Conveying Tohoku's charm to the world, through the power of festivals
As we progress towards recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake and the landscape changes, the memory of the disaster gradually fades.
Even so, Tohoku's journey towards reconstruction still continues on.
We must continue to unite together, and work towards building the future.
The Tohoku Rokkon Festival was held in 2011 with the themes of reconstruction and tranquility.
The Aomori Nebuta Festival, Akita Kanto Festival, Morioka Sansa Odori, Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, Sendai Tanabata Festival, and Fukushima Waraji Festival—all representative festivals of Tohoku—have gathered together as one for a single exciting event here in Tohoku.
Even after the event's name was changed to "Tohoku Kizuna Festival" in 2017, it has still maintained that same style and spirit.
In order to convey our appreciation for the support shown by so many, and show the spirit of Tohoku to the whole country and world, Tohoku Kizuna Festival performances are being held throughout various metropolitan venues.
Tohoku Kizuna aims to not only be a great festival, but also to spread the historical and cultural backgrounds of Tohoku, as well as its fantastic scenery and charming cuisine, and to ultimately have many people come and visit the region. As such, we will continue to do our best in showing Tohoku to the world, through the Tohoku Kizuna Festival.
Aomori Nebuta is a fire festival designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in 1980. Nebuta, or lantern floats, play a leading role in the event, as they are paraded through central Aomori. Many of the images the floats are based off of were inspired by famous warriors and myths, and the striking visages are considered one of the main highlights among visitors. The haneto (dancers) put on an exciting show as their calls of "rassera, rassera!" echo throughout this large and powerful festival. This Aomori summer tradition sees over 3 million visitors from all over the country every year.
The Sannai Maruyama Special Historic Site is the largest Jomon period settlement site throughout the country. Excavations, which began in 1992, have since discovered pit constructions, gravesites, pillar-supported structures, storage pits, roads, and other remains of historic significance, and have offered insight into what the settlement was like, as well as the natural environment of the time. A Jomon period village has been recreated on-site, offering visitors the valuable chance to experience the Jomon way of life first-hand.
Tsugaru Vidro is said to have originally started by utilizing the techniques used to make a type of floating ball piece of fishing equipment, used for the installation of shore nets and in fishing boat mooring. Now, it is considered a traditional Aomori craft, with the purpose of creating "handmade glass that conveys the four seasons." The beautiful colors unique to glass and warm shapes created one at a time by craftsmen make for pieces that are appreciated as works of art even overseas. Different types of colored glass are used in the patternmaking process, with over 100 different varieties. For such a rich variety of colored glass, Tsugaru Vidro stands unrivaled.
Located near JR Aomori Station, the Aomori Bay Area features the Nebuta Museum Wa Rasse, which introduces visitors to the history and charm of Nebuta, as well as the Hakkoda Maru Memorial Ship, which used to act as a ferry between Aomori and Hakodate, but has been transformed into a permanently docked museum. Another highlight of the area is A-Factory, a place that combines a market with a brewery for visitors to enjoy Aomori cuisine, and to take a look at the cider brewing process, which makes use of local apples from Aomori, the world's largest producer.
Sukayu is an onsen located among the Hakkoda Mountains, towering over central Aomori, and is said to be a hot springs bathhouse perfect for those with muscle and join pain, and cold sensitivity, as well as those recovering from fatigue or various other physical ailments. The onsen is also home to the famed Hiba Sennin Bath, a large 160-tatami sized room with five different baths, from both hot and cold waters, as well as 40/60 baths, and hot showers. The room is made from Aomori hiba wood, with 5m of clearance between floor and ceiling—certainly a surprisingly large bathhouse for first-time visitors.
The Hakkoda mountain range, which has been selected as one of the top 100 Mountains of Japan, is rich in alpine plant life and beautiful fall colors that attract many visitors every year. The area starts changing colors fairly early in the season compared to the rest of the country, typically reaching a peak transformation by around mid October. Cable cars are operated throughout the year, so the ascent to the summit is also considered a fairly easy trip, and visitors can enjoy a large 360 degree panoramic view of the bright seasonal reds from the window.
Winter along the Hakkoda Mountains is an extremely cold one, reaching down to -20℃, but as trees become covered in frost from these cold temperatures, natural works of art called "snow monsters" are born. The Hakkoda mountain range is home to one of the few ski resorts throughout the country that have such frost covered trees, as well as great skiing and snowboarding for those looking to weave through them.
