What better way to celebrate the joy of summer than to make the most of the traditional summer festival we have in Japan! Tohoku is a hub for festivals in August, it’s the place to be.
Aomori Nebuta Festival, Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, Akita Kanto Festival, Omagari Fireworks Festival – this is just the tip of the iceberg! Tohoku celebrates summer in so many ways, from floats to dances, to enormous lanterns and colorful streamers, it’s not to be missed. Many of the places in this article are easily accessible from the many Village House apartments in Tohoku! Be sure to check out our listings if you are interested in being a part of the community of these festivals!
Aomori Nebuta Festival
From the 2nd to the 7th of August, Aomori comes to life with the Nebuta Festival. The main feature of the festival is the nebuta; they’re large floats made to resemble warrior dolls. The warrior doll floats are based on traditional Japanese mythology, kabuki characters, or even NHK TV characters, and they’re constructed out of painted washi paper.
The floats are paraded alongside taiko drums, musicians, and dancers each night during the Nebuta Festival. The dancers are called Haneto and there are tens of thousands of them. They perform a dance that resembles skipping and chant “rassera, rassera”, which is derived from the phrase “to serve” when serving snacks and sake.
On the final day of Nebuta Festival the floats are taken out in the afternoon instead. A firework display is held on the evening of the 7th whilst the floats are taken out to sea at Aomori Port. This tradition is believed to have come from the Tanabata festival in the Nara period, where stone lanterns called “nebuta” were released in rivers. Even to this day, traces of this tradition are still alive.
Festival period: 2-7 August.
Closest station: JR Aomori Station. From here it’s a 10-minute walk to the main area.
Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is held every year for three days from the 5th to the 7th of August. It’s a spectacular dancing parade involving over 10,000 dancers, with each group dressed in their own colorful costumes. The ‘hanagasa’ in Yamagata Hanagasa Festival refers to a headpiece made out of straw that is decorated with artificial orange safflowers, the symbol of Yamagata Prefecture.
The hats carried by the dancers are the unique display of Yamagata Hanagasa Festival and they’re often incorporated into the diverse dance routines. The dance is led by Hanagasataiko drums and chanting.
At the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, visitors have the chance of joining in with some of the dances at the back of the procession where instructors guide beginners on some simple gestures and movements.
Festival period: 5-7 August.
Closest station: JR Yamagata Station. From here it’s a 10-minute walk to the main festival area.
Sendai Tanabata Matsuri
Sendai Tanabata Matsuri falls from the 6th to the 8th of August. Though the Star Festival is celebrated across Japan on the 7th, the best place to be to enjoy the celebrations is Sendai. During the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, the city becomes illuminated with endless streets of colorful decorations. Tanabata decorations like fukinagashi, and paper streamers, are draped around all public areas, converting the city into a whole new dreamy, and exciting place.
You’ll also be able to find plenty of tanzaku at the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, which is small strips of colored paper with peoples’ wishes written on them. These are tried to bamboo trees and branches in the hope that they will then come true. These wishes were originally only requests for academics and calligraphy, but now everyone is free to write down their own wishes.
The best way to enjoy the festival is by taking your camera and strolling down the streets, taking in the colorful decorations and reading people’s wishes. Don’t forget to think long and hard about your own wishes and tie them in the hope that they come true too!
Festival period: 6-8 August.
Closest station: JR Sendai Station (Namboku Line).
Akita Kanto Festival
Each year, from the 3rd to the 6th of August, the nights are colorfully illuminated at the Akita Kanto Festival. The main feature of the festival is the kanto, enormous structures said to resemble rice plants full of rice pods. The kanto are made from tall bamboo poles, decorated with abundant candle-lit paper lanterns. They can reach heights of up to 12 meters in height and can weigh up to 50 kilograms!
The Akita Kanto Festival is held to wish for a plentiful harvest. These gigantic towers of lanterns certainly represent an abundant harvest, and watching the strength and skill used by those holding up the lanterns is truly impressive.
People flock to the festival at night to see the sight of the structures and the competitive performances where shashite, the performers, balance the kanto on various parts of their body.
If you want to learn more about the Akita area before your trip, please check out our Akita Local Area Guide.
Festival period: 3-6 August.
Closest station: JR Akita Station. From here it is a 15-minute walk to the Akita Kanto Festival.
Omagari Fireworks Festival
Omagari Fireworks Festival, also known as the Omagari Hanabi National Fireworks Competition, is one of the most impressive fireworks displays you’ll see in Japan. Held yearly on the last Saturday of August, it is not to be missed!
Pyrotechnicians from across the country compete at the Omagari Fireworks Festival to put on the best fireworks display. Winners are awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize. Omagari Fireworks Festival has been running for over 100 years and growing; now you can expect to see around 18,000 fireworks.
There are four firework categories in the competition – this even includes daytime fireworks, so don’t head down too late or you’ll miss these!
Festival period: last Saturday of August.
Closest station: Omagari Station. From here it is a 30-minute walk to the venue so travel by car or bus may be easier, but please be aware that there are limited car parking spaces.
Get yourself down to some of these magical ceremonies and celebrations. You may end up falling in love with the area after attending some of these festivals so here’s a link if you want to check out our variety of Village House rental apartments in Tohoku! Happy summer!