Every year, there are numerous summer festivals in Japan, from Hokkaido all the way to Okinawa, each with its unique theme and tradition. For example, praying for a good harvest and harmony within the family or celebrating summer through dancing by the whole community. The Magazine 26 production crew was invited to the Tohoku region in Japan again to explore the cultrure and heritage of these festivals, the co-existence of tradition and new trends, and how these festivals are related to the economy as well as livelihood of the locals. A 2-part special Japan Tohoku series will be aired on Sept 22nd and 29th on Talentvision.

The Tohoku region of Japan comprises of 6 prefectures in the northern t part of Honshu and they are: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi and Fukushima. Aomori Prefecture’s annual Nebuta Festival is designated as one of Japan’s intangible cultural property. There are many parables explaining the origin of this summer festival. One of which has relevance to the Chinese Valentine’s day of the 7th day of July in the lunar calendar. They use resources like paper, bamboo, and candles to create lanterns featuring characters in folklores, including those from the Sanguo or the Three Kingdoms and Shuihu, the Story of the 108 outlaws. Another myth said that Nebuta started where some farmers grew exhausted and tired from the blaring summer so they wanted to send the sleepy monster away through a summer festival and to pray for a good harvest season.

With the technological advances and safety considerations, people have replaced candles with generator and LED lights in the lanterns instead. These lantern floats are made by master craftsmen whose skills are passed down generation by generation. Each one weighed more than 4 tons and needs over 20 people to move it. During the parade, the float has to follow the path guided by a “fan holder”. Each float can move with much flexibility in many directions, making the characters on it look lively and realistic.

In Iwate Prefecture, there is an annual summer festival called Morioka Sanka Dance. This festival welcomes everyone to join in to celebrate through dancing. People can choose whether to watch and enjoy the show or participate in the parade march. The singing, Taiko drums, and the caressing flute rhythms gets people around to dance along. In addition, each year 5 girls are chosen from a talent competition to be “Miss Sanka” who became goodwill ambassadors of the festival. These girls are in charge of teaching participants the dance movements while also lead the entire parade. This festival has also broken a world record of the most people playing Taiko in a parade.

To find out more about this Japan series, please stay tuned to Magazine 26 – the Tohoku Series.