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Home - Travel - Essentials - Scott's Japan Travel Journal
Tohoku Rokkonsai 2013

Scott's Japan Travel Journal
by Scott, staff writer of japan-guide.com

This journal is a log of my travels within Japan. Here you'll find my personal opinions on the places I've been and the things I've seen. Also expect to see the occasional review and editorial. Thanks for reading.

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2013/06/01 - Tohoku Rokkonsai 2013

Sansa Odori dancers and drummers perform in the parade

The Tohoku Region in northern Japan has some really amazing summer festivals, most of which are held during the warm summer nights of early August. Some of the festivals are quite famous, such as the Three Great Tohoku Festivals (Aomori Nebuta, Akita Kanto, and Sendai Tanabata), and draw hundreds of thousands of visitors who go to experience the unique regional dances, towering floats, charismatic performances and lively festival atmospheres that take over the cities.

This weekend was the 2013 Tohoku Rokkonsai, a sort of super festival that showcases the best festivals from all six prefectures of the Tohoku Region in a big parade. The aim of the Rokkonsai is to join the region hit hardest by the March 2011 Disaster together in support of one another and remind the world of their resolve to recover, rebuild, and keep the disaster hit area at the forefront of the public eye. In return, visitors are treated to a really special experience where they can see some of the best Japanese festivals together in one place.

Stage decorated with streamers from the Sendai Tanabata Festival

A close up of one of the Sendai Tanabata streamers

This was the third Rokkonsai Festival ever held. The first took place in Sendai just months after the earthquake, while the second was held in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. This year the host was Fukushima City which has suffered tremendously from to the stricken nuclear power plant. This weekend, however, the city was filled to capacity with over 250,000 people showing up for the festival.

During the Rokkonsai many of the city center's parks and schools were turned into festival sites, featuring stage events, food stalls, and souvenir shops selling local specialties from the different Tohoku prefectures. Various performances were held on the stages including lots of taiko drumming, singing and dance shows.

A taiko drumming demonstration and festival floats on one of the festival sites

An adlib drumming session at another of the festival sites

You could try a variety of Tohoku regional specialties... as long as you didn't mind the long lines

The centerpiece of the festival was a large parade where each prefecture presented its most famous, iconic festival. The parade was held over two days (with almost identical programs on each day) and featured 1000 performers, dancers and musicians. These included performances of the Akita Kanto, Fukushima Waraji, Yamagata Hanagasa, Sendai Suzume Odori, Morioka Sansa Odori and Aomori Nebuta festivals.

As an added bonus, this year's parade kicked off with an air show performed by the Blue Impulse, the air acrobatic team of the Japan Air Self Defense Force. The Blue Impulse have an added connection to the Tohoku Region as their base near Matsushima was also badly hit by the tsunami. The squadron performed thirty minutes of stunts and formations over the parade route, much to the delight of the crowd.

The JASDF Blue Impulse acrobatic team

Blue Impulse

Blue Impulse from below

Blue Impulse creating a cherry blossom with their smoke trails

The parade began after the air show, with each festival troupe traveling down the one kilometer long parade route:

Akita Kanto Matsuri (more info)

The Kanto Matsuri ("pole lantern festival") from Akita City features an impressive balancing act where performers lift large arrays of paper lanterns high up into the air. Called kanto, the lanterns are fixed to bamboo poles which measure as much as 12 meters tall and weigh upwards of 50 kilograms each.

The kanto are lifted up by a single performer, who extends the poles one section at a time to the sound of drums, flutes and onlookers chanting "dokkoisho, dokkoisho". Once extended, the performers attempt special techniques such as balancing the kanto with one hand, on their forehead, their shoulder, or on their hip. The most skilled can balance the kanto while waving fans and umbrellas in their free hands.

The Rokkonsai featured 16 kanto and 110 performers spread out along the parade route. Unfortunately there were pretty strong winds that made it difficult to keep the kanto balanced. Although they weren't able to extend the poles to their full height, the performers were still able to pull off many of the advanced techniques and put on a good show for the crowd. If anything it was more exciting as the wind made it all that more harrowing to watch.

Akita Kanto Matsuri

A performer balancing the kanto on his forehead

Performers balance the kanto on their hip and shoulder

Unfortunately the winds made it impossible for the kanto to be fully extended. These two would be about 3 meters taller at full extension.

