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The three major summer festivals in Tohoku (Aomori Nebuta Festival, Akita Kanto Festival, and Sendai

What are the Three Major Festivals in Tohoku?

Summer festivals are held all over Japan, and among them, the three major summer festivals in Tohoku are the most representative of Japan's festivals, which make the hot summer season more colorful. The first of the three major festivals in Tohoku is the Aomori Nebuta Festival, which attracts 3 million visitors every year; the second is the Akita Kanto Festival; and the third is the handmade Sasa Festival. The third is the Sendai Tanabata Festival, with its handmade bamboo branch decorations. Some of you may have longed to visit these festivals at least once, and some of you may look forward to them every year. Since these three festivals

Introduction to the Three Major Festivals of Tohoku

  • Aomori Nebuta Festival

The Aomori Nebuta Festival is held annually from August 2 to 7 in the center of Aomori City. It is said to be a variant of the Tanabata Festival's Lantern Festival, but the origin of this festival is not certain. There is a theory that the Nebuta became the "Nebuta" (a kind of lantern) when paper, bamboo and candles became popular. There are also other theories, such as that Tamuramaro Sakagami used flutes and drums to catch his enemies off guard during his conquest of Ezo (Hokkaido). The name "Nebuta" is thought to be a corruption of the word "Nemuri Nagashi," which means "sleeping" in Japanese.

The Nebuta Festival once fell into a crisis when Shigeki Hishida, who was appointed by the new Meiji government as the prefectural governor of Aomori Prefecture, issued a ban on Nebuta and other Bon dances in 1873, saying that old local customs were bad manners and that Nebuta and other Bon dances were unacceptable. It took nine years for the festival to be back in operation, and it was canceled at other times due to the war, but the strong desire of the local people to carry on the traditions of the festival has kept it alive, and in recent years it has become an increasingly important and grand festival that has gained strong support from outside the prefecture as a representative event of Aomori.

The floats, known as nebuta, have gradually grown huge over time, and are now built according to a standard of 9 meters wide, 7 meters deep, and 5 meters high, and weigh over 4 tons, including the substitute float. The lanterns, decorated with samurai and Kabuki actors, and dancers called haneto parade through the streets to the sound of "rassera" (a Japanese word meaning "rasserah"). The Nebuta are judged on a daily basis, with large Nebuta that have been in operation for at least two days between August 2 and 5 being judged. The judging is conducted by a panel of judges with a deep knowledge of Nebuta and the arts, and a general jury made up of Aomori citizens and others from the general public. On August 2 and 3, in addition to the large Nebuta, there will be a children's Nebuta for children to enjoy, and on the final day, the festival will conclude with a fireworks display as the Nebuta are carried out to sea. This scenery has been registered as a historical and cultural night view heritage in the Night View Heritage of Japan.

In recent years, Aomori Nebuta has also been dispatched overseas and to other prefectures in Japan. Aomori Nebuta has been the face of Japan at various festivals in Japan and abroad, including the Carnival in Nice, France; the Sakura Festival in Italy and Hawaii; the 70th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Sao Paulo, Brazil; Beijing, China; Okinawa and Yokohama.

  • Akita Kanto Festival

The Akita Kanto Festival is held annually from August 3 to 6 on Kanto Boulevard in Akita City, attracting an average of nearly 500,000 visitors per day. The festival is said to have originated from the "Neburi-nagashi" festival that was once held in this area during the Tanabata Festival to ward off illnesses and evil spirits in midsummer.

In 1789, Tsumura Soan's travelogue "Yuki no Furu Michi (The Road of Falling Snow)" introduced the Neburi Nagashi held on July 6 of the lunar calendar, which was already a unique custom in Akita. The original model of the Kanto Festival was recorded.

In today's Akita Kanto Festival, you can see four different sizes of Kanto lanterns: large, medium, small, and young. Each of them has 24 to 46 lanterns hanging from its pole, each 5 to 12 meters long and weighing 5 to 50 kg. The lanterns are carried with the traditional technique of shifting them to the palms of the hands, forehead, shoulders, and waist while moving down the main street with exquisite balance, said to be four parts strength and six parts skill. The reason that candle flames do not burn out when the lanterns topple over or sway violently is that there is a gap at the bottom of each lantern that allows air to pass through, and when the lanterns sway violently, wind can enter through this gap and extinguish the candle flame. The candles used in the lanterns are also known to be good luck charms for easy childbirth. It is said that the shorter the length of the candle, the shorter the time it takes to give birth, thus bringing good luck in childbirth.

Finally, the street lights along Kanto Boulevard are decorated with lanterns, and electric wires are buried underground so that they do not interfere with the raising of the lanterns on the street where the festival is held.

  • Sendai Tanabata Festival

The Sendai Tanabata Festival is held annually from August 6 to 8 in the center of Sendai City, and is a popular event that usually attracts more than 2 million visitors every year. Although the origin of the festival is not known, Masamune Date, the founder of the Sendai domain, composed eight waka poems about Tanabata, and from this it is believed that the festival existed during his time. Unlike the aforementioned Nebuta Festival in Aomori and the Kanto Festival in Akita, where the gods are sent to the rice fields, the Tanabata Festival is an event to welcome the gods of the rice fields and to pray to them for a good harvest to overcome the cold weather and bad harvests that have periodically hit the area since ancient times. The scale of the festival was once scaled down due to war and other external factors, but it has been revived, expanded, and developed with the cooperation of the local people. Today, during the festival period, not only the decorations, but also various events, a hands-on corner for making decorations, and a Tanabata Restaurant featuring Sendai's gourmet foods are popular, making it the largest Tanabata Festival in Japan and a delight for tourists visiting from all over the country every year.

Unlike the aforementioned Aomori Nebuta Festival and Akita Kanto Festival, which send out the gods, Sendai Tanabata Festival is an event to welcome the god of rice fields, and is a festival to pray to the god of rice fields for protection and assurance of a good harvest to overcome the tragic history of cold damage that has periodically struck the area since ancient times, causing a large number of deaths.

The highlight of the Sendai Tanabata Festival today is the gorgeous bamboo branch decorations that are handmade each year. The shopping streets are filled with approximately 3,000 elaborately decorated bamboo bamboos, 10-meter-long streamers, and kusudama, Tanabata ornaments, which compete in beauty and splendor to create a spectacular Sendai summer. Early in the morning of August 4, before the festival, giant bamboos more than 10 meters long are cut from the mountains, stripped of twigs, and prepared for decoration. The decorations are handmade and prepared months in advance by each store in the shopping district, and each decoration is said to cost several hundred thousand to several million yen. Each set of five blow torches will be displayed in a set, and the contents of the decorations will be kept secret until the day of the festival. Decorations are put up from around 8:00 a.m. on the morning of August 6, and each shopping district competes to see how extravagant the decorations are. In the afternoon of August 6, gold, silver, and bronze prizes are announced, and gold, silver, and bronze plaques are placed at the base of the decorations. The delicate washi paper decorations, layered in layers and blowing in the wind under clear skies, are a true summer tradition. On the other hand, they are vulnerable to rain, so when it starts to rain, the vendors rush to cover the decorations with plastic bags to keep them dry.

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