Tohoku, Japan: Three Remarkable Festivals to See!

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A person wearing a white tengu mask at the Kitakami Michinoku Geino Festival in Tohoku Japan.

Tohoku is a unique destination with many attractions that look rustic on the outside but vibrant inside. Nature lovers can explore its national parks, hike scenic mountains, and relax in hot springs. It combines a colorful natural world with friendly local communities. The cheerful summer festivals here also add excitement and joy for everyone. Let’s learn more about this region and discover three major festivals in Tohoku, Japan!

Where is Tohoku?

Tohoku is a fascinating region in the northeast of Japan’s largest island, Honshu. Tohoku’s Japanese name comes from two Japanese words: to (east) and hoku (north), reflecting its location. The region comprises six prefectures: Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima. Even though it covers a large area, this place has a relatively small population, making it a serene and beautiful place to visit.

A person sitting at Okama Crater in Tohoku, Japan.
Tohoku has a lot of breathtaking sights. Image via Shutterstock

The history of Tohoku, Japan, is rich and intriguing. It was once home to the indigenous Emishi and Ainu people and later became part of the Shichinohe domains during the Edo period (1603-1868). This area is known for its stunning countryside, majestic mountains, sparkling lakes, soothing hot springs, and excellent rice production. In addition, the region’s traditional crafts, such as lacquerware and textiles, are also noteworthy, showcasing the vibrant cultural heritage of the region.

When it comes to attractions and activities, Tohoku offers a wide range of experiences. Its winter is perfect for skiing and snowboarding with its powdery snow and beautiful landscapes. In summer, rafting and hiking will also give you exciting outdoor adventures. Besides, it’s also famous for its festivals. Here are the three most prominent festivals in Tohoku, Japan.

Akita Kanto (August 3rd-6th)

The Akita Kanto Matsuri, or Pole Lantern Festival, is a dazzling annual celebration in Akita City, Tohoku, Japan. It dates back over 270 years. The festival originated as a ritual to ward off summer sickness and evil spirits during the Edo period. At the center of the festival are the Kanto poles; there are also tall bamboo poles decorated with up to 46 paper lanterns.

Two women in traditional dress at the Akita Kanto Festival.
There are lots of flutes and lanterns at these events! Image via Shutterstock

The lanterns, lit with real candles, represent rice bags. They are hung together to look like a bundle of rice, symbolizing prayers for a good harvest. Skilled “Sashite” performers balance these big poles during the night parades on Kanto Odori Street. Generally, they also use their hands, foreheads, shoulders, and lower backs. The performers show their strength and coordination while people cheer. Traditional music is usually played with flutes and drums. The matsuri also features daytime events at Agora Plaza. Visitors can also participate in activities like lifting small Kanto poles.

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Sendai Tanabata (August 6th-8th)

The Sendai Tanabata Matsuri is a lively celebration that transforms Sendai into a colorful wonderland of tradition. Originating from ancient Chinese and Japanese legends, Tanabata festivals honor the yearly reunion of two celestial lovers. The festival’s roots in Sendai trace back to Date Masamune — the city’s first lord, who introduced the event in the early 17th century.

The Sendai Tanabata Festival. There are a lot of streamers. It's in Tohoku Japan.
Tanabata is every July! Image via Shutterstock

At this summer event, Sendai’s downtown and shopping districts come alive with elaborate decorations known as sasakazari. These displays are crafted from washi (Japanese paper) and bamboo. They also symbolize different wishes and blessings, from health and prosperity to bountiful harvests and good fortune in business. Participants can also take an exciting stroll beneath vibrant streamers and intricately folded paper cranes, kimonos, and purses, each meticulously crafted by local communities.

One of the festival’s highlights is the evening fireworks, which light up the sky and attract crowds of hundreds of thousands of people. Usually, on August 5th, this fireworks show kicks off the festival’s main events, where various food stalls, games, and live performances further enrich the festive atmosphere. 

Aomori Nebuta (August 2nd-7th)

The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is a big summer celebration held annually in Aomori City, Tohoku, Japan. It started by blending Tanabata customs with local traditions in the Tsugaru region. Now, it’s one of the major events in the area, attracting millions of visitors each year.

A samurai float at Aomori Nebuta Festival.
These elaborate festivals are beautiful at night! Image via Shutterstock

It’s renowned for its spectacular Nebuta floats, nine meters wide and five meters high, adorned with colorful depictions of legendary heroes, historical figures, and kabuki characters. These iconic floats, made carefully from washi paper and wireframes, are the stars of the celebration. They parade through the city streets with exciting drumbeats and joyful chants from Haneto dancers.

The event starts with nightly parades, where Haneto dancers in traditional attire lead the way and invite all spectators to join. Here, you can enjoy the dynamic parades, try on Haneto costumes, and savor local street food. Moreover, the Nebuta floats glide on boats along Aomori Bay on the final day, accompanied by a magnificent fireworks display. 

Why should I go to these festivals in Tohoku, Japan?

Two women in yukata attending a festival in Aomori.
Have you ever been to a festival in Tohoku Japan before? Image via Shutterstock

It’s gonna be fun to join these festivals because they are the three largest ones in Tohoku, Japan. You can experience the excitement of beloved celebrations where the spectacular display of skill and tradition burst into life. From the charming lanterns of Akita Kanto to the colorful traditions of Sendai Tanabata and the majestic Nebuta floats in Aomori, these events showcase the rich cultural heritage of Tohoku. This is also a chance to join locals and other visitors in enormous events that foster community spirit and economic prosperity. So, which festival are you most excited to attend? Leave a comment below!

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