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Chichibu Yomatsuri (Night Festival), held on December 2 and 3, is an annual event of the Chichibu Shrine. Six flamboyant floats: four Yatai and two Kasaboko, hit the streets to light up both the winter nights and the hearts of people enjoying it. Each float needs about 200 people to carry it, and the sight of them synchronizing their movements to the beats of the taiko drums will counter the cold weather with excitement!
The festival started over 350 years ago and developed into one of Japan's biggest festivals featuring traditional floats. On top of the parade, the fireworks sparkling in the clear winter sky, the vivid colors of the bright bonbori and chochin lights, and kabuki plays performed on a float add to the charm of the festival. Feel the festive ambience and see what has united the community for centuries.
Believed to have more than 780 years of tradition, Hakata Gion Yamakasa brings the first heat of the year to Fukuoka's summer. From July 1 to 15, 13-meter-tall decorative floats called Kazari Yamakasa captivate millions of people every year. The first nine days are called the 'still' period, in which a total of 13 Kazari Yamakasa floats are displayed across Fukuoka City, providing opportunities to take a close look at the traditional work of art. The dolls found on Yamakasa are crafted by Hakata doll makers and have different themes - sometimes even pop culture such as anime.
From the 10th, the dynamic side of the festival begins; spirited participants carry the large Kaki Yamakasa floats, weighing about a ton (1,000kg) each, and start hitting the streets. The climax, the Oi Yamakasa, is when seven of the Kaki Yamakasa floats and one Kazari Yamakasa float gather to race for the Kushida Shrine, where crowds of the kakite (float carriers) and spectators become the biggest yet united by sharing and enjoying the dashing moment.
Counted as one of Kyoto's three biggest festivals, the Aoi Matsuri Festival is famous for its impressive historical parade. More than 500 people dressed up in various historical clothings make up a glorious procession to replicate the look and feel of the Heian period (794-1185). The festival's origin is believed to date back to the mid-6th century when a ritual was conducted by order of the emperor of the time wishing for the severe drought to end. It is said to have brought a good harvest and peace, and has been performed ever since.
The procession itself stretches as long as one kilometer, and it sets off from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, stops at the Shimogamo Shrine, and continues again to the Kamigamo Shrine. If you want to immerse further in the Heian spirit, there are rituals that you can see between the walks, and some historical demonstration events performed a few days before too. Travel back in time in Kyoto to get a glimpse of what Japan looked like 1,500 years ago.
Tatsukuri Festival is one of Aso City's traditional agricultural rituals known for various unique practices with millennia-long histories. Held at the Aso Shrine, it is the wedding ceremony of the shrine's deity and is believed to bring good harvest to the year.
While many ceremonial events take place in private, the Hifuri Shinji, the torch-waving ritual, is a public presentation during the seven-day festival. Bundles of grass will be ignited, and local people gathering along the path to the shrine will swing ropes with the fire at the ends. The mesmerizing sight of the flames dancing in the tranquil darkness is truly a sight to behold.
Note: The Romon gate, a designated Important Cultural Property, is currently under restoration due to damage by earthquake. The restoration work is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
Akita, one of the snowiest prefectures in Japan, welcomes you with cozy snow huts and warm hospitality. The Yokote Kamakura Festival started as a folk tradition where people prayed to a water deity for the protection of families, good harvests, and business success. As time went by, together with the growth of tourism, it evolved into the large-scale famous winter festival it is today.
About 80 Kamakura snow huts are built and open to visitors for two days. Children will greet and invite you in for a hot amazake, a traditional sweet drink made from rice, and grilled rice cakes to savor while you chat with the locals. You can also find the enchanting scenery of miniature Kamakura displays; thousands of tiny snow houses with candles inside will fill the venue, looking like the milky way glistening in the night sky. The weather may be cold, but many warm experiences are sure to make your heart melt!
The Gozan Okuribi, also known as the Daimonji festival, sparkles in the summer night of Kyoto. The name translates to bonfires on five mountains, referring to the five big bonfires in the shapes of kanji characters and simple symbols that are set up on five different mountains and hills for the festival.
