Kamakura festivals, often held on the day of the first full moon of a new year (around mid-February) to pray for household safety and a bumper grain harvest, are traditional events in the Tohoku region. And there is far more to the Akita Kamakura festivals than their ever-popular igloo-building activities!
Rokugo Kamakura: with a Bamboo Pole Fight!
The Rokugo district in Akita Ken’s Misato town holds a Kamakura Matsuri every February 11 to 15, featuring an array of activities such as writing down one’s wish on coloured paper, making igloos, participating in or watching a “fortune-telling” bamboo pole fight and making a bonfire to burn the wish papers. The Rokugo Kamakura Festival is a combination of a rice harvest ritual that dates back to the Yayoi period (300 BC–300 AD) and an ancient court custom of burning tenpitsu (wish paper) in a bonfire.
The festival’s highlight is on the last day, when locals participate in a bamboo pole fight and burn the tenpitsu. The pole fight can be traced back to the Edo period (1603–1867) and the result of the competition is said to reveal the fortune of the coming year’s harvest. Participants divide themselves into team North and team South and, legend has it, if team North wins, the town will be blessed with a good harvest; if team South wins, rice prices will go up due to shortage. As the fight involves an intense bonfire and the aggressive swinging of five-meter-long bamboo poles, it is considered one of the most dangerous and exciting festivals in Japan.
After two rounds (the entire fight lasts for three), the audience start to burn tenpitsu on the triangular-shaped, straw bonfire. Tradition has it that bathing in the fire’s smoke brings health and wellbeing. Also, it is said that the higher one’s tenpitsu flies in the flame, the better one’s handwriting gets by the year, resulting in better grades at school.
Misato’s Rokugo District: 10 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen) by car
Hiburi Kamakura: Swirling Balls of Fire
Akita ken’s Kakunodate is known as Tohoku’s “Little Kyoto” because many samurai residences are well preserved there, giving the town a refined, elegant atmosphere. Every February 13 to 14, the town holds a Lunar New Year celebration called Hiburi Kamakura (The Fire and Snow Festival). The event starts with participants lighting bales of straw on fire in furnances made of snow, and is followed by the burning of both tenpitsu and New Year’s decorations in a bonfire to pray for peace in the new year. The highlight of the festival is when participants grab the ends of the ropes tied to the flaming straw bales and whirl them in circular
motions around themselves. This swirling ritual of blazing fireballs, traditionally thought to ward off diseases in the new year, adds a mystical aura to the snow-covered landscape.
Kakunodate: Kakunodate Station (JR Akita Shinkansen)
In the city of Yokote in Akita Ken, two traditional snow festival events are held annually on the first full moon of the year.
Calm Snow Festival – ‘Kamakura’
The Yokote Kamakura Matsuri, held every February, has a history of 450 years, and features many igloos at various locations across the city and a burning ritual. Traditionally, in the area between the Yokote River and Yokote Castle (once a samurai residence), locals would worship the God of Kamakura by offering sake and homemade pounded rice cakes. They also burned New Year’s decorations and ropes in igloos to pray for children’s wellbeing. On the other side of the Yokote River, where commoners used to live, igloos were traditionally set up to honour the
water gods next to the communal well, which supported the lives of the locals. Today, this tradition carries on as residents set up altars to worship the gods, while children often stay in the igloos enjoying grilled rice cakes and amazake, a traditional, sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.
Yokote:20 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen Station) to Yokote Station by local train JR Ôu Line
Active Snow Festival – ‘Bonden’
Bonden, a tool representing the descent of a divine spirit, are used in Shinto rituals. In the past, bonden were wooden sticks with many zigzag-shaped paper streamers tied to them. Today, bonden have evolved into 4.3-metre-high wooden poles with round bamboo baskets measuring 90 centimetres in diameter. They are accessorized with colourful strains of cloth, zigzag paper streamers and various other decorations.
Modern bonden sometimes weigh more than 30 kilos, depending on the amount of creativity that goes into the making. During the festival season, bonden are displayed around residential areas as a prayer for safety before being carried by a group of men to Asahiokayama Shrine on February 17.
Asahiokayama Shrine: 15 min from Yokote Station (JR Ôu Line) to Ôsawa stop by bus
Yuzawa Inukko Matsuri (Dog Festival)
On the second Saturday and Sunday of February, people make snow sculptures of dogs in Akita’s Yuzawa area to thank the canines for their loyalty. The festival, with a history of 400 years, also features altars made of snow, where participants offer rice cakes in the shape of dogs.
