Colorful Summer Festivals in the Tohoku Region

Though summers are short in the Tohoku region, the festivals make the season more colorful. Check out local festivals to learn about local passion and experience the atmosphere for yourself.

Don't only watch summer festivals, participate as a dancer in them as well! Here we will introduce how to enjoy the summer festivals of the Tohoku region, their origins, and their significance.

[Aomori Prefecture] Aomori Nebuta Festival

The Aomori Nebuta Festival is held every year from August 2nd to 7th. The Aomori Nebuta, a large float that weighs approximately 4 tons, is paraded through the center of Aomori City with a musical accompaniment, the chanting of "Rassera, Rassera, Rassera", and energetic dancers known as "Haneto". The 5-meter-high, 9-meter-long Nebuta float is as tall as a two-story building. The massive, multicolored lanterns that are paraded through the city are truly a sight to behold.

In addition to the large-scale Nebuta, on the 2nd and 3rd, "Children's Nebuta" are created by the local town council and children's groups and brought to life. On the night of the 7th, the final day of the festival, the winning Nebutas will be taken through Aomori Port for the "Nebuta Marine Run".

Participate in the Nebuta Festival

Join in the Nebuta Festival as a dancer for an even more fun and memorable time. In Aomori City, there are several stores where you can buy or rent dancers' costumes. Put on the costume and join the waiting Nebuta group before it starts to be paraded. Once you are dressed and in the circle, you will be greeted with a "Rassera! Rassera!" with one foot twice then the other foot twice, dancing to the rhythm. It's a special feeling to participate in the excitement of the festival.


Enjoy the Nebuta Festival even more with "WA RASSE"! (Nebuta Museum)

The best place to visit during the Nebuta Festival is the Nebuta Museum "WA RASSE", only a one-minute walk from Aomori Station. Many large Nebuta floats are on display, and the history of the Nebuta Festival, its evolution, and production techniques are all explained here, allowing you to enjoy the festival even more. Buy goods for the festival here, and if you are lucky, you can try your hand at being a dancer, or making a goldfish Nebuta.

[Iwate Prefecture] Morioka Sansa Odori Festival

The Morioka Sansa Odori Festival is a four-day festival held every year from August 1st, featuring the sounds of taiko drums and spectacular dances. With the call "Sakkora Choiwayasse", about 12,000 drums are beaten, and about 20,000 dancers, including Miss Sansa Odori, and the general public parade and dance through the center of Morioka City. On the final day, the world's largest taiko parade, which achieved the world record for simultaneous taiko performances, is held to enliven the summer evenings in Morioka.
(Image courtesy of Morioka Sansa Odori Executive Committee)

Take Part in the Sansa Odori

You can do more than just watch the Morioka Sansa Odori, but also participate as a dancer in it. During the festival, practice sessions for tourists and beginners are held every day, so you can learn the dance and participate in the parade as part of a ring. The word "sakkora" in the call of the Sansa Odori means "happiness comes to you" when written in kanji characters. Take part in this dance to truly feel the sound of the taiko drums and the energy of the festival.
(Image courtesy of Morioka Sansa Odori Executive Committee)

[Miyagi Prefecture] Sendai Tanabata Festival (Star Festival)

The Sendai Tanabata Festival is held every year from August 6th to 8th, where the streets are filled with colorful decorations made from bamboo and Japanese washi paper. The history of the Sendai Tanabata Festival dates back to the time of Lord Date Masamune, but it wasn't until the early Showa period (1926-1989) that the streets were filled with the decorations we see today. Every year over several months, each store prepares its own unique decorations. Then on the morning of the festival, all of the stores' unique decorations, filled with their own ideas and wishes, are displayed for everyone to see.

Wishes in the Tanabata Decorations

The decorations that adorn the Sendai Tanabata Festival are made up of seven kinds of small items called "Nanatsukazari". Each of the small items, such as the "kinchaku" (a cloth for prosperity), the "origami crane" (a paper crane for family safety, health and longevity), and the "paper robe" (a paper robe for good health and safety), contain the deepest thoughts and wishes of the person that made it. (*Tanzaku (strips of paper) represent the improvement of learning and calligraphy, cast nets represent good fishing and harvest, waste baskets represent cleanliness and prosperity, and the streamers represent the weaving of Princess Orihime.)

During the festival, you can also make your own Tanabata decoration. Try your hand at making your own Tanabata decoration and write down your own wishes to make them come true. 


Zuihōden Tanabata Night

Zuihōden is a mausoleum dedicated to Date Masamune, the founder of the Sendai clan. During the Sendai Tanabata Festival, the main shrine is lit up with 1,200 bamboo lanterns on its 70 stone steps and the area around the mausoleum. Enjoy a fantastic summer night away from the city lights.

[Akita Prefecture] Akita Kantō Festival

About 280 lanterns light up the summer nights of Akita during the Akita Kantō Festival, held every year from August 3rd to 6th. The entire Kantō is made to look like ears of rice and the lanterns are made to look like rice bales to pray for a good harvest.

