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Tohoku summer festivals fill the northern cities with life

(Fukushima Waraji Matsuri / Image)

For the northern prefectures of Japan, summer festivals take on a special meaning.
This year, with the Great East Japan Earthquake and the lingering effects of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster, the summer festivals take on an even more symbolic meaning.
The schedule for the first week of August is filled with major events in cities from Fukushima Prefecture in the south to northern Aomori Prefecture.
(Akita Kanto Matsuri / Image)

The action kicks off Aug. 1 with the four-day Morioka Sansa Odori, where a seemingly endless procession of women wearing large flower-shaped hats elegantly dance.
The dance is said to have its origins in ancient folklore when a village celebrated after driving out a demon that had caused much suffering.
While there was talk about calling off the festivities this year out of respect for victims of the March 11 disaster, organizers decided it would be better to hold the event as a means of expressing compassion.
(Aomori Nebuta Matsuri / Image)

The festival will be a major fund-raising event for the hardest-hit communities. Organizers have also decided to invite people from the coastal areas. Lighting will be supplied by home generators to save electricity.
The Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri is a similar parade held in the capital city of Yamagata Prefecture on Aug. 5-7.
(Sendai's Tanabata Matsuri / Image)

While a relatively young event, with a history spanning around half a century, the event draws 1 million people every year. The retro charm of the city, whose streets are lined with buildings erected in various times ranging from the Edo Period to the Showa Era, is said to be one of the reasons many tourists return each summer.
During the daytime, visitors can escape the relentless summer sun and enjoy the soothing cool breeze at Sendai's Tanabata Matsuri.
(Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri / Image)

Numerous large streamers are hung from lines suspended high above the streets to create an artificial shade like giant willow trees.
Along with being colorful and appealing to the eye, whenever the wind blows, the many streamers make pleasant rustling noises that help one forget that they are in the middle of the city.
Another spectacle is the Fukushima Waraji Matsuri on Aug. 6. This event is said to have originated in the Edo Period and draws upon the practice of offering giant "waraji" straw sandals to a giant divine spirit at the Haguro Jinja shrine in Fukushima.
(Morioka Sansa Odori / Image)

The long woven straw sandal is displayed, and all around the offering, locals can be found dancing, some these days to contemporary tunes.
The most famous summer event in northern Japan is the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, which runs Aug. 2-7. Floats carrying giant bamboo and paper figures that are lit from inside like gigantic lanterns traverse the 3-kilometer course in central Aomori.

With the right garb--specially designed yukata and straw hats with tiny bells attached to them--spectators can join in the excitement dancing between the giant floats.
The Akita Kanto Matsuri, Aug. 3-6, is another must-see. This procession of lights is a bit of an acrobatic show, as paraders balance giant bamboo staffs lined with dozens of lanterns on their hands, shoulders and even their chins as they stroll around central Akita.

By TS on Aug 2, 2011
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tag : Cool Japan



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Author:T. SATOH