True wonder. That’s what the Niigata Festival undoubtedly is. Let’s enter into one of the Japan’s biggest festivals.
Summer in Niigata Prefecture rhymes with Hanabi Festivals. Nearly every week, a firework festival is held in one the numerous cities of the prefecture. Truly, Niigata is the Hanabi Kingdom. But usually the fireworks are the jewel of far longer and more complex festival, widely ignored by the foreigners, by fault of not enough information.
The Niigata Festival goes for three days on the first weekend of August (August, 4-6 in 2017), and is one of the most impressive Japanese festival that I’ve seen. It started on Friday evening with a giant dancing parade (Dai Minyou Nagashi) with more than 15,000 participants, and that's without counting the thousands of spectators. Different processions from various companies, institutions and universities make up this immense parade. Each group have their own yukata (traditional summer cotton kimonos), and are headed by a wheeler with the name of the organization on it, as well as a wheeler for refreshments. This procession is exhausting for the organisers in the middle of summer, with each group are not walking, but dancing to the same rhythm, using a few dance steps that can be learn in less than an hour. Figure 15,000 people, distributed in homogenous groups, dancing altogether to the same music for an hour and a half. Impressive, isn’t it
After this grandiose opening comes several events on Saturday and Sunday. Several processions take place throughout the day, with Taiko groups, Mikoshi (portable shrines), good fortune parades as well as an on-water parade of a big Mikoshi. All this gives a good glimpse at the traditional Japanese Matsuri (festivals), with all the folklore and pieces of culture behind it. I have myself accompanied the good-will ambassadors of several Japanese cities (Niigata of course, as well Kobe, Nagasaki, etc) through their procession through the city center. The good-will ambassadors are young women, aged around their early twenties, selected by tourism offices of each cities to represent their hometown all around Japan and abroad, attending official events and festivals. The heat (approximately 35°C) didn’t scare them off, and completed their duties with great professionalism. The true highlight of the day is, of course, the fireworks held in the evening, on Saturday as well as Sunday. Though not as impressive as those you could see in Nagaoka festival, these fireworks are quite an attraction. The special thing with fireworks in Japan is that it lasts for quite a long time (approximately an hour for Niigata Festival, two for Nagaoka). Therefore, it’s really appreciated as a social event: you can sit, have a couple of drinks and something to eat with your family or your friends while watching. The fireworks in Niigata prefecture are a deep-anchored tradition, and thus the prefecture enjoys several world-famous fireworks manufacturers, continuing a centuries-old fabrication process. Niigata Matsuri is undoubtedly one of the many things you should to experience in Niigata Prefecture.