A close up of the kanto lanterns

Fukushima Waraji Festival (more info)

Next down the route was the host city's Fukushima Waraji Festival. This annual celebration features a festive parade where giant straw sandals (waraji) are carried through the streets. The main waraji, which measures 12 meters and is recognized as the largest straw sandal in Japan, is eventually dedicated to Haguro Shrine on nearby Mount Shinobu. The festival also has dance contests, where teams compete with dances set to the festival's hip hop and reggae style songs.

During the Rokkonsai the large waraji was carried down the parade route, meandering from side to side and turning about. It was accompanied by two smaller waraji carried by children, and teams of hip-hop dancers.

Fukushima Waraji Festival

The sandal weighs about two tons and takes about 50 people to carry

Two smaller waraji were carried by teams of children

The performers feign dumping the waraji into the crowd

Yamagata Hanagasa Festival (more info)

Next up was the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival. It is said that over a million people visit Yamagata every year to see this festival's parade which includes decorated floats and over 10,000 flower adorned dancers who dance choreographed dances involving their trademark flower-clad straw hats. Recently, the Yamagata Hanagasa was added as a fourth member of the Great Tohoku Festivals.

Several teams of Hanagasa dancers performed for the Rokkonsai parade. One of the teams was made up of students from the Tohoku University of Art and Design.

Yamagata Hanagasa dancers

Tohoku University of Art and Design umbrella dancers

A team of dancers led by (one of several) Miss Hanagasa

Hanagasa dancers

Sendai Tanabata Festival (more info)

The Sendai Tanabata Festival, held throughout Downtown Sendai is one of the largest Tanabata celebrations in Japan. During the festival thousands of giant colorful streamers and other decorations are hung throughout the Sendai's shopping arcades, while dances and performances are held around the city.

Sendai's tanabata streamers could be seen all around the Rokkonsai Festival decorating the stages and festival sites. The parade however, featured the Sendai Suzume Odori (sparrow dance), an entertaining dance performed during Sendai's Aoba Matsuri. The dancers skip, jump and twirl about mimicking the movements of a sparrow accompanied by musicians playing flutes and taiko drums. Before the festival I had no idea what to expect for this performance, but the dancers were amazing and to me they stole the show.

Suzume Odori Dancers

Suzume Odori

The dancers are accompanied by taiko drummers and flute players

Suzume Odori

Morioka Sansa Odori (official English pdf)

The next festival featured in the parade was the Morioka Sansa Odori from Iwate Prefecture. This huge festival includes a parade of over 10,000 drummers and holds the Guinness World Record for the world's largest simultaneous drum performance. Five Miss Sansa Odori Dancers lead the drummers who are made up of various groups from around the prefecture.

Though it didn't break any records, the Rokkonsai version of the festival included about 140 drummers and dancers. The enthusiastic dancing by the Miss Sansa Odori Dancers and the well choreographed drumming made this another of my favorite parts of the parade, and something that I'd like to check out in the future.

Morioka Sansa Odori

The drummers are led by (five) Miss Sansa Odori

Sansa Odori drummers

The 50 red clad drummers are chosen from city wide auditions

Sansa Odori

Aomori Nebuta (more info)

Finishing up the parade was one of the large floats from the Aomori Nebuta, the largest and most famous of the Nebuta festivals that take place around Aomori Prefecture. The enormous lantern floats from the Aomori Nebuta can be as large as 9 meters wide and 5 meters tall, and usually depict gods, historical or mythical figures from Japanese and Chinese culture among other characters. During the evenings of the festival the floats are pulled through the streets while flanked by large taiko drums, musicians and dancers.

The Rokkonsai featured a single float which barely fit its way down the two lane parade route. It was accompanied by taiko players and enthusiastic Haneto dancers, who skip/danced their way down the street in their funny hats and yukata clad in with bells.

Aomori Nebuta Float - one of two dozen that are constructed every year for the festival

The huge float dwarfs the accompanying dancers and taiko drums

Haneto dancers dance to chants of Rassera Rassera, Rasse Rasse Rassera

As the parade wrapped up, the performers gathered to walk back through the parade route together, stopping to wave to the crowds along the way. It's not clear yet whether the Rokkonsai will be held again in 2014, but I hope it does as it was a really enjoyable way to experience the best of the Tohoku festivals. I've always thought that festivals such as the Kanto Matsuri and Aomori Nebuta were some of the most fun and memorable experiences I've had in Japan, and thanks to the Rokkonsai I know of several more to check out in the future.

