout the festival, you will see gigantic lantern floats swarming the streets. The lantern floats are made from washi (Japanese papers), wires, and bamboo frames which took almost a year to complete the design and construction. Most of the figures you see on the lantern floats were inspired by historical figures, Kabuki characters, the depiction of gods and also Japanese mythical creatures. It is said that this festival was initiated by General Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro where he asked his army to create scary creatures out of cloth and bamboo to frighten the enemies.

Image Source: Rosino on Flickr.

These floats can stretch up to 15 to 30 feet tall and require strong manpower to move it across towns, every night. For the first two days, you will see smaller lantern floats on the streets, which belong to children. However, starting 4th until 7th August, all the big lantern floats will come out to be paraded. Each of the floats is led by Taiko drummers, dancers, and musicians. This festival is extremely loud, so it’s not a surprise if you come to be partially deaf after the night ends.

Image Source: Tohoku Japan.

On the last day, all the lantern floats will be placed on boats to parade around Aomori harbour and they will end the event with a two-hour fireworks display. Annually, around 3 million visitors will attend this festival just to witness the extravagant lantern floats.

Aomori Nebuta Festival

Festival Period: 2nd-7th August

Festival Time: 7:10PM-9:00PM (2nd-6th August), 1:00PM-3:00PM & 7:15PM-9:00PM (7th August)

Closest Train Station: JR Aomori Station

Akita Kanto Festival (Akita Prefecture)

This is the only festival where you get to see performers show off their incredible strength and skills to balance 46 lit up lanterns, hanging on a 12 meters tall bamboo pole. Also, one bamboo stick can weigh up to 50 kg! Everyone will watch these performers with full anticipation with hope that none of the bamboo sticks will fall.

Image Source: Oh! Matsuri.

Akita Kanto Festival is held for three nights from 3rd to 6th August in the streets of Akita city. There are over 250 bamboo poles brought on the street. When the signal is given out, all of the bamboo poles need to be raised all at one time, followed by chants and music. During this parade, the performers will put on impressive tricks to balance the poles on their shoulders, head, and even waist. The parade runs for 90 minutes along a one-kilometre street.

One of the performers showing off his skill. Image Source: Japan Travel.

With a history of over 270 years ago, Akita Kanto Festival was initially held to fight off evil spirits and wish for a good harvest. After the parade, visitors can take photos with the performers and try to hold the bamboo poles.

Akita Kanto Festival

Festival Time: 7:25PM-9:00PM

Festival Period: 3rd-6th August

Closest Train Station: Akita Station

Morioka Sansa Odori Festival (Iwate Prefecture))

Received Guinness World Record of being the biggest drum festival in the world, Morioka Sansa Odori Festival is a popular festival celebrated in Iwate. The origin of the festival goes back to a legend of Oni no Tegata. A deity of Mitsuishi Shrine helped the people in Morioka to ward off an Oni (demon) that caused disturbance around the city. The villagers were very happy and danced for nights while singing and chanting ‘Sansa’, which leads to the birth of the ‘Sansa Dance’.

Image Source: Morioka-Hachimantai.

The festival boasts 10,000 Taiko drummers, musicians, and dancers led by Miss Sansa Odori, which has been chosen among the locals. After they are done parading, they will ask the crowd to join dancing and as such. Morioka Sansa Odori Festival will be organized from 1st until 4th August in Chuodori, attracting 1.4 million visitors, annually.

Morioka Sansa Odori Festival

Festival Period: 1st – 4th August

Festival Time: 6:00PM until late

Closest Train Station: JR Morioka Station

Fukushima Waraji Festival (Fukushima Prefecture)

Also known as ‘Straw Sandal Festival’, 100 people will carry an enormous waraji (traditional Japanese straw sandal) with a length of 12 meters and 2 tons of weight through the streets. It is said that this festival is to honour Haguro Shrine, thus becoming the symbol of Fukushima. The reason they carry the heavy waraji is to symbolise safe travel to travellers.

Image Source: Diversity-Finder.

In total, there are three main events you should look out for. The first event is the Waraji Folk. This is where people will dance to the rhythm of Heisei Waraji Ondo, a traditional song for Straw Sandal Festival. By night, the second event, Dancing Soda Night is for people to dance in a hip-hop style. Lastly, each team will carry a huge straw sandal and compete to the finish line. This third event is called Waraji Race.

Waraji Race. Image Source: Japan Travel by Navitime.

The event draws over 250,000 visitors yearly. This year marks Fukushima Waraji’s 50th anniversary, therefore, they will be bringing a famous Japanese musician, Otomo Yoshihide to perform during the event. If you are a fan, make sure you head to Fukushima this August.

Fukushima Waraji Festival

Festival Period: 2nd-4th August 2019

Closest Train Station: Fukushima Station

Yamagata Hanagasa Festival (Yamagata Prefecture)

Held every year since 1964, Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is one of the biggest summer festivals that you must not miss! 10,000 dancers will parade the streets of Yamagata in their traditional attire while carrying a hanagasa, a straw hat embellished with artificial safflowers.

Image Source: All About Japan.

Hanagasa Festival is usually held from 5th to 7th August and over 1 million visitors will flood the city to witness the event. The most anticipating performance is the Hanagasa Dance where the dancers will dance in a synchronised motion while singing “Yassho, Makasho”.

After the parade, you can participate in the dance routine where both genders will have their very own dance moves taught by the instructors. For female, the dance is called Kunpu Mogamigawa, meanwhile, Zao Gyoko is for men. This dance will be performed in front of Yamagata City Hall.

Image Source: Glogster.

 Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

Festival Period: 5th – 7th August

Closest Train Station: JR Yamagata Station


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