The fires are part of the Bon festival - a Buddhist summer custom that believes the spirits of ancestors are visiting this world. After a few days of welcoming the spirits at home, people light the fires as a send-off ceremony. As the giant symbol burns at a distance, participants send thoughts and prayers to loved ones who have passed on. Even though it is a religious event deeply rooted in local families, the majestic fire flaming in the dark will definitely leave an unforgettable impression for all festival goers.
The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, one of the four major summer festivals in Tohoku, is held annually in Yamagata City for three days from August 5 to 7. The Flower Hat Folk Song, Hanagasa Ondo, and the heroic Hanagasa taiko drums are played while a large group of dancers parades through the city's main streets.
The parade route stretches from Tokamachi to Bunshokan for about 1.2 kilometers, filled with about 14,000 dancers and one million spectators. As the name "hanagasa" suggests, the dancers wear hats adorned with orange safflowers, the prefectural flower. They are also dressed up in vibrant costumes and move to the rhythmic beat of taiko drums and the upbeat tunes of Hanagasa Ondo while simultaneously waving their hanagasa hats.
The largest celebration in Shimonoseki City is the Shimonoseki Bakan Festival, which is held in August and attracts more than 400,000 people. The “Heike Odori and Heike Odori So Odori Festival” held on the second day of the festival is believed to have started as a dance performed in remembrance of the Heike clan members.
Gaining popularity across Japan, the “Heike Odori” is presented by over 5,000 dancers during the festival. You can feel the power of the taiko drums rhythm and charm of the dance just by watching it, but the best way to experience it is to be a part of the dance and allow yourself to move naturally with the rhythm of the music and other participants.
The Hyuga Hyottoko Summer Festival started in 1984 and has since grown to become one of Miyazaki's representative festivals. The festival is held in Hyuga City every year, on the first Saturday in August. It features dancers from all over Japan, performing with masks like the Hyottoko (man with puckered lips), Okame (smiling woman with red cheeks), and Kitsune (fox), which draws people with its lively expression.
The dance is full of humor, as the dancers move their hips to the upbeat rhythm of the bells, drums, and flutes. The jolly dance and music will most certainly make you want to join the party!
Every year on the fourth Saturday of September, spectators with fox-like face paint and costumes crowd the streets of Hida Furukawa during the Hida Furukawa Fox Fire Festival. Most that participate look forward to the main event of the festival, the reenacting of the Kitsune no Yomeiri or Fox’s Wedding, based on ancient folklore of the region. The procession begins from Mikura Inari Shrine and passes solemnly through the streets of Furukawa.
This wedding is said to bring the witnesses blessings such as good harvest, household safety, and a prosperous business. You will feel like you have stumbled into another universe with the flashing lights from lanterns and the crowds of people marching in the procession of the fox brides. In addition to the fox bride wearing a white kimono, the procession also features women wearing black tomesode kimonos, which, when mixed with the fox's makeup, create an mystical atmosphere.
Sprint to achieve the best luck of the year at Kaimon Shinji Fukuotoko Erabi! On the 10th of January, during the Toka Ebisu, an annual event of Nishinomiya Shrine, the Aka-mon (red gate) is opened at six in the morning, and the first three visitors to reach the main building, which is 230 meters away, are named the year's "Fukuotoko," or lucky men deemed for good fortune. From among the first 1,500 individuals in line, the first 108 and the 150 people following them are chosen by lottery, while the people behind them are open to the general public
This ritual, also known as the “Choosing of the Lucky Man Gate Opening Ritual,” is thought to have originated during the Edo period (1603-1867) as a practice specific to the shrine. Although the festival uses the term “otoko” meaning men, it is open to attendees of all genders, and the first 5,000 visitors of the day will also receive a commemorative gift.
The annual Sendai Great Tug-of-War is held in Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture, on September 22, the day before the fall equinox. The festival, one of the biggest tug-of-war competitions in Japan, uses a rope that is 365 meters long and weighs around 7 tons (approximately 7,000kg)! The giant rope is created by weaving 365 single ropes into one giant rope, which takes more than half a day to complete with 1,500 individuals working together.
In a dramatic tug of war, more than 3,000 shirtless men pull the rope as the "oshi-tai," or men who push off the opposite team, fiercely collide with one another in the middle. According to history, the event got its origins as a way for Japanese warriors to boost morale during the Battle of Sekigahara.
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