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att. Japanese Culture - Summer Festivals in Japan
att. Culture - Summer Festivals in Japan
att.JAPAN Issue 29, July 2006

Summer Festivals in Japan

MapJapan is home to a great many festivals. Various types of festival are held at numerous places around the country each and every season and especially so during summertime which features the "Tanabata Matsuri," signaling the beginning of summer, the "Bon Festival" in mid-summer, and the "Tsukimi (full moon viewing festival)" at the end of summer.

 Hanawa Bayashi
Hanawa, Kazuno City is located between Lake Towada and Hachimantai which together make up the Towada Hachimantai National Park. Music is dedicated to the annual festival of Sakiwai Inari Shrine in the suburbs of Hanawa and is known as Hanawa Bayashi.

The festival commences with fireworks at 5.30pm on August 15th as 10 floats start parading around 10 towns simultaneously to the sounds of accompanying music. Local youths shout cheerfully and beat their drums with all their might. At 7.50pm, the majestic floats enter the square in front of Kazunohanawa Station on the JR Hanawa line one by one, to the welcoming noise of a great cheer and loud applause. The floats lie in a straight line and performers show-off their own town's special dance and favorite songs. The town is filled with light and the sounds of the brilliant floats and their sounds. This powerful performance and the majestic beauty of the floats are the highlights of the festival.

Asazume, held at Inamura Bridge and Masugata around 2am, is the climax of the festival and is based on a pair of floats bumping into each other to start the musical fight all over again. All of the floats gather on the bridge and parade in the dark. To see the Hanawa Bayashi, you have to be prepared to stay up all night.
Kazuno City, Akita / August 19th - 20th, 2006

Nishimonai Bon Odori Nishimonai Bon Odori
There are many local bon odori dances all over Japan in the summer. This dance used to be performed to welcome back the spirits of a family's ancestors from the other world and to calm the newer spirits. According to the old lunar calendar, the main day of Bon (July 15th) was a day on which a full moon would appear and the bon odori used to be performed nightlong in the moonlight.

The Nishimonai Bon Odori first appeared some 700-years ago. As dusk falls, the rhythmical sounds of drums start to appear on the breeze and children first start dancing at 7.30pm. Adult dancers in traditional costumes join the dance around 9pm and as the night advances, the number of dancers increases and the street is at its liveliest around 10pm. Bonfires are built at both ends of the street and dancers dance in a large circle. Their faces are hidden behind black masks or amigasa (braided hats) and this 'twist' creates both a mysterious and fascinating atmosphere not to be forgotten.

The lively and dynamic sights and sounds of this elegant and beautiful dance mysteriously seem to fall into step as dancers move around in their "hanui" costumes or indigo dyed yukata. The "Hanui" costume is made of colorful silk fabric scraps, patched together in an interesting final design. The main characteristic of this particular dance is that all dancers dance in perfect coordination. As it is said that if you practice this dance once a month, it will take 3-years to master the elegant and complicated movements reminiscent of a noh performance, this version of the bon odori is a performance for viewing rather than for participating in.
Ugomachi, Akita / August 16th - 18th, 2006

Yamaage Matsuri Yamaage Matsuri
Yamaage Matsuri is a dynamic performance of outdoor kabuki and is performed on an asphalt road reflecting the midsummer sunlight. Approximately 150 youths quickly build a kabuki stage with "yama" (backdrops), a main stage and a runway. The yama is made of bamboo and traditional Japanese paper; the largest being 10m in height and 8m wide. The main stage is built in front of an audience and a wave board, a bridge, a house, a cloud, a smaller yama and a large yama are placed behind the main stage to give perspective to the set. The distance from the main stage to the yama furthest away can be as much as 100m. The width of the road is limited but the length, thus depth, is not. Because of its subsequently incredible depth, the set creates a unique effect on plays that cannot be achieved in standard theaters indoors.
When musicians start playing the shamisen, young local female dancers appear to dance as young men change the backdrops to suit the dance. After the performance, they quickly break up the set, carry all necessary parts to the next locale and re-build.
Nasukarasuyama City, Tochigi / July 21st Ð 23rd, 2006

