Energetic Mikoshi Parade
Elementary school kids at the Hakata Gion Yamagasa, vigorously pulling a kakiyama that carries the dolls they made themselves © Kyodo News Service
During the day, if you hear from somewhere the sound of taiko drums and the cheerful shouts of children, that is a parade of “children’s mikoshi.” A mikoshi (portable shrine) is a vehicle carrying a symbol of the matsuri festival, such as the Spirit protecting the city. Many summer festivals have this event as one of the main events, where a bustling crowd of people go around the city carrying the mikoshi. Depending on the festival, there are also events where an ornamented carriage called a kakiyama or dashi is pulled by a crowd, as in the Hakata Gion Yamagasa held in July at Fukuoka City.
The mikoshi arriving at the shrine after parading down the streets
At the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri, a traditional festival held every August centering on Tomioka Hachimangu in Tokyo, a big “children’s mikoshi” parade is held once every three years. Bearing approximately 50 units of mikoshi are approximately 5000 elementary and junior high school students who live nearby. The children, wearing a festival costume called hanten march the main street giving a big shout of “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!” while keeping pace with each other. People along the route pour water on the children to relieve them of the heat, making them feel comfortable.
Huge and colorful nebuta, 4-5 meters tall and 4 tons heavy, approaching before our eyes at the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri © Kyodo News Service
Skilled veterans at the Akita Kanto Matsuri, manipulating poles with hanging streetlights that could be as long as 12 meters and heavy as 50 kilograms © Kyodo News Service
In summer, famous matsuri festivals are held in all parts of Japan one after another. At the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri held in Aomori Prefecture, huge lanterns called nebuta are carried through the nighttime streets of the city, surprising onlookers with the beauty and force of the sculpture-like nebuta themed after Japanese mythology and kabuki. The Akita Kanto Matsuri in Akita City features the skillful manipulation of a long pole with many hanging lanterns, by balancing on the forehead or shoulder. Other festivals like the Awa Odori in Tokushima City and the Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri in Yamagata City where a crowd of dancers walk and dance to a cheerful tune bring to all viewers excitement and a strong urge to join the dance.
Japanese summer festivals are etched deep in the hearts of children as a splendidly fun summer memory.