2013 Schedule of the actual festivals:

Akita Kanto: August 3-6
Fukushima Waraji: August 2-3
Yamagata Hanagasa: August 5-7
Sendai Tanabata: August 6-8
Morioka Sansa Odori: August 1-4
Aomori Nebuta: August 2-7

Sansa Odori, Haneto and Hanagasa Dancers walk back together

Suzume Odori dancers wave to the crowd

2013 Tohoku Rokkonsai

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List of Posts:
2014/04/16 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2014/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukushima
2014/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Gunma
2014/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2014/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2014/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2014/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2014/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2014/03/27 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2014/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/03/07 - Abeno Harukas
2014/02/13 - Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival

2013/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2013
2013/12/11 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2013/12/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2013/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2013/11/29 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2013/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2013/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2013/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2013/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2013/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Fujigoko
2013/11/06 - Autumn Color Report: Fujigoko
2013/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2013/10/29 - Autumn Color Report: Yamadera
2013/10/28 - Autumn Color Report: Urabandai
2013/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Gunma
2013/10/12 - Autumn Color Report: Hakkodasan
2013/06/01 - Tohoku Rokkonsai 2013
2013/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2013/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumae
2013/04/23 - Northern Kanto Flower Report
2013/04/18 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2013/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Mount Fuji
2013/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakone
2013/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Mount Fuji
2013/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Gunma
2013/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2013/03/24 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2013/03/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2013/03/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2013/03/20 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/02/25 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2013/02/06 - Asahikawa Winter Festival 2013
2013/02/05 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2013

2012/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2012
2012/12/07 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
2012/12/02 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/29 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/11/27 - Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination 2012
2012/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2012/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Sakurayama
2012/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/11/05 - Autumn Color Report: Mount Fuji
2012/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Lake Towada
2012/10/30 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2012/10/22 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2012/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/11 - Autumn Color Report: Hachimantai
2012/10/10 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2012/07/30 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial 2012
2012/05/07 - New Tokyo Buildings
2012/04/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Mount Fuji
2012/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yokohama
2012/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2012/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/02/06 - Sapporo Snow Festival
2012/02/05 - Otaru Snow Light Path Festival
2012/02/04 - Sapporo Snow Festival - Preliminary Report
2012/01/23 - Chinese New Year in Yokohama Chinatown

2011/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2011
2011/12/08 - Autumn Color Report: Kamakura
2011/12/05 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/30 - Tokyo Motor Show 2011
2011/11/29 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2011/11/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2011/11/27 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/22 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2011/11/12 - Autumn Color Report: Unzen
2011/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kurobe Gorge
2011/10/27 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2011/10/07 - Autumn Color Report: Nasu
2011/10/04 - Ceatec Japan 2011
2011/09/27 - Autumn Color Report: Norikura
2011/09/22 - New Kanagawa Museums
2011/05/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2011/05/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2011/04/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2011/04/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Aizu
2011/04/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2011/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2011/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2011/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Iwakuni
2011/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2011/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2011/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2011/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kochi

2010/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2010
2010/11/30 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2010/11/24 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2010/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Nara
2010/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2010/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2010/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Fujigoko
2010/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Daisen
2010/10/27 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2010/10/14 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2010/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2010/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2010/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2010/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Himeji
2010/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nara
2010/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/03/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2010/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2010/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2010/03/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo

2009/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2009
2009/12/08 - Tokyo
2009/12/02 - Kamakura
2009/11/27 - Tokyo
2009/11/18 - Tokyo
2009/11/16 - Mount Takao (Takaosan)
2009/10/28 - Mount Fuji
2009/10/21 - Tokyo Motor Show 2009
2009/10/19 - Nikko (2)
2009/10/05 - Nikko
2009/08/07 - Tohoku Sandai Matsuri: Sendai Tanabata
2009/08/06 - Tohoku Sandai Matsuri: Nebuta Matsuri
2009/08/04 - Tohoku Sandai Matsuri: Kanto Matsuri

2009/04/13 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagano
2009/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kamakura
2009/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/03/31 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2009/03/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2009/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Miyajima
2009/03/27 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2009/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagasaki
2009/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2009/03/24 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2009/03/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka

2008/10/29 - Lake Towada
2008/10/21 - Nishizawa Valley
2008/10/03 - Tateyama Alpen Route

2007/09/18 - Kodo One Earth Tour
2007/09/04 - Kusatsu
2007/09/01 - Zi-Pang Concert
2007/08/23 - First Day on the Job

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