As I wrote in an earlier post in October, hubby and I went to see Tohoku Rokkonsai Festival in Akita City on 30th May. Tohoku Rokkonsai Festival means ‘Six Soul Festival’, and showcases northern Japan’s six major summer festivals gathering at the same place as one festival. The festival was created in 2011 to recover the spirit and boost the morale of the Tohoku region people after the earthquake, Tsunami, and related devastating events of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The festival provides an opportunity to feel the power of the reconstructed Tohoku region and look forward to the future. The festival also provides a way of celebrating the culture of Tohoku region and captures the essence of the representative festivals of the region all at once.
Tohoku Rokkonsai Festival has now become established as one of the greatest annual events wishing for the restoration of the Tohoku region as the years go by. Tohoku Rokkonsai Festival combines the key festivals from the six prefectures of the Tohoku region. The main event of the festival is a parade of floats, dancers, musicians, and other performers featuring the snippets of the major summer festivals from each of the six prefectures. The six major festivals are Aomori Nebuta Festival of Aomori prefecture, Kanto Festival of Akita prefecture, Morioka Sansa Odori Festival of Iwate prefecture, Hanagasa Festival of Yamagata prefecture, Sendai Tanabata Festival of Miyagi prefecture, and Waraji Festival of Fukushima prefecture. I will write in details about each festival later in this post. Each year the festival is hosted by a different capital city of the six Tohoku prefectures. The first inaugural festival was held in Sendai City in 2011, followed by Morioka City in 2012, Fukushima City in 2013, and Yamagata City in 2014. This year it was held for the fifth consecutive year and was held in Akita City. It was held for two days on 30th and 31st May. The theme of this year’s festival was ‘Kagayake’ or ‘Shine’.
Hubby and I went to see Tohoku Rokkonsai Festival on 30th May, which was the first day of the two-day festival. As stated in the previous paragraph, the biggest draw of the festival was a parade featuring the snippets of the major summer festivals from each of the six prefectures of the Tohoku region. On the day we visited the festival site, the parade was held in the evening at about 4.30 pm. However there were many events scheduled throughout the day. Earlier in the day we saw a wonderful aerobatic demonstration by the Blue Impulse team about which I have written a blog post earlier in the month of October. We saw the fantastic aerobatic performance while relaxing at a food plaza site. At about 4.15 pm, we left the food plaza and started walking along a road. After about 20 minutes of walking, we reached a main street named Sanno Odori located in the heart of Akita City. This main street was the parade site of the festival.
On reaching the parade site of Tohoku Rokkonsai Festival, we saw a huge crowd of people waiting on either side of the main street. We got a place to stand on one side of the street, and waited for the parade to begin. Right in front of us, we saw a vivid float and many dancers of Aomori Nebuta Festival (details later in this post) waiting for their turn in the parade show. We were waiting eagerly for the parade to begin but even after about 20 minutes of waiting, the Nebuta float and the dancers did not move at all. Then we realized that we were standing towards the end of the starting point and the Nebuta Festival was the last in the queue of the parade. The parade had already begun and other festivals were moving away from us. So we hurried and walked further along the way and reached somewhere at the mid-point of the course of the parade. Afterwards we realized that we missed seeing the parade of the summer festivals of two prefectures. But we enjoyed the parade of the remaining festivals.
I am standing near the end of the starting point of the parade. Nebuta float is seen in the background.
Hundreds of dancers of Aomori Nebuta Festival waiting in the queue for their turn in the parade show
The costume of the dancers is so colorful and vivid
A few dancers in colorful costume
The first summer festival we saw at the parade was from Miyagi prefecture. Sendai Tanabata Festival is an annual festival that is held from August 6 to August 8 in Sendai City. The festival is considered to be one of the top three festivals of the Tohoku region. This beautiful summer festival is also known as the Star Festival and is characterized by thousands of colorful streamers made of bamboo and brightly colored Washi paper. These streamers are about 3-5 meters long and hang overheard in central and downtown Sendai shopping districts and brighten up the atmosphere of entire Sendai City. Earlier in the day we had seen a superb exhibition of many colorful streamers hanging from the glass ceiling of Nakakouji Arcade near Akita Railway Station about which I have written in an earlier post in October. However such streamers were not shown in the parade. Instead, there was another festival named Sendai Suzume Odori that was shown in the parade. Suzume Odori is a folk dance held in mid-May during Aoba Festival. Suzume Odori is also known as sparrow dance because it is based upon the fluttering and skipping movements of the Eurasian tree sparrow. It is said that the origin of Suzume Odori is the dance by the stonemasons at the celebration feast of the newly-built Sendai Castle about 400 years ago. We really loved seeing Suzume Odori dance by a group of dancers who energetically danced with colorful paper fans in both hands.
