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att. Culture - Festival (Matsuri)
att. Culture - Festival (Matsuri)
att.JAPAN Issue 12, June 2003

Festival (Matsuri)


Of all of Japan's traditions, the matsuri, or festival, is by far the most colorful, and lively. They vary from region to region and are as diverse as fish in area

 Japan's traditional festivals, or matsuri, are like none other on earth
Festivals, especially ancient ones (as those involving omikuji, small to massive floats carried by a large number of people) make magic happen as this introverted and meek society, through regular beats, rhythmic dancing, and chanting, creates a chaotic realm that has been known to participants through the entire existence of this culture. No two matsuri are exactly the same; they are often drastically different, each having their own unique elements and overall quality. Like cheese and sake, location is the factor by which they are different. In this edition we have compiled some of the most famous matsuri by date from all over Japan. Most matsuri are in the summer. They are a must see, whether its your first time or your 99th.

 Ayame Matsuri
Ayame Matsuri5/31~6/29 (Sawara City, Chiba Prefecture), Summer Festival 7/11~7/13, Autumn Festival 10/10~10/12
Suigo Sawara is actually two festivals separated by the late summer season. The primary gathering takes place in Chiba's Sawara City, at Yasaka Jinja (or Yasaka Shrine). It takes place in the 'Eastern Region' of Sawara that has since ancient times been referred to as Honjuku (the autumn festival is held in the western region known as 'Shinjuku,' not to be confused with the location in Tokyo). Suigo Sawara is also called Gion Matsuri locally. It is known to be one of the three most prevailing festivals in the Kanto region. The purpose of the festival is to calm evil gods that dwell in the summer season. Ten floats are each mounted with attractive dolls portraying famous or mythological figures in Japan's history, plus less colorful dolls made in animal shapes. The dolls attract the attention of the evil spirits and are paraded around town accompanied by special music called Sawara Bayashi. There is another celebration in Sawara City before the Sawara floats go on parade: the Ayame Matsuri (Iris Festival) starts much earlier - May 31st to the 29th of June. Enjoy the fields of iris throughout the riverbanks of the city.

 Yosakoi Soran Matsuri
Yosakoi Soran Matsuri6/4~6/8 (Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture)
Although this festival has been celebrated for a mere 12 years, it has now come to be recognized all over Japan and is the most lively event in the Sapporo City summer season. Held from June 4th to the 8th, this festival was created by one Hokkaido University student and is still put together by students; no other festival to this day is done like this. Sapporo's Yosakoi is a fusion of other Yosakoi concepts from Shikoku, and Hokkaido's native songs known as 'Soran Bushi.' It has recently had a group of Australian participants. Communication regardless of language difference is the main theme of this festival, and it includes colorful costumes, music and dance. The festival is big and still growing. In this way it has come to benefit tourism to Sapporo.

 Hakata Gion Yamagasa
Hakata Gion Yamagasa7/1~7/15 (Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture)
The main event at the Hakata Gion Yamagasa is the Oiyama, a race of eight floats that weigh up to a ton. The race is started in early morning at 4:59 AM on July 15th. The floats are raced on a 5-kilometer course from Kushida Shrine, Hakata, Fukuoka. Each are hauled by about 30 men as fast as they can. This is an exciting festival that started in 1241, for similar reasons to the Gion in Kyoto. When the floats aren't being raced, they are paraded. There are also fancied up stationary floats for decoration only (kazari yamagasa) found in 13 locations throughout the city.

 Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Matsuri
Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata Matsuri7/3~7/7(Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture)
From July 3rd to the 7th, aside from small-scale celebrations in public, households, and all levels of school throughout Japan, the Tanabata Matsuri is most famous in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa among other places such as Sendai. The Hiratsuka celebration is by no means small-scale. Last year over 3 million viewers came from all over the country. Tanabata Matsuri is based on a Chinese legend that spread to and caught on throughout Asia. As the story goes, the emperor of the Milky Way disapproved his daughter, Vega (Orihime, in the Eastern MilkyWay) to marry her handsome lover Altair (Hikoboshi, from the West). But out of regret for making his daughter so sad, he permitted the lovers to meet for just one night each year, July 7th. Along with the story, green bamboo - poles, branches, leaves and all - are displayed throughout places of celebration. Color paper with prayers and wishes written on them are tied to the branches, for on this night it is said that all wishes will be granted.

 Gion Matsuri
Gion Matsuri7/1~7/31 (Kyoto)
Considered to be among Japan's top three most popular matsuri, the Gion Matsuri was founded as far back as 869, when Japan was struck by a miserable plague. The Emperor, on top of sending people to pray for the wellness of the nation, ordered one hoko, or spear-like double-headed axe, for each of the then 66 provinces in Japan be erected on the Yasaka Jinja Shrine precincts as a guard against the plague, and for floats decorated with sacred symbols to proceed through town. Several floats, some bearing the same sickness preventing spears, have been paraded around Kyoto ever since. The present number of floats is at 32 and some weigh in at up to 12 or 13 tons. Sure enough, with the first few floats to come rolling can be seen those with giant spear decorations. The festivities are held throughout the entire month of July from the 1st till the 31st, but the real show is during the night of the 15th, the Yoiyoiyama, and the night of the 16th, the Yoiyama; also all day on the 17th, at the Yamahoko Junko. This is when all of the 32 floats are hauled around town. Each float is themed after a special historic story. During the evening on the 17th, 500 men carry 3 mikoshi (mini temples hauled on poles), that represent the three gods of Yasaka Jinja. The purpose of the Gion is to please gods and men for mutual benefit.

 Iriya Asagao-Ichi
Iriya Asagao-Ichi7/6~7/8 (Iriya, Tokyo)
Asagao means morning glory, a flower that blooms in and is representative of the summer season in Japan. The suffix ~ichi is usually attached to events or gatherings that originally started as open markets, competitions, auctions, fairs or still remain as such today. Asagao, as such is thought to have started as a competition between gardeners to see which could grow the finest morning glory. It remains today to symbolize the summer season, and each year millions of plants are sold in just two days.

 Hozuki-Ichi
Hozuki-Ichi7/9~7/10 (Asakusa, Tokyo)
Similar to Asagao-ichi, but is centered around the hozuki, or Chinese lantern plant, (a close relative to the tomatillo or ground cherry of Central and South America). This festival is said to have started when the berries found inside the lantern- looking pouch where found to be a solve- all wonder medicine. Strange though, this use of the plant does not seem to exist still in Japan.

 Tenjin Matsuri
Tenjin Matsuri7/24~25 (Osaka)
Another of Japan's 3 most- significant festival, the Tenjin is an amphibious parade of boats and floats throughout what is known as Japan's water capital, Osaka. In contrast to the water is the theme of fire. The procession starts at Temmangu Shrine. Nighttime scenery includes boats afloat in river and fireworks that paint the deep black sky. They take your mind away from the suffocating summer heat; cooling and refreshing the senses.

The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution
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