A 4-day summer festival tour, in and around Noshiro
A visit to the Shirakami Sanchi area would not be complete without a local matsuri (Japanese festival) experience! In fact, if you happen to be travelling here in August, you’re in luck, as summer is said to be the season of festivals, especially here in Akita and its neighbouring prefectures within the Tōhoku region (Northeast Japan).
Day 1 – Noshiro’s Tenku-no-Fuyajo
Revived in 2013, this modern festival was inspired by a huge lantern float modeled after the Nagoya castle depicted in a Meiji-era photograph. It showcases gigantic, colourful castle lanterns reaching up to the sky, hence the name “tenkū no fuyajō” which literally translates to “nightless castles in the sky”.
Spectators are also able to get a close up view of the Chikasue float—one of the largest lantern floats in Japan—while enjoying the lively hayashi (Japanese festival music) performance at the parade. You can also indulge in some flavourful local snacks and light bites at the yatai (food stalls) along the street if they are available this year.
Fun fact: The huge 24.1-meter Chikasue is the tallest castle lantern float in Japan!
- Schedule: 2 & 3 August 2022
- Location: Noshiro city (starting from the intersection at the City Hall entrance-Torimachi intersection), Akita prefecture (Map)
Official website: https://noshirotanabata.com/
Day 2 – Akita Kanto Festival
Stand in the midst of powerful and magnificent performances surrounded by a forest of illuminated lanterns at the Kanto festival in Akita. This famous matsuri is said to be one of the three great matsuri in Northeast Japan, along with Aomori’s Nebuta festival and Sendai’s Tanabata festival.
During the parade, watch sashite (local performers) skillfully balance 12m high kantō (bamboo poles supporting 46 lanterns), while marching along the city streets accompanied by traditional festival music. You may get the opportunity to take close up shots and even try holding a kanto during the interactive session. In addition, discover delicious Akita gourmet and various local delights at the nearby Kanto Food Stand Village and local Gourmet Festival.
Fun fact: It is said that the largest kantos have been shaped to resemble growing rice plants and each weigh around 50kg (110lbs)!
- Schedule: 3 August 2022 – 6 August 2022
- Location: Akita City (along the Kanto-Ōdōri Street), Akita prefecture (Map)
Official website: https://www.kantou.gr.jp/english/
Day 3 – Aomori Nebuta Festival
Listed as an important intangible folk cultural asset and attracting over 3 million tourists annually, this 6-day long festival is considered one of the three great festivals in Tōhoku. There are a number of theories surrounding its origin, but it is widely believed that the current Nebuta matsuri (festival) was birthed from blending the Tanabata festival from China and traditional customs of the Tsugaru region.
The parade features taiko (Japanese drums) drummers, flutists and huge, illuminated ningyo nebuta (lantern floats) with ancient mythical figures painted on them. Haneto dancers follow these floats while singing “rasserā, rasserā”. On the last day, the boat parade of the nebuta (tōrō nagashi) that coincides with the firework festival marks the grand finale of this popular local event.
Fun fact: As long as the rules are followed (prior reservation is required this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation), anyone is welcome to join in on the festivities as a haneto dancer!
- Schedule: 2 August 2022 – 7 August 2022
- Location: City center of Aomori City, Aomori prefecture (Map)
Official website: https://www.nebuta.jp/foreign/english.html
Day 4 – Sendai Tanabata Festival
A 400-year old, one-of-a-kind star festival, even among other tanabata matsuri (star festivals) in Japan, its origins date back to the era of Tōhoku’s “One Eyed Dragon”—Date Masamune. Renowned for its extraordinary elegance, the Sendai tanabata matsuri showcases vibrant decorations of washi paper and bamboo that encompass the whole city.
In addition to these colourful decorations, the festival also features attractions such as gourmet food stalls, workshops and sports activities. Since ancient times, this event has been held to overcome difficult times in history, so locals prey for protection and good harvest during the festival period.
Fun fact: This event honours the god of harvest, Ta-no-Kami, and is the largest star festival in Japan!
- Schedule: 6 August 2022 – 8 August 2022
- Location: Sendai city center shopping arcades, Miyagi prefecture (Map)
Official website: https://www.sendaitanabata.com/en
Access and places to stay
Accommodation facilities in Akita, Aomori and Sendai cities tend to get crowded and overbooked during this time of the year, so we strongly recommend that travelers consider staying in the Akita Shirakami area. You will have convenient access to festival venues in and around the area with plenty of great accommodation options as well!
Viewing seats are available for purchase in advance, and if you are lucky, on the day depending on availability. We strongly recommend visitors to book seats from now on or as early as possible—they sell out pretty fast!
For first-time visitors to Japan and for those looking for detailed guidelines about travelling to Japan in 2022, here is a helpful link to travel information provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
Reminder: Festival schedules and certain event regulations this year may be subject to changes or cancellation depending on the COVID-19 situation at the time. We advise you to check their respective official websites prior to visiting.