Yuzawa: 40 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen) to Yuzawa Station by local train (JR Ôu Line )
Kento-Sai (Votive Lantern Festival)
Kanto-Sai, also known as the Candle Festival, in Nigata’s Sanjo city (famous for its cutlery production) has been held since the Edo period to pray for prosperous business and the safe travels for business owners. Visit the Sanjo Hachiman Shrine on January 14 and 15 to see gigantic candles weighing 30 to 50 kilos, with a diameter of 50 centimetres and a height of one metre!
Sanjo: Tsubamesanjô Station (JR Jôetsu Shinkansen)
Days are becoming warmer and flowers are starting to bloom, this is the perfect time to visit Saitama city and see Japanese traditional crafts and beautiful Spring scenery!
Every March, Saitama city offers several events related to Hina dolls at the town of Iwasuki as well as several places to admire the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
The town of Iwasuki in Saitama city is particularly known in the Kanto region for their Hina dolls. Lots of events are held before and after Hinamatsuri, or the Doll Festival, celebarted on March the 3rd. One of them is Machikado Hina Meguri, where you can see a beautiful parade of dolls and Taiko drums performances. During the festivities, you will be able to not just see the dolls but also try to make your own, learn to cook the local food and experience real Japanese culture. There are endless activities for you to enjoy.
Event Information The 14th Hina Doll Street Festival and the Machikado Hina Meguri Date: February 25-March12 Place: Shopping streets around the East Exit of Iwatsuki Station.
At the beginning of March, the most popular places to admire the cherry blosoms start preparations to welcome guests. This year’s blooming forecast predicts that the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom around March 25th. Due to it’s proximity to Tokyo, Saitama city offers many beautiful and unique cherry blossom landscapes visited by thousands of people every year.
Iwatsuki Joshi Park Sakura Festival (About 600 Sakura trees) Date: April 1-2 Time: 10:00-16:00 Place: Iwatsuki Joshi Park Cherry Blossoms Night Illumination Date: Mar. 19-Apr. 9 (subject to changes in cherry blooming times) Time: 18:00-21:00 Place: Iwatsuki Joshi Park Ayameike Pond
Saitama City’s famous Cherry Blossoms spots
●Omiya Park: About 1,000 cherry trees bloom from late March to early April. They are lit at night when in full bloom. Access: 20-min walk from JR Omiya St., 10-min walk from Tobu Omiya Koen St. or Kita-Omiya St.
●Saitama Stadium 2002 Every year you can admire beautiful cherry trees in full bloom just outside the stadium. Access: 15-min walk from Urawamisono St.
Nebuta Matsuri Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Aug. 2 – 7
Highlight: fireworks festival on the final day
Aomori city comes alive every summer to celebrate the Nebuta festival. Historically the festival functioned as a means of keeping harvesters awake as they worked in the fields gathering rice and other produce. As dusk approaches the parade begins and many floats feature illuminated lanterns with various designs and shapes.
Hanagasa Matsuri Yamagata City, Yamagata prefecture
Aug. 5 – 7
Highlight: different types of dances using straw flower hats
The iconic nature of the parade is the use of traditional agricultural workers hats decorated with red paper flowers that represent the beautiful safflower. The parade features all ages, with many young children dressed in traditional yukata. At the end of the festival, everyone is invited to celebrate and join in the last float, dancing the traditional hanagasa dance.
Waraji Matsuri Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Named after the traditional straw sandals for traveling, the 300-year-old festival features a huge waraji that measures 12 meters in length and weighs 2 tons. The gigantic waraji is carried in a parade by people who pray for strong walking and safe traveling before housed in a shrine.
Tanabata Matsuri Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Aug. 6 – 8
Highlight: beautiful streamers in the shopping arcades
and fireworks on Aug. 5
The main arcades all through Sendai city are adorned with beautifully hung, crafted spheres made of washi-paper and bamboo, with long streamers hanging down like celestial jelly fish. One can spend hours happily strolling through!
Kanto Matsuri Akita City, Akita Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Highlight: see participants balance 50kg lantern poles
A chorus of bamboo flutes signals the start of the festival and immediately various groups of men hoist the 12-meter bamboo poles hanging paper lanterns into the air. The Kanto festival can best be described as a performance of local groups showcasing their amazing dexterity and remarkable balancing prowess.
Sansa Matsuri Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
Aug. 1 – 4
The charm of the festival lies in a parade where taiko drummers and dancers proceed through the city. The origin can be traced back to a legend about a wicked demon. In summer evenings, locals would dress up in fancy costumes and dance and play drums to scare the demon away.