Many colorful streamers of Sendai Tanabata Festival hanging from the glass ceiling of Nakakouji Arcade (reposted from an earlier blog post from October)
A group of dancers performing Sendai Suzume Odori dance
Another photo of the dance
Enlarged view of the dance where colorful paper fans in both hands of the dancers can be clearly seen
The next summer festival we saw at the parade was Waraji Festival of Fukushima prefecture. Waraji Festival is a two day festival held in the beginning of August in Fukushima City. The festival is named after its enormous straw sandal known as Waraji. The sandal is made up of straw ropes and has a length of 12 meters and a weight of 2000 kilograms. It is the largest straw sandal in all of Japan. Since ancient times one such Waraji sandal is offered to Ashio Jinja Shrine located inside the precincts of Haguro Jinja Shrine on Mount Shinobu at a festival called Shinobu Sanzan Akatsuki Mairi held every year in the month of February. Waraji Festival is based on this older festival and was started in 1970. Since then every year another Waraji sandal is offered at the Waraji Festival held in August while people pray for strong walking and safe traveling, and recently for the welfare of their families and good business. Along with the offering ritual, Waraji parades, reggae-like Waraji dance, hip-hop dancing ‘soda’ night, and Waraji races are also held at the festival. We really loved the parade featuring a huge Waraji sandal carried by many participating people. We also loved seeing the elegant walk of several ladies in pink Kimono collectively called ‘Miss Peach’. These ladies publicize the peaches of Fukushima prefecture. In addition, a group of female dancers danced energetically. It was so much fun.
Waraji Festival parade
A huge Waraji straw sandal carried by many participating people
Front portion of the Waraji sandal
Heel side of the sandal
‘Miss Peach’ in pink Kimono
A group of female dancers
The next summer festival we saw at the parade was Aomori Nebuta Festival of Aomori prefecture. Aomori Nebuta Festival is an annual festival that is held from August 2 to August 7 in Aomori City. This festival is considered to be one of the top three festivals of the Tohoku region and is often referred to as the most colorful festival of Japan. The festival features enormous and gorgeous lantern floats shaped after famous historical and mythological Japanese characters or warrior-figures. Such floats are constructed of painted Washi paper over a wire frame, and have lanterns inside. The floats are huge and can be up to nine meter wide, five meters tall, and seven meters deep. 22 such colorful floats are paraded through the night time streets at the center of Aomori City. Each float is flanked by hundreds of dancers called Haneto who wear unique traditional colorful costume and dance around the float to the sounds of traditional music. The snippets of Aomori Nebuta Festival at the parade were really very interesting. First we saw hundreds of Haneto dancers merrily dancing to the sounds of festival music and chanting ‘Rassera Rassera’. The dancers were followed by Taiko drums and many musicians played traditional music. Finally a huge vivid colorful float pulled by about 50 people paraded along the street. It was a wonderfully spectacular sight to behold. We loved seeing the float and the dancers very much.
Haneto dancers in colorful costume
The dancers merrily dancing to the sounds of festival music
Taiko drums and flutes
The colorful Nebuta float
The backside of the float
After Aomori Nebuta Festival, we saw a parade of Kanto Festival of Akita prefecture. Kanto Festival is an annual summer festival that is held from August 3 to August 6 in Akita City. This festival is considered to be one of the top three festivals of the Tohoku region. Kanto means a pole lantern. As the name suggests, a Kanto consists of many candle-lit paper lanterns suspended from a bamboo frame that is topped with a Gohei, and symbolizes the golden ears of rice. Kanto poles of four different sizes measuring 12, 9, 7, and 5 meters in length, weighing 50, 30, 15, and 5 kilograms, and having 46, 46, 24, and 24 paper lanterns, respectively, are used at the festival. We enjoyed seeing the snippets of Kanto Festival at the parade. Various performing groups carrying huge Kanto poles paraded along the street accompanied with Taiko drum beating performances and the playing of bamboo flutes. We were enthralled to see the tremendously skilled performers balance the Kanto, without gripping the poles, on different parts of their bodies, like the palms of their hands, foreheads, shoulders, or lower backs. It was so much fun.
Parade of many Kanto poles
Kanto poles with paper lanterns
A performer balancing a Kanto pole on the palm of his hand
The official parade wrapped up after the parade of Akita Kanto Festival. As mentioned earlier, initially we were standing towards the end of the starting point of the parade route and so we missed seeing two parades namely Morioka Sansa Odori Festival of Iwate prefecture and Hanagasa Festival of Yamagata prefecture. However, all of the performers danced back along the parade route, which was a great chance to see everyone again, and also see the parade of the two festivals we missed. We moved to a much better position, and waited for the parade performers to return. It was really nice to once again see all the dance performers of various festivals. Everyone was so happy and it was fabulous. The return parade was led by the leaders of all the six summer festivals of the Tohoku region. This was followed by the parade of the Nebuta float of Aomori prefecture and three young women chosen as ‘Miss Nebuta’ this year. Next, hundreds of Haneto dancers of Nebuta Festival merrily danced along the parade route. These dancers wearing colorful costume made the atmosphere so festive and happy. In between the Haneto dancers, we saw many dancers of Hanagasa Festival and Morioka Sansa Odori Festival.