 Kiriko Matsuri
The Kiriko Matsuri are a collection of summer festivals held at more than 100 places around the Noto Peninsula from early July to mid-September. Majestic kiriko lanterns, accompanying portable shrines, are carried throughout the towns all night long. A 'kiriko' is a kiriko-toro lantern and is a solid long, vertical yet rectangular, lantern. The kiriko work to create a solemn atmosphere as they are swung in the night sky.
Ishikawa / between early July and mid September

Abare MatsuriAbare Matsuri
Abare Matsuri is the first kiriko festival held each year. The highlight involves some 50 kiriko made of plain wood swinging at the port square on the first day in a shower of sparks and embers.
Noto-cho / July 2nd - 3rd, 2006

Koiji Himatsuri
A pair of kiriko parade in the sea at night in Uchiura-cho as fireworks explode above. Large torches on Bentenjima Island are also lit up and the local youngsters swing their own smaller torches stuck to bamboo poles to add to the overall display.
Uchiura-cho / July 27th, 2006

Issaki Hoto Matsuri
The Issaki Hoto Matsuri involves 6 majestic kiriko, each between 12 and 13 meters in height and weighing 2 tons each, that need 100 carriers each to move them. The groups demonstrate an excellent level of control and technique as they show all comers how well they can carry and move their own kiriko. When the kiriko is lit up, pictures of warriors and huge calligraphic letters, emerge in all their glory.
Nanao City / August 5th, 2006

Wajima Taisai
The highlight of this event is a ritual using natural torches on the first day. The kiriko parade through the town eventually gathers the participants at the beach where huge torches are lit so they and the luxurious Wajima-nuri lacquered kiriko can stand side-by-side.
Wajima City / August 23rd - 25th, 2006

Gujo Odori Gujo Odori
Hachimancho, Gujo City is a castle town and is famous as the home of the Gujo Odori. The town is still full of the old atmosphere of the Edo period and creates a great backdrop for the dance. The Gujo Odori dance festival is held for 32 nights between mid-July and early September every year and for four days (August 13th to the 16th), the Tetsuya Odori, (all night dancing), is extremely exciting. The sounds of music and geta (wooden clogs) reverberate through the hills along with sounds of the river-night in and night out during the height of summer. The dance only ends at sunrise and it is as if people are enjoying the short summer even at night.

The dances performed are based on 10 different dances that originated in the Edo period (1603-1867) with each dance consisting of simple body movements and the swinging of the hands. By dancing, visitors can feel the atmosphere and enjoy the event much more than if they just sit and watch. All the dances, each around 20 minutes in length, are open to visitors regardless of dress. In reality, many people enjoy dancing in Western-style clothing. Members of the preservation association of the Gujo Odori and dancing experts usually dance at the center of the circle; visitors are advised to follow and imitate these men and women.
Gujo City, Gifu / July 15th - September 9th, 2006
All night dancing: August 13th - 16th, 2006

Owari Tsushima Tenno Matsuri Owari Tsushima Tenno Matsuri
The Owari Tsushima Tennno Matsuri is one of the three major river festivals of Japan. It is an annual festival at Tsushima Shrine with a history stretching back some 500 years. Famous warlords in Japanese history such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, both born in the Owari clan during the feudal period are said to have witnessed this festival.

Box seats are prepared on the banks of the Tenno River, and on the river, crowds of barges and pleasure boats await the start of the festival. At 6pm, a nagauta (traditional Japanese song) performance starts to raise the mood and is accompanied by shamisen and kaguradaiko drums. The lanterns of 5 "makiwara-bune" boats floating on the river are lit up at 7pm, and the "Yoi-Matsuri" (night festival) starts thereafter. As the makiwara-bune slowly cruise along the river, accompanied by sound from the Tsushimabue flute, the moving surface of the river reflects the lanterns' flickering and these reflections only serve to emphasize the beauty of the makiwara-bune as the night wears on.