New Year is often associated with countdown parties, midnight fireworks and endless drinking. But Saitama offers more than just that. Many valuable traditions passed down for hundreds of years are still being practiced here during the holiday season. For an authentic Japanese New Year experience, head down to Saitama where a full package of celebration and positive energy awaits you!
Saitama’s New Year event calendar starts as early as December. Tokamachi, an annual open air market held on December 10, is a warm-up event of a month-long festival. At this time of the year, Musashi Ichinomiya Hikwawa Shrine and its neighboring areas are always packed with tourists and locals looking for colorfully decorated bamboo rakes called kumade to “rake in” success, wealth, fortune and happiness.
The tradition of selling and buying kumade in shrines dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). Kumade today comes in different sizes, price ranges and quality, but the rule remains the way it was hundreds of years ago: you have to get a kumade larger than the one you bought in the previous year for a bigger success.
While at Tokamachi, it’s a good idea to let your taste buds explore some mouthwatering dishes. A wide range of traditional Japanese street food ranging from sweet dumpling dango to grilled fish and fried noodles can be found here at reasonable price. With so many food choices, you definitely won’t go hungry.
On January 3 at Saitama, the Seven Lucky Gods actually come to life in a special costume parade. This is an event you don’t want to miss because it just might be your once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a picture taking with Gods and Goddesses!
Hatsumode, the first shrine or temple visit for the year, is another great way to start the New Year in Japan. Musashi Ichinomiya Hikwawa Shrine is just a 30 minute walk away from Omiya Station and thus a popular destination for hatsumode. Many people, dressed in traditional kimono, write their wishes on wooden plaques and get their fortune told by getting a scroll of white paper called omikuji.
After making a small offering, you can randomly choose an omikuji from a box. Unroll the paper to see what 2017 has in store for you. If the prediction is bad, don’t worry too much. Fold the strip of paper and tie it to a wall of metal wires to leave your bad luck behind.
The list of things to do in Saitama does not stop here. With its close proximity to Tokyo and rich history and culture, Saitama is the perfect place to spend not only the New Year holiday but weekends all year round!
Another event that will help you get into the New Year spirit is the Juninichimachi on December 12. The one-day market has been serving the community since the Meiji Period (1868-1915), attracting as many as 1,000 vendors selling amulets and traditional delicacies from the morning till late in the evening.
Juninichimachi extends from Tsuki Shrine to Kyu Nakasendo, one of the five routes connecting Tokyo and Kyoto in the Edo Period. Although the path is quite developed today, you can still follows the footstep of the 17th century haiku master Matsuo Basho and immerse in the nostalgic atmosphere.
For bunny lovers across the world, Tsuki Shrine is a must visit. Since tsuki can mean both textile and moon in Japanese, the shrine is vastly decorated with paintings and sculptures of rabbits, a messenger from the moon. Even the faucet used by worshippers for washing hands as a gesture of purification is in the form of a rabbit!
Besides getting an amulet from shrines for good luck, you can ask the deities for a year of abundance. Shichifukujin Meguri is an Edo tradition of making a short pilgrimage to seven temples and shrines during the New Year holiday. With each visit to a temple or shrine on the course, you get a red stamp. After collecting all the seven stamps on a decorative cardboard, place the cardboard in your house for happiness and prosperity in the coming year.
The pilgrimage is usually done on foot. But if walking in cold weather is not your thing or if time is not on your side, then cycling might be a good choice. Along the course are a homemade soba noodle shop and a Japanese sweets shop that has been in the business since 1864. The strawberry daifuku—a large size strawberry wrapped with red bean paste inside chewy mochi rice—is really worth dropping in for.
The application period for this event has ended. We will email the results by Nov 28. Thank you for all your submissions!
The Chichibu Night Festival, which has a history of more than 300 years, is Chichibu Shrine’s annual festival, held in December. The Gion Festival in Kyoto, the Takayama Festival in Hida, and the Chichibu Night Festival are regarded as the three greatest parade float festivals in Japan.
The festival is held on December 2 and 3, when the area is crowded with a large number of tourists. Six yatai floats shaped like small houses are paraded through the city streets.
The festival is listed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage recently. And to celebrate this memorable moment in the city’s history, participants are allowed to pull elaborately decorated Yatai floats with the locals.
Why not participate in the Chichibu Night Festival?
Date: Friday Dec 2nd, 2016 (Festival will be held, rain or shine)
Hours: 11:00 at Ikebukuro Station to 15:00 after the festival, participants are free to go.