Return parade led by the leaders of all the six summer festivals of the Tohoku region
‘Miss Nebuta’ of Aomori prefecture
Front side of Nebuta float
Back side of Nebuta float
Parade of Haneto dancers of Nebuta Festival along with many dancers of Hanagasa Festival (1) and Morioka Sansa Odori Festival (2)
And the parade of mostly Haneto dancers along with the dancers of Hanagasa Festival and Morioka Sansa Odori Festival continues
Taiko drums of Nebuta Festival
And yet again the parade continues with festive mood all around
Now I will write about Hanagasa Festival. We had missed seeing the snippets of this summer festival earlier during the official parade. But we saw many of the dancers of this festival during the return parade. Hanagasa Festival is an annual festival that is held from August 5 to August 7 in Yamagata City of Yamagata prefecture. This festival was first held in 1964, and so it is a relatively new festival. A Hanagasa is a hat decorated with artificial flowers. Dancers wearing the same costume per group and holding Hanagasa hats adorned with artificial safflowers parade through the main street of Yamagata City. About 100 groups having a total of 10000 dancers participate in this dance. The exuberant unique shouts of 'Yassho Makkasho' by the dancers and the spirited beat of Taiko drums enhance the merry mood of the festival. We loved watching the snippets of this festival during the return parade. It was wonderful to see the elegantly dressed troops of dancers waving their safflower-decorated hats during the parade.
A few dancers (in pink) of Hanagasa Festival during the return parade
The dancers waving the Hanagasa hats
Next we saw the parade of Waraji Festival of Fukushima prefecture return along the parade route. We once again enjoyed seeing the enormous Waraji straw sandal carried by many participating people. We also saw a group of female dancers dancing energetically along the route. There was festive mood all around.
A group of female dancers
Front portion of Waraji sandal
Waraji sandal carried by many participating people
Heel side of the sandal
Return parade of Waraji Festival was perfect and enjoyable
The next summer festival we saw during the return parade was Morioka Sansa Odori Festival of Iwate prefecture. We had missed seeing the snippets of this festival also earlier during the official parade. Morioka Sansa Odori Festival is an annual festival that is held from August 1 to August 4 in Morioka City of Morioka prefecture. It is a traditional dance festival held to celebrate the banishing of a demon. The legend has it that a wicked demon was being punished by the god of Mitsuishi Shrine. The god made the demon swear that he would never do bad deeds again, and as a sign of his pledge, the demon placed his hand on a large rock leaving a hand print. The locals rejoiced, dancing around the rock and thus originated the Sansa dance. Over 10000 Taiko drummers, flutists, and dancers parade through the city in the largest Taiko drum festival of the world. We loved seeing the snippets of Sansa Odori Festival during the return parade. The parade was visually and aurally stimulating. It was interesting to see all the participants wearing colorful costumes dance while marching, even those playing instruments. It was really amazing to see the Taiko drum players, each holding a large drum weighing about 6-7 kilograms, effortlessly dance in the parade.
A few dancers of Morioka Sansa Odori Festival during the return parade
Taiko drummers dancing while holding and playing the drums
Flutists, Taiko drummers, and dancers dancing along the return parade route
Each Taiko drum is about 50 centimeters in diameter and weighs about 5-6 kilograms
And the return parade of Sansa Odori Festival continues
A few more Taiko drummers
Next we saw many more Haneto dancers of Aomori Nebuta Festival along the return parade route. This was followed by the dancers of Sendai Suzume Odori Festival of Miyagi prefecture dancing along the route.
A cheerful Haneto dancer
Several dancers of Sendai Suzume Odori Festival
Finally there was a return parade of Akita Kanto Festival along the parade route. Initially there were Taiko drum-beating performances and the playing of bamboo flutes. This was followed by various performing groups carrying huge Kanto poles and parading along the return route. As it was getting dark, the paper lanterns suspended from the bamboo frame of the Kanto poles were brightly lit. Many such Kanto poles with candle-lit paper lanterns made for a brilliant sight along the route and it felt as if we were surrounded by a sea of candle-lit lanterns. Once again, we enjoyed seeing the skilled performers balance the Kanto, without gripping the poles, on different parts of their bodies.
Taiko drum-beating performance and playing of bamboo flutes
Many brightly lit Kanto poles along the return parade route
Yet another view of the Kanto poles along the return parade route
Many candle-lit paper lanterns suspended from a Kanto pole which a skilled performer is trying to balance on his forehead
Another performer trying to balance a Kanto pole on his forehead
Yet another performer balancing a Kanto pole on his forehead
The return parade of Akita Kanto Festival continued for almost half an hour. Dusk was approaching, and so after enjoying the snippets of this festival for some time, we left the main site of the parade and started walking back towards the car parking area where we had parked our car in the morning. While walking, we again saw the vivid colorful Nebuta float which looked gorgeous as the lanterns inside the float were now illuminated during dusk. It became a spectacular sight as darkness deepened.
Spectacular brightly lit Nebuta float during dusk
Side view of the float
Back side of the float
We enjoyed viewing the parade of the Tohoku Rokkonsai Festival in Akita City. We made many memorable memories that day.