The Kizuna Spring Festivals of The Tohoku Region
The Kizuna Festival is a traveling festival held annually in northern Japan. This year, it will be held in Fukushima from June 1st to June 2nd.
Back in 2011 after the Great Earthquake and Tsunami, everyone in the Tohoku region of Japan came together to renew their land and their spirit by creating “Tohoku Rokkonsai (Six Festivals).” Tohoku Rokkonsai sewed together the six prefectures into one breakthrough event, touring around the region to celebrate all of their summer festivals. The spirit of this event has carried through to the Tohoku Kizuna Festival. “Kizuna” means “bonding,” so if you can only visit Tohoku for a short time this spring, it’s the perfect way to maximize your experience and feel truly connected to Japan. Typically these festivals are held in early August so the Kizuna Festival gives you an early annual sneak peek to enjoy them all in one place. You will get to see what makes every area so unique and yet how they all share an unbreakable bond with each other.
Tanabata Festival (Sendai)
Lining the entrance when you arrive are hanging bamboo poles decorated with lanterns of flowing prayer paper, honoring the Sendai Tanabata Festival. Also known as the star festival, Tanabata has been held since the time of Sendai’s Date Masamune and celebrates the myth of two star-crossed lovers, the princess Orihime and cow farmer Hikoboshi, who crossed the whole Milky Way galaxy to be together for just one night. Every year, people cast their wishes for passing grades, family health, or (much like Orihime) love.
Sansa Odori Festival (Morioka)
The rest of the festivals are most easily enjoyed altogether through the street parade. For instance, last year, Kizuna was held in Morioka and showcased the region’s famous Sansa Odori (dancing) Festival with beautiful bright costumes and taiko drummers creating the heartbeat of the parade.
The festival derives from the legend of the god of Mitsuishi Shrine who drove an evil creature out from the land. Drummers invite people to see their Guinness World Record winning drum parade and dance with them in their “waodori” dance circle.
Hanagasa Festival (Yamagata)
Dancing to the beat of lively and strong drummers and enchanting the crowd with chants of “yassho, makasho!,” the beautiful dancers of the Hanagasa Festival bloom for the crowd with the festival’s namesake “hanagasa” bamboo hats adorned with vibrant red flowers.
Nebuta Festival (Aomori)
Coming down from the very northernmost prefecture of the Tohoku region, Aomori brings you the Nebuta Festival. This festival features massive lantern floats inspired by old Japanese stories as well as modern movies. Similar to the “neburi nagashi” mentioned below, it was originally held to ward away bad spirits and disease. It also is known as the transformation of lanterns from a previously mentioned festival, the Tanabata Festival. Behold giant nebuta exploding with color and surrounded by dancers and musicians preparing the nebuta’s mythical dive into the battle foray.
Nebuta Festival Official Website (Japanese)
Waraji Festival (Fukushima)
As this year’s host of the Kizuna Festival, Fukushima brings an amazing performance to the table. The Waraji Festival descended from “akatsuki mairi” and has been celebrated since the Edo period. A vivacious singer tops one of Japan’s largest straw sandals, carried by dozens of parade walkers, also wearing the straw sandals that inspired the festival’s name as a symbol of strength and good health. This impressive platform reaches up to 12 meters (39 feet) long and is trailed by amazing dancers of both traditional Japanese and modern hip hop styles.
Waraji Festival Official Website (Japanese)
Kanto Festival (Akita)
This event originated as a cleansing ritual known as “neburi nagashi” to ward away the diseases and evil spirits of the summer. The height of these lantern masts can reach a staggering 12 meters (39 feet) high as skilled performers carefully balance and stack bamboo extensions further and further into the sky.
Experience Fukushima at the Kizuna Festival
The Kizuna Festival also features food and souvenirs unique to each region, such as local craft beers and the opportunity to eat local dishes. For instance, last year in Morioka, “jajamen” was a popular option for tourists. This year in Fukushima, one dish to look out for is “mihari somen,” Fukushima’s version of “nagashi somen” or “flowing noodles.” At nagashi somen events, this dish consists of rice noodles and toppings that have flowed down a bamboo shoot with cool water, perfect to enjoy during the warming weather.
For sightseeing in the area, there’s Nakano Fudoson, a bright red temple decorated with detailed sculptures. Afterward, you can relax in the Iizaka Onsen, which holds Sabakoyu, one of Japan’s oldest bathhouses.
Since Fukushima is the southernmost region of Tohoku and therefore the closest to Tokyo, this year’s Kizuna Festival offers you the chance to experience all of Tohoku in one day without traveling too far from the rest of the big cities of the main island.
Visit Fukushima’s main website for location, transportation, parking, and scheduling information. Fukushima Official Website.