※The event organizer will provide each participant a limited express train ticket to Seibu Chichibu Station. For going back, a regular train ticket will be provided upon arrival around 13:00. (Not a limited express train ticket)
■ We are looking for…
・Those who are OK with being photographed at the event. There will be media personnel and a cameraman.
・Those who are responsible and will not chancel at the last minute.
If you fulfill the requirements, sign up by Nov.24 using the form below. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience authentic Japanese Matsuri. Pulling the elaborately decorated festival float with the locals will be something you will treasure for a long time.
If you have any questions or technical issues with the form, please contact us via email to [email protected]
If your sign is the Rooster you’re in for a lot of celebrations this year and the next. Tori No Ichi, or bird/rooster day, is celebrated every 12 days of November. This means that depending on the year there can be 2-3 “days of the rooster” in November.
A good luck charm fair
The rooster is a symbol for good luck and successful business, they wake up early and work hard every day. This bird is enshrined at different Otori-jinja in Japan and it is here that you will find all the festivities. You can buy goods such as charms, “rakes” to “rake in” good luck and food with lucky benefits. In actuality, the shrine in Asakusa is dedicated to the Buddhist priest Nichiren who found the Nichiren sect. His statue stands on an eagle and thus received the nickname “Otori-sama” (tori = bird in Japanese).
The wide rake of bamboo to “rake in” good luck is formally called a Kumade. They are heavily decorated ornaments with symbols of good luck and fortune. You can spot maneki neki, sake bottles, five yen coins, cranes and more. It all depends on the merchant and what type of luck you want to bring inside your home. When you buy the Kumade you’re supposed to sing a short phrase together to pray for your family’s safety and success in business; kanai anzen, shobai hanjo. Read more about Kumade here
Tori No Ichi in Tokyo
Shrine: Ootori Shrine, Asakusa Dates: Nov. 11, 2016 & Nov. 23, 2016 Address: 3-18-7 Senzoku Taito-ku Tokyo Access: 20min walk from Asakusa station, 10min walk from Minowa or Hibiya station
Shrine: Hanazono Jinja, Shinjuku Dates: Nov. 11, 2016 & Nov. 23,2016 Address: 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo Access: East exit Shinjuku station
– hanazono-jinja.or.jp(Japanese only)
Last week Tokyo organized a new event called the Tokyo Edo Week to promote traditional Japanese dress. There were definitely more people out in kimono than usual and Wattention was there to catch them all on photo.
The stands were laid out like a traditional festival with places to sit in the middle. There were kimono shops, kimono photo studios (even a samurai one) and accessory shops. The highlight of the event was the main stage where performers showed tricks and kimono makers showed their latest creations.
The workshops were given in both English and Japanese, making it easy for foreigners to participate. With easy to understand instructions everyone was able to create a beautiful souvenir to take home. The ladies here are using traditional materials to make beautiful hairpins.
Guests in kimono received one of these traditional sake cups made from cypress wood. The smell of the wood was amazing and it makes for a beautiful souvenir. You could use the cup to try some of the vintage sake brought all the way from Nara. This sake is brewed with a traditional recipe, ensuring that you could drink the same sake as they did during the Edo period.
After having drunk sake from the cypress wooden cup, the smell became even stronger and sweeter.
On the main stage there was a kimono show, the miss Tokyo Edo beauty peageant and a sword demonstration. All three events were very entertaining to watch. It was very interesting to see furisode (long sleeve kimono) in one single color.
The sword show was a mix between modern dance and acted fights. It all seemed very serious at first but at the end everyone broke down in a synchronized dance. The actors looked like they were having a lot of fun on stage.
Our last stop before it became completely dark was the Kabuki experience stand. There were various masks on display showcasing all the different types of makeup a Kabuki actor can use. The choice depends on the type of role and character.
The Tokyo Edo Week was a great event to revive traditional Japanese culture. I was happy to see many happy foreigners at the event who enjoyed the food, workshops and shows. Here’s to hoping they organize a second edition next year.
The kimono is making a comeback with a modern twist and both young and old are wearing it more than ever. Tokyo wants to encourage you to try this timeless garment by organizing the Tokyo Edo Week duringSeptember 22nd～25th at Ueno Park.
The goal of this event is to show Japanese culture to the world in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The whole venue will be modeled after a street from the Edo period (1603-1868) and you can even pay in traditional Edo currency. If you don`t have a kimono to show off , you can rent one at the event. Everyone who comes dressed in kimono will get a free limited gift at almost every stand. If you bought a kimono or yukata but don’t know how to put it on, use this tutorial made by Tokyo Edo Week.
