Hachinohe Sansha Taisai festival is the ultimate Japanese variety show every summer.
Situated in the often overlooked but seafood-rich city of Hachinohein northern Aomori Prefecture, it’s the perfect pit stop before hitting up other Tohokuregional summer festivals in Japan’s northeastern prefectures.
During the festival, which runs every year from July 31 to Aug. 4, the most famous attraction is the fleet of nearly 30 floats paraded at daily and nightly intervals from Aug. 1-3. Complete with dozens of towering figures (even 10 meters tall!) and small moving dolls, these technicolor reenactments of old folktales draw huge crowds every year.
Each day also showcases traditional arts, including horseback polo, musicians, and more traditional dances than are truly watchable.
Continuing the Tohoku tradition of large nighttime floats, Hachinohe Sansha Taisai has the dramatic allure of the renowned Nebuta Festival in Aomori Citywith a fraction of the crowds.
The festival started 300 years ago as a humble mikoshi(portable shrine) carrying but was co-opted by the wealthy merchant class looking to exert their influence over the region. They commissioned intricate moving dolls that commemorated famous stories and paraded them through the streets. Since then the festival has evolved into an eccentric mish-mash of traditional performances.
If the glittering monoliths aren’t enough, then there is a performance of Kiba Dakyu, the dying art of horseback polo, and numerous dance performances scattered throughout the days, including Tekomai (dancers leading the parade), Toramai (the famous Tiger Dance), Horyo Kaguya(a local dance), and Hanayatai (the flower stall dancers).
Know before you go
Making the most of Hachinohe Sansha Taisai comes down to knowing the complex schedule of events and their locations. While Kiba Dakyuis performed between 2-4 p.m. on Aug. 2 outside Chojasan Shinra Shrine, the float parades take a different route each day. For the exact details, see Hachinohe city’s official guide.
Sincerely one of the most visually stunning festivals in Japan, its charm lies in the locals who keep these traditions alive each summer.