Saturday, March 17, 2012

Three Great Festivals of Tohoku

Summer in Japan is humidly hot, especially on the main island of Honshu, but it is during this season where there are tons of festivals about. Thus on my overland journey from Hokkaido (which is really pleasant for sightseeing in summer) back to Tokyo, I managed to catch the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku - Aomori's Nebuta Matsuri, Akita's Kanto Matsuri and Sendai's Tanabata.

Aomori's Nebuta Matsuri is held from August 2-7, and consists of a parade of music and dances, with the highlight being the huge graphic lantern floats. These paper lantern floats are fantastically detailed, depicting the gods and demons of Japanese/Chinese culture. They are mounted on a huge wheeled platform, and pushed and spun about by a contingent of energetic enthusiastic men. These floats supposedly take a year to design and build, and looking at the artistry, it's not hard to believe!

Akita's Kanto Matsuri is held from August 3-6. The highlight of the festival is the balancing of kanto - bamboo poles adorned with paper lanterns. The performers do that sequentially using 4 methods - on the palm, forehead, shoulder, and hip... all using one hand! During the day, competitions are held with teams and individual events, accompanied by drums and music. During the night parade, the streets are lined with these kantos, and the lanterns lighted with real candles. On a single signal, all the kantos are hoisted up and a mass display of skill occurs. Amazing sight!

There are many Tanabata festivals in Japan, but Sendai's one of the biggest and most famous. Also known as Star festival, it is based on the Chinese legend about the cowherd and weaver girl which is held on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. However, due to calendar differences, different Tanabata festivals are held on July as well as August. Sendai's Tanabata is held on August 6-8. Basically, the whole city's shopping streets and arcades will be decorated by these long paper streamers, designed and made by just about any local organisation (schools, shops, communities, groups etc). Aside from these decorations though, this festival appears relatively uninteresting as compared to the other two. There are, of course, performances, music & dances and various points in the city.

There are lots more other festivals scattered across the country, and the most wonderful aspect of the festivities is that, everyone turns up in their traditional attire, and seeing all those kids all dressed up really makes them soooooo kawaii!! :)

Aside from the heat, it's great fun!!

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