Tokyo Edo Week is the world`s biggest festival that celebrates traditional Japanese culture. Here are some of the festival`s highlights!
Go Kimono Shopping
Various kimono designers from all over Japan will be displaying their latest creations as well as recycle shops with unique vintage kimono. If you would like to know more about kitsuke (着付け), the art of kimono dressing, you can see a demonstration by one of the attending kimono schools.
If you`re not into trying a kimono yourself, you can visit one of the antique kimono exhibitions or the unique Kabuki exhibition. This interactive ICT event will be open for free to the public for the first time.
Now that you’ve completely immersed yourself in the world of kimono, it’s time to admire some traditional crafts. The Edo period was an amazing time for craftsmen as they enjoyed a relative nationwide peace at the start and were influenced by foreign crafts at the end. The result of years of perfection can be seen in crafts such as glassware, hairpins, kokeshi dolls, traditional dyeing techniques and more. Why not take home a piece of Edo?
Meet Miss Sake Tokyo
The Tokyo Edo Week includes a special appearance by none other than the real Miss Sake. Ando Yumi proved she can be Japan’s sake ambassador with both brains and beauty. Who knows, this might be the only time in your life that you get to meet a real Miss.
See Japanese Sword Arts and Plays
To top it all off, there are many amazing performers coming from all over Japan to show their talents. For those who like excitement there are samurai sword performances, a ninja show and even a DJ. If you like to have a more relaxed atmosphere, attend one of the traditional plays or comedy shows.
Enjoy Edo-style food with top class entertainment
The food stands are well equipped to give every visitor a taste of historical Japan. Try some Edo classics and Western-inspired food while listening to a shamisen, classic Japanese three-stringed instrument, performance.
Not only food, but also sake is available at the Tokyo Edo Week. Micro breweries and local sake brewers worked hard to bring you the best they have to offer.
It would take a while to sum up all of the amazing activities the Tokyo Edo Week has to offer, but we hope these highlights convinced you to visit. Check out the Edo Week website for more information.
Event Information Date: Sep 22 – 25, 2016 Hours: 11am – 8pm (22nd to 24th, last entry 7:30pm), 11am – 6pm (25th, last entry 5pm) Where: Ueno Park Takenodai Square Admission: Free (but you need to buy tickets for the food stands and the kimono exhibition). URL:https://edoweek.com
Like with hanami (flower-viewing) and yukimi onsen (snow-viewing in a hot spring) the Japanese make it a habit to sit down together and marvel at the signs of passing seasons. However, unlike hanami that can turn rather boisterous with much drinking and celebrating, tsukimi (moon-viewing) is a solemn and quiet affair. Perhaps it’s the chill of the night wind, colder now as summer dissolves into autumn. Or perhaps it’s that deep, inexplicable feeling of longing that people get while gazing at the moon’s achingly beautiful glow. Whatever the reason, enjoying the Tsukimi Festival in Japan is a wonderfully poetic experience that shouldn’t be missed!
The festival’s tradition in Japan dates back to the Heian era where it became a tradition for court nobles to celebrate tsukimi by throwing lavish banquets on boats or nearby a pond that reflects the moonlight with music performances and poem recitals dedicated to the moon. Rabbits are also a recurring theme because when Japanese people see the face of the moon, they see the shape of a rabbit pounding mochi, thus rabbits are believed to be inhabitants of the moon.
Nowadays, in most Japanese homes, people would put susuki (pampas grass) and seasonal produce, such as persimmons, chestnuts, as well as tsukimi dango (rice dumplings) in a place where the moon can be seen, as an offering to the moon as well as a sign of gratitude for a good autumn harvest.
Traditionally celebrated on the 15th of the 8th month of the old calendar, in 2016 this Jugoya (fifteenth night) falls on September 15th. This year, you will also be able to celebrate it the Heian way, with musical performances under the moonlight in Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. From gagaku (ancient imperial court music and dances), to koto performances, to piano and saxophone renditions of Japanese songs, this event is sure to delight every artistic soul.
Not all tsukimi traditions are as serious and solemn, though. Many food joints including fast food chains and udon shops provide special tsukimi menu items which are often just their regular fare with an added egg on top as the yolk resembles the shape of a full moon.
And as expected for the land of kawaii, the Japanese will pounce on any excuse to prettify their food with cute bunnies.
Consider us moonstruck!
Sankei-en Garden Moon-viewing Event
Dates: Sep. 15 – 19, 2016
Hours: 6:15 – 8:15pm
Location: 58-1, Honmoku Sannotani, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Access: 10-min bus ride from JR Negishi Station