The Kanto Festival, which is nationally registered as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset with a history of over 270 years, and is one of the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku, is celebrated in hopes of a rich harvest. Lanterns, resembling ears of the rice plant, shimmer in the summer night sky, flooding the streets with galactic bands of light. The skill needed to freely control these massive poles fitted with rows of lanterns is said to be 40% power and 60% skill, and requires daily training as well as a developed sense of balance. These techniques, passed down from generation to generation, display a genuine artisan-like skill. In the afternoon, these proud performers also hold a competition among their own ranks, putting their skills to the test. This historic festival attracts over 1.3 million visitors every year.
Over 3,700 sakura and nanohana flowers bloom over the 11km stretch of land along Route 298 running through Ogata. Kuromatsu pines are also planted along this prefectural road, and visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery woven together by a mix of kuromatsu pines, sakura in full bloom, and yellow nanohana flowers. The best sakura and nanohana viewing period is for about a month starting in late April, and the Sakura Nanohana Festival, which sees many visitors, is also held during that time. Come and enjoy these spring traditions of Ogata!
Enjoy great views of the windmills from the Omono River, illuminated by the sunset over the Sea of Japan, and see a beautiful gradation of sky, clouds, and the setting sun. With a wide riverside area, visitors can also take a stroll through at their leisure, taking in all of the beautiful scenery. At the Araya Seaside Park, there are also frog statues built by the city as a symbol of the park that "wish" for various things, such as the "Frog of Old Prosperity," the "Frog of Safe Travels," and the "Frog of Garbage Collection," among others. The area is also a popular location for summer fireworks.
Lake Tazawa, also known as the "Lake Baikal of Japan," is the country's deepest lake, with a depth of 423.4 meters. The lake is considered a mystical area where the legend of Princess Tatsuko, who is said to have been transformed into a dragon in hopes of eternal youth and beauty, still remains. Around the lake, visitors will find many different highlights, such as the Tatsuko Kannon, and a bronze statue, with the princess Kannon built in memorial of Princess Tatsuko and dying fish. The deep lake also attracts visitors with its breathtakingly beautiful blue shades. An azure-tinted lake with a mysterious atmosphere, and a richness of expressions throughout the seasons—a great stop for any visitor.
Kakunodate, also known as the "Little Kyoto" of Michinoku, is a cityscape that transports visitors back in time to the Edo period. Designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings, the area is also protected as a cultural property. Fences outline the wide avenues, which are lined with old samurai residences. Visitors can get a sense of the samurai social class as it was in seeing the black fences and thatched roofs, and experience the life of the old days in a tasteful setting among the deep shidarezakura weeping cherry and momi fir tree groves. A popular tourist attraction, visited by over 2 million people annually.
The magewappa, or bentwood, made in Odate, Akita, uses Akita cedars, which are known for producing some of Japan's finest wood. It's said that the practice of creating bentwood products out of Akita cedar began around 1,300 years ago, yet, surprisingly, they have maintained almost the same shape even to this day. These products are made carefully, one by one, with techniques that have not changed since the crafts inception. Of all the different regional bentwood products, Odate Magewappa has been the only one to be nationally designated as a traditional craft. Functional and beautiful products, the culmination of traditional technique.
Kiritanpo refers to cooked and skewered rice baked over a charcoal fire. This local Akita stew features cut bits of kiritanpo, and Hinai Jidori chicken, which is counted among Japan's Three Great Free-range Chickens, as well as maitake mushrooms, white scallions, gobo root, and other vegetables--all essential ingredients that add aroma and texture to the dish. The stew is so popular among locals that it even shows up on school lunch menus during the winter.
The Morioka Sansa Odori dance is said to have been born from a legend that tells of the defeat of a demon at Mitsuishi Shrine, which is also the origin of the prefecture's name, Iwate. The parade features over 35,000 dancers, flutists, and drummers; and in 2014, it set a world record for simultaneous performance of wadaiko drums, making it the world's top taiko festival. Lively and energetic dancers offer an impressive scene as they follow the powerful rhythm, and after the parade, even the audience can participate in a round of dancing—so feel free to join in!
Mt. Iwate, also known as Nanbu Katafuji, is the highest peak in the Iwate prefecture, with an altitude of over 2,038 meters high. Home to 7 unique mountain trails, visitors can enjoy various types of climbing by combining the mountain's ascending and descending routes. Many beautiful alpine plants welcome climbers, including a cluster of komakusa near the summit—a rarity for a mountain at an altitude of over 2,000 meters. The summit also offers a 360 degree panoramic view of Mt. Iwaki, the Hakkoda Mountains, and in the distance, Mt. Chokai.