The Kantō lanterns, which sway in the air, are about 12 meters high and weigh about 50 kilograms. The skill of the "Sashite", who carries the Kantō in the palm of their hand, on their forehead, shoulder, or waist, is truly a masterful performance that has to be seen. Along with the crowd shouting "Dokkoi sho! Dokkoi sho!", the Sashite hold up these large Kantō lanterns toward the night sky. The beauty of the Kantō, which look like ears of rice floating in the night sky, and the skill of the Sashite, will take your breath away.

The Craftsmanship Behind the Kantō Festival

The "Sashite" performers balance the 12-meter high, 50-kg tall, Kantō lanterns in their hands, on their shoulders, forehead, and waist. The skill of the Sashite is the result of their daily training. During the festival, the "Kantō Myōgikai" is held to improve the skills of the Sashite, and the traditional skills that have been handed down from generation to generation are passed on through friendly competition and improvement.

[Yamagata Prefecture] Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is held every year from August 5th to 7th. More than 10,000 dancers parade down the main street of Yamagata City, dancing to the folk song "Hanagasa Ondo", accompanied by the shouts of "Yasshou, Makasho" and  Hanagasa taiko drums. Dancers wear traditional hats (kasa) decorated with red flowers (hana), hence the name Hanagasa. Seeing large groups of dancers in gorgeous kimonos dance in unison, the Hanagasa hats dynamically sway, and buidling up excitement.

Participate in the Hanagasa Festival

There are two chances to participate in the Hanagasa Festival. There is the "Ring Dance Corner" held in front of Yamagata City Hall, the parade's goal, at around 6:00 p.m., the same location when the Hanagasa Festival begins. There is also a "Jump-in Corner" at the end of the parade at around 8:30 p.m.

When participating in the ring dance or wanting to jump in, you will be given a simple hanagasa (flower hat), or you can use a fan as a hat to dance with. There will be a dance instructor standing by in the middle of the circle so its no problem for first-timers. Watch and imitate the instructor and you will soon be dancing away. 

[Fukushima Prefecture] Soma Nomaoi

The "Soma Nomaoi" is a Shinto ritual that originated over 1,000 years ago and is held every year from Saturday to Monday in the last week of July. The main festival, held on Sunday, begins with a procession of armored warriors parading through the streets. This is followed by an "armored horse race" in which 10 horses compete around a 1,000-meter lap under an ancestral flag; and a "battle for the sacred flag", in which hundreds of horses battle for two sacred flags.

Gallant armored soldiers parade through the city on horseback. Hear the thundering sound and energy of the soldiers and their armored horses galloping through the wind. There is also a battle for the sacred flag, as if the prestige of the region were on the line.

Straight out of a picture scroll of the Warring States period (1467-1615), come and experience this festival as if you were transported back in time.

The Origin of Soma Nomaoi and Ancestral Armor

Soma Nomaoi is said to have originated from the military training of the Taira no Masakado, a samurai of the Heian period (764-1185). The festival has continued for more than 1,000 years to the present day and evokes a feeling of historical romance.
The armor worn by the brave horsemen is made and repaired by one of the few armor makers in Japan. Roughly 10,000 pieces of armor are made by hand, including smithing, carving, lacquering, and dyeing. When you visit the festival, take the opportunity to check out these ancestral armors and helmets.

[Niigata Prefecture] Nagaoka Fireworks Festival Show

The Nagaoka Festival Fireworks Display is held every year from August 1st to 3rd. It is one of the three major fireworks festivals in Japan and attracts nationwide attention. About 20,000 fireworks are launched over the two days of the festival.

The origins of the Nagaoka Festival lie in the air raid on Nagaoka that occurred on August 1st, 1945, just before the end of the war. The Nagaoka Festival, which started one year after the air raid, is a memorial to the raid's victims, a prayer for recovery from the 2004 Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake, and a prayer for world peace.

Feelings Behind the Nagaoka Fireworks

The "Phoenix Fireworks to Pray for Recovery" was launched in the aftermath of the 2004 Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake to pray for recovery. The 1.7km-long starmine fireworks represent the town's strong desire to "revive like a phoenix" and conveys a sense of gratitude for the support received during the earthquake.
The "shōsanshakudama" (three 30-cm fireworks launched simultaneously) is one of the largest in Japan with a diameter of 650 meters. The first fireworks, white in color, represent a "memorial" for local wartime victims, the second group of fireworks is made up of several smaller fireworks and represents "reconstruction", and the third, which hangs down to the ground, represents the wish for "peace".

  • [Aomori Prefecture] Aomori Nebuta Festival
  • [Iwate Prefecture] Morioka Sansa Odori Festival
  • [Miyagi Prefecture] Sendai Tanabata Festival (Star Festival)
  • [Akita Prefecture] Akita Kantō Festival
  • [Yamagata Prefecture] Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
  • [Fukushima Prefecture] Soma Nomaoi
  • [Niigata Prefecture] Nagaoka Fireworks Festival Show

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