Four Great Tohoku Festivals

Summer festivals in Aomori, Akita, Yamagata, and Sendai

By Elena Lisina    - 3 min read

My last visit to Japan occurred in summer. Previously, I thought it was too hot to travel in summer, but strangely I was fine and even enjoyed the very warm and humid weather. Summer in Japan has its specialties such as lotus, ajisai (hydrangea) and other summer flowers in bloom, water sports, climbing Fuji-san, traditional summer festivals, and fireworks all over the country. Last summer I visited the festival known as the Kagurazaka Matsuri in Tokyo and was greatly impressed by its energy, joy, and long-standing tradition.

During my trips I encountered other festival decorations such as paper lanterns, big figures made of wire and paper illuminated from inside, and richly decorated Tanabata hanging ornaments. Those decorations motivated me to learn more about the summer festivals of the Tohoku region. As a result, I made a plan that I will realize some day!

Nebuta Matsuri

Aomori Prefecture's ‘Nebuta Matsuri’ is held from August 2nd to 7th, and features traditional music and dance performances. The highlight of the Nebuta Matsuri is a parade of giant floats with illuminated colorful compositions that picture warriors, animals, and different scenes. The floats themselves were impressive, so I can only imagine how grand the parade of many floats must be!

Giant illuminated figures of the Nebuta Matsuri
Giant illuminated figures of the Nebuta Matsuri

Kanto Matsuri

Akita Prefecture's ‘Kanto Matsuri’ is held from August 3rd to 6th, and features giant ‘pyramids’ of lanterns called ‘kanto’. The festival participants show their immense skill at balancing those huge lantern compositions. At night, the view of thousands of lanterns is amazing.

Huge compositions of lanterns at the Kanto Matsuri
Huge compositions of lanterns at the Kanto Matsuri

Hanagasa Matsuri

Yamagata's ‘Hanagasa Matsuri’ is held from August 5th to 7th, and features traditional dance performances and a grand parade of groups in different costumes. I watched a similar style of dancing at the Kagurazaka Matsuri and was greatly impressed with the cheerful atmosphere.

Traditional dancers in hats at the Hanagasa Matsuri
Traditional dancers in hats at the Hanagasa Matsuri

Tanabata Matsuri

Sendai's ‘Tanabata Matsuri’ is held from August 6th to 8th, and features huge ornaments with long paper stripes hung all over the city. The most beautiful of these ornaments are displayed on the undercover trade street known as Hirose-dori.

Large ornaments on display for Sendai's Tanabata Matsuri
Large ornaments on display for Sendai's Tanabata Matsuri

Though all of these summer festivals are held around the same time, it’s possible to catch all four: Aomori from August 2nd to 3rd, Akita on August 4th and 5th, Yamagata on August 6th, and Sendai on August 7th and 8th.

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Elena Lisina

Elena Lisina @shiroi.tenshi

Здравствуйте!Меня зовут Елена Лисина, и я являюсь новым Партнёром Japan Travel, ответственным за русскую версию. Путешествия пока невозможны, но есть время, чтобы продумать маршрут предстоящей поездки, пользуясь богатыми материалами сообщества, отвечающим самым разным интересам! Я буду публиковать блоги с разработанными маршрутами по разной тематике, так что приглашаю всех заинтересованных .

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Kim a year ago
I visited the Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai this year! Really enjoyed it...it was my second time to Sendai and I can understand why you love the city so much! :)
Elena Lisina Author a year ago
Good! Thank you, Kim-san! :)
I've visited all four for the first time in 2013, and revisited Aomori and Akita in 2014. It was the start of my love for everything matsuri and liked all of them , but Akita Kanto just has to be my favorite of these.

However, during the same week, there are several other matsuri that I'd easily prefer over at least Sendai Tanabata or even Yamagata Hanagasa. Hachinohe Sansha Taisai (https://youtu.be/yo0Vs-YM0n0) might not be as famous but was probably the biggest surprise, and Hachinohe always has the best matsuri food. Goshogawara Tachineputa easily has the most impressive floats. Morioka Sansa Odori just has taiko, thousands of taiko (https://youtu.be/8A0fvCZqeHo). The smaller neputa matsuri in Hirosaki and Ominato are nice too. And a few weeks earlier than the other ones but something truly special: Soma Noma Oi in Fukushima-ken...

And probably even better are the winter matsuri in Tohoku, like the Oga Namahage Sedo Matsuri (https://youtu.be/F__UwV4M0sQ), Yokote Kamakura and Bonden (https://youtu.be/cwcyvzHxi_8) and Hachinohe Enburi (again, with the best matsuri food! Best motsunabe ever...).
6 months of winter is a bit much indeed, but I do like Japan in winter a lot. Especially Hokkaido is amazing in winter. Then again, I'm from a country (Netherlands) that can be quite cold in winter, but usually doesn't get much snow.

The summers, not so much, way too warm and humid. But the matsuri made me bear with the heat not only once, but even twice :-)