Sitting along the banks of the calm Kitakami River, Kitakami Tenshochi is known as one of the most famous sakura viewing locations throughout the Tohoku region, and is counted as one of the Top 100 Sakura Locations, as well as among Michinoku's Top 3 Cherry Blossom Attractions. In addition to a row of sakura that extends for over 2km from Sango Bridge, it's said that the area is home to 10,000 trees of over 150 different species, all showing off their individual beauty between mid April and early May. The trees are lit up at night, and reflect off of the river surface, making for a vast dreamlike scene.
A traditional event to show appreciation for farm horses, with over 200 years of history. Nearly 100 farm horses march over 14km from Onikoshisozen Shrine in Takizawa to Morioka Hachimangu Shrine. Some of the biggest highlights of Chagu Chagu Umakko are the colorful costumes worn by the horses, along with the sound of bells, as it's said that there are up to 700 bells affixed to every horse's costume. Come and enjoy the stunning colors and the sounds of "chagu chagu" (Japanese onomatopoeia for ringing bells) of the early Morioka summer.
Nanbu Ironware boasts a history of over 400 years, and was the first cast metal product to be designated as a National Traditional Craft. Even today, the ironware is still handmade, one by one, while utilizing traditional casting methods. In recent times, more colorful ironware has begun production, and other than the traditional black, there are now also red, pink, blue, and orange products available, and their popularity overseas is still very much on the rise. Nanbu Ironware products offer high heat retention, as well as mild tastes and even added iron content when used in cooking, and are works of a popular traditional craft that the people of Morioka and Oshu are proud to show the world.
Wanko Soba is named as one of the Three Great Noodles of Morioka, alongside Morioka reimen, and Morioka jajamen. When served Wanko Soba, bowls filled with one mouthful each of fresh soba noodles are presented one after another as the diner eats them, along with calls of "hai, dondon!" or "hai, janjan!" The tradition is considered not only a meal, but a kind of entertainment as well, and is a representative dish of Iwate that challenges diners to see how many bowls they can finish in one sitting. Interacting with the wait-staff is one of the real pleasures of Wanko Soba, so feel free to try it out some time!
Geibi Gorge, counted as one of the 100 Landscapes of Japan, is an approximately 2km long limestone valley carved out by the Satetsu River. The cliffs of this nationally designated scenic location soar up over 100m along the riverbanks, making for a fantastic deep mountain valley. During the winter season, visitors can also enjoy riding downstream on boats with kotatsu (heated tables) while enjoying Kinagashi stew. This beautiful landscape brings visitors into a different world, almost like stepping into an ink painting, and leaves deep impressions on all who come to see it.
As one of the Three Great Festivals of Tohoku, over 2 million people visit Sendai Tanabata every year. The festival has been inherited throughout the ages as a traditional event since the times of Date Masamune, a feudal lord of Sendai, and the city streets are filled with colorful Tanabata decorations whenever it is held. Sendai Station, Chuodori, and the shopping mall area of Ichibancho Dori in particular are said to have spectacularly beautiful decorations, and are considered a highlight of the festival. Plenty of other festivities unique to Tanabata, such as poetry card entries, and Tanabata decoration experiences, are also available.
The Sendai Suzume Odori (translated as Sendai Sparrow Dance) is said to have its origins date back to 1603 during the construction of Sendai Castle, when masons put together a kind of improvised dance during a banquet. The dance has been reworked as it has been passed down throughout the generations, so that both young and old may enjoy it. Sendai Suzume Odori can be seen exciting crowds throughout central Sendai, including along Jozenji Ave., together with the Warrior's Procession and float parades during the Sendai Aoba Festival held in May.
This park's name is derived from the legendary story of a poet-priest named Saigyo who met a young man under a pine tree, and exchanged Zen riddles. When Saigyo ended up losing the dialogue, he gave up on his journey to Matsushima. The park is located on the Matsushima Coastal highlands, and is well known for the over 260 sakura trees that bloom there. From the viewing platform, visitors can enjoy seeing these sakura, as well as one of the Three Most Scenic Spots of Japan—Matsushima Bay—and see the red glow that comes over the sea in the early morning. Visitors can also enjoy the park's cafe, which has a full glass covering for people to check out the excellent views while enjoying a coffee and some snacks.
Zuihoden was built in 1637, following the death of Date Masamune. Although once lost to airstrikes, it was reconstructed in 1979, and then later underwent major renovations to arrive in its current form. The stunning colors of its elaborately designed decorations tell of a magnificent legacy, even today. Kyogamine, an area of the Temple grounds, also features a row of cedars along the front approach, and is considered a treasured location where 400 year old early Edo period nature still remains. Visitors can enjoy seasonal scenery here, including the fall colors, sakura, hydrangeas, and more.