Through the night, the lanterns on the makiwara-bune are removed and the makiwara-bune becomes a "danjiri-bune" boat. The next morning, audiences can see the danjiri-bune topped in a float decorated with elegant sculptures and gorgeous curtains. A noh doll is placed under the high peaked roof of the float. 6 of the danjiri-bune cruise the river to music during the Asa Matsuri (morning festival) as 10 individuals on the first boat dive into the river carrying a "nuno-hoko" (a halberd made of cloth) and swim for shore, where they then break into a run that will take them to the shrine.
Tsushima City, Aichi / July 22nd - 23rd, 2006

Nachi no Himatsuri Nachi no Himatsuri
The southeastern part of the Kii Peninsula, located at the southernmost tip of the Japanese mainland, is called Kumano and has been worshiped as a sacred site for a long long time. Nachi no Otaki, a vast waterfall 133m in height has been worshiped as a god since the earliest times. Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine is located on Mount Nachi and the Nachi no Himatsuri fire festival is an annual shrine event. A fire ritual using torches, the festival starts at 10am when children are the first to dedicate their dancing to the shrine.
The "Ohi" (fire) ceremony starts around 2pm and sees a dozen red "ougi-mikoshi" (portable shrines with deified fans) descend the stone steps from the waterfall, to be welcomed and purified in a huge blaze created by the torches. The torches are made of hinoki (Japanese cypress) and weigh 50kg. Carriers in white demonstrate their strength by carrying each torch up and down the gloomy stone steps several times. The torches and illuminated ougi-mikoshi with the backdrop of these stone steps in a Japanese cedar forest almost dark even in the afternoon are the climax of the festival and attract audiences from far and wide in a semi-spiritual atmosphere.
Nachi Katsuura-cho, Wakayama / July 14th, 2006

Awa Odori Awa Odori
The Awa Odori has a 400-year history and is known as the greatest bon odori festival in Japan in terms of size and the number of participants. Accompanied by the sounds of gongs, drums and numerous shamisen, everyone dances to the thumping and swinging rhythm of this southern Japanese town. The dance starts at 6pm and continues till 10.30pm at several places around the center of Tokushima City. Red and yellow lanterns at the venues are illuminated in the evening. The women's dance is soft and the men's dance more dynamic. As the rhythm of the sounds becomes quicker, the movements of the dancers becomes wilder and the all round level of excitement reaches its climax.

Participating in the dance is much more interesting than just watching. A "Ren" is the unit of (human) participation in the Awa Odori and usually consists of between 30 and 500 people who live in the same town or are associated through friendship. More than 900 'ren' participate in this four day festival each year. Visitors can easily join the "niwaka-ren," which is reserved for visitors, and can present their performance to the crowds after taking lessons and completing a rehearsal. The Awa Odori is one of the most jovial of dances in Japan.
Tokushima City, Tokushima / August 12th - 15th, 2006

Yamaga Tourou Matsuri Yamaga Tourou Matsuri
The Yamaga Tourou Matsuri starts on August 15th, when lanterns, shaped in the form of famous shrines and castles, are dedicated and displayed in many places around town. In Yamaga, all the products made of Japanese paper and glue are called "Yamaga Tourou lanterns" and even if they are not designed to be illuminated, they are still called lanterns. No wood or metal parts or fittings are used.
The Yamaga Tourou was originally a votive offering to Omiya Shrine and still involves festivities such as a dance by 1000 dancers - all donning smaller golden lanterns, that forms the main event and is known as the "Sennin Tourou Odori (a lantern dance by 1000 dancers)" in which 1000 women, in unison and wearing the said lanterns illuminated, dance in yukata and red obi. The dance itself is several circles thick and is very interesting to watch as the lantern lights flicker above the heads of the dancers.Not so complicated, the dance is made up of slow, easy, yet fluid movements and the simplicity emphasizes the elegant and fascinating atmosphere of this festival. The dancing lanterns themselves remind many visitors of large, swinging chrysanthemums. The "Sennin Tourou Odori" is held in Yamaga Elementary School's ground twice on August 16th - at 6.45 and 9.20pm.
Yamaga City, Kumamoto / August 15th - 16th, 2006

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