The Kokeshi Doll, a craft unique to Tohoku, is said to have originated during the late Edo period as a souvenir toy for children throughout the onsen regions of Tohoku. In Miyagi, there are five types of kokeshi, each of which is known as Naruko, Togatta, Yajiro, Sakunami, and Hijiori. From crisply expressed eyes, to warm atmospheres, colorful costumes, to oil painting-esque designs, each type has its own individuality, and the expression and atmosphere produced by them differs from doll to doll. Take a look at the adorable lineups available, and find your favorite!
Matsushima, which is counted as one of the Three Most Scenic Spots of Japan and surrounded by the sea, is famous for its oysters, and various oyster shacks are scattered about the bay area. Matsushima oysters feature firm meat, and boast a very creamy and rich taste. Visitors out seeing the sights can enjoy these plump oysters when they are in season, between October and March, at oyster shacks throughout Matsushima.
Date Masamune, as well as other successive lords and the residents of the castle town, revered this guardian deity of Sendai, also known as the "City of Trees," as a god who protects people against evil, as well as bringer of disaster relief, victory, and safe childbirth. During the Matsutaki Festival (Dontosai), held every New Years, this "god of fire" is honored during a hadaka mairi, or "naked shrine visit." During this Sendai winter tradition, thousands of participants from throughout the city wear rolled up white headbands and loincloths, and place a folded piece of paper in their mouths to prevent them from speaking as they carry out the procession.
Spirited shouts of "yassho, makasho!" and the magnificent beats of hanagasa taiko drums resound through the Yamagata summer night. More than 10,000 dancers, donned in beautiful costumes complete with hanagasa, or flower-adorned hats, fill the main street of Yamagata, along with an accompaniment of the gorgeously colorful Zao Dai Gongen parade float. In addition to these wonderful female and gallant male dancers, the dynamic hat-turning dance, as well as various other creative dances captivate large crowds during this Yamagata summer tradition.
Also known as the "early summer ruby," the Sakuranbo cherry is a popular fruit, and Yamagata accounts for around 70% of its national production. It's said that Yamagata, which is mostly a mountain basin area, has "hot summers, and cold winters," and that its seasons are more clearly defined than other prefectures. However, its climate is actually a great place to grow delicious cherries. A variety of different types are cultivated, including the ever-popular and famous Sato Nishiki, Benishuho, and Benisayaka. Have a taste some time!
This tree stands as the only survivor of three Yoshino cherry trees planted during a local commemorative ceremony 60 years ago. With its branches protruding out as if to be open arms, and a prominent trunk that gives it a several-hundred-year feel to it, it's definitely worth a look. Some even say it looks like a yokozuna, or sumo wrestling grand champion, entering the ring. The tree continues to be cherished to this day, and supports have been added to its overhanging branches to protect them from snapping during snowfall. Make sure to see this beautiful cherry tree, along with its backdrop of the snowy Mt. Zao.
Officially named Hojusan Risshakuji, this famous temple is known for being the place where poet Matsuo Basho wrote the line, "the silent peace, cutting through the very stone, a cicada's song." The temple has been around for more than a thousand years, and is known as a place of mystical energy that cuts off evil ties and brings together good connections. There are 1015 stone steps from the entrance to the summit, with many things to see along the way, such as the Basho Statue and Semizuka Monument (Semizuka meaning "cicada mound," in reference to his poetry), and the Mida Hora Rock, shaped like Buddha, which is said to bring happiness to those who see it. in 2018, Yamadera and Benibana, The Benibana Culture Supported by Yamadera was certified as a Japan Heritage Site. After visiting the temple at the summit, enjoy the spectacular view overlooking Yamadera from Godaido Hall.
These frost covered trees, works of icy art that are rare throughout the world, are born from the special weather conditions and vegetation of Mt. Zao (part of the Ou Mountains). With an ever-changing appearance, none of these magnificent and delicate trees are the same as another. Also known as "snow monsters," they are considered part of Yamagata's local heritage that display the great power of nature. From the onsen area, visitors can head straight to these frost-covered fields while taking in a 360 degree view of the scenery via cable car. The frost covered trees are definitely a sight to behold even during the day, but don't miss the fantastic scenery that emerges during the night, when the area's colorful lights pierce through the jet black darkness.
Ginzan Onsen is named after the Nobezawa Ginzan (ginzan being Japanese for "silver mine"), which once flourished as a large mining operation during the early Edo period. The onsen reached sudden fame when it was featured as a setting on the NHK television series, Oshin. Enjoy the traditional scenery, including western style multi-layered wooden inns, built between the late Taisho and early Showa eras, that line the banks of the Ginzan River. Take in a romantic Taisho era onsen town, and immerse yourself in the nostalgia of the times through a downtown stroll.
A temple of the Soto school of Buddhism, located in Tsuruoka, Yamagata. As a well-known temple dedicated to the guardian of the sea, the Dragon God, it attracts many visitors, especially those who work in the fishing industry. Many valued structures stand on the temple grounds, including a five-story pagoda in honor of "all the fish in the sea," the only one of its kind throughout Japan, as well as a shellfish pond in the back, which is said to be the home of two dragon gods. This pond has become a well discussed topic, as the "birthplace of jinmengyo (fish with human-looking faces)." Experience the mysterious atmosphere among the deep greens of the area.
The Fukushima Waraji Festival, inheriting the Akatsuki Mairi (Dawn Visit) winter tradition and dating back over 400 years to the Edo period, started as a time to enjoy Tohoku's short summer. Don't miss the 12-meter-long giant straw sandal as it gets paraded throughout the city. Last year marked the 50th time the event was held, and in review of the legends and origins of the festival, the music, dance, and costumes have been brought to new life. This year, the renewed Fukushima Waraji Festival plans to bring even more excitement to the Fukushima summer.
As a proud Fukushima location well-known for its flowers, the late photographer Akiyama Shotaro believed the land to be a "paradise in Fukushima." Local farmers spent years during the poverty-stricken wartime period clearing the area, and then began planting flowers. Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of flowers, and not only plums and sakura, but also forsythia, quince, sanshuyu dogwoods, magnolias, and hanamomo, among others, all in bloom at the same time, with a long viewing period.
Two Benishidarezakura weeping cherry trees stand here where Yoshiie Hachimantaro is said to have battled with Sadato and Muneto Abe. It's said that they are the grandchildren of Miharu no Takuzakura, and their stunning red flowers appear like a flowing waterfall during the blooming period. The trees are estimated to be around 180 years old, and are also referred to as "husband and wife," due to their "nestled together" shape. The hillside is filled with nanohana flowers, and looking up from below, visitors will find a beautiful contrast of colors between the blue sky, nanohana, and sakura.
The Soma Nomaoi Armored Horsemen Procession is a traditional event and nationally designated Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset, which is held jointly between the former Myoken Shrines of Soma Nakamura Shrine, Soma Ota Shrine, and Soma Odaka Shrine.
Various events are held, including a procession of armored horsemen through the streets, horseback racing at the Hibarigahara Festival Grounds in Haramachi, Minami Soma, as well as a grand battle among hundreds of mounted warriors fighting for flags shot up into the air, and a ritual called Nomakake, in which horsemen drive unsaddled horses into a corral on the shrine grounds in dedication to the deity of the shrine. See the amazing scenery, filled with colorful mounted war flags waving in the wind, as the armored horsemen head out onto the field.
Azuma Kofuji stands at an altitude of 1,707m, and the crater can be reached within 10 minutes from the Jododaira Parking Lot. The mountain features a beautiful shape, said to be similar to that of Mt. Fuji, and in early spring, snow formations known as "seeding rabbits," or "Azuma snow rabbits," can be seen from the foot of the mountain. Looking out at the desolate gravel-coated surface, a large panorama overlooking the Fukushima basin spreads. The view of the 500m diameter crate is amazing, and it's recommended to take a walk around the crater itself. Narrow roads, and cliffs to both sides—a definite thrill!
A fire festival boasting a tradition of over 420 years. It's said to have originated when locals first mourned the soldiers lost during Masamune Date's attack on Sukagawa Castle. During the event, a massive torch, measuring 10m in length and over 3 tons in weight, is paraded around the city by many of Sukagawa's youth, all the way to Mt. Goro. Torch flames sway to the roar of the drums, a scene straight out of a Sengoku picture scroll. Taimatsu Akashi is also listed in the Haiku Saijiki as a "seasonal word of winter."
It's said that the origin of Aizu Hariko was when Gamo Ujisato, who served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was ordered to transfer domains. He invited doll makers from Kyoto to Aizu to sustain the lower-class samurai, with aims to revive the local industry. These Aizu Hariko, represented by the Akabeko, are popular items found throughout people's daily lives. Typically painted red, they are made to wish for the healthy growth of children, rich harvests and thriving business, and to be used as good luck charms.