Japanese Festivals Light Up Summer Nights

Tohoku might be thought of as the equivalent of England’s Midlands or perhaps part of the American Midwest. For many it is an unknown area, neglected by those entranced by Tokyo’s urban glamour or by Kyoto’s quaint antiquity. Nonetheless, as with England and America, it is in the heartland where the soul of the nation is to be found.

Tohoku area, which encompasses the northern extreme of Japan’s main island, is best known to locals as home to the most colourful summer festivals of the nation. In August, one is drawn to any one of a number of festivals, many of which include grand night-time parades, public dances, and street fairs. Last August, I attended the three most prominent: the Aomori Neguta Festival, the Akita Kanto Festival and the Tanabata Festival in Sendai. They are happening at the same time, are wildly popular, and can be enjoyed in the space of 3 days.


The Aomori Neguta Festival is a kind of Kabuki theatre on wheels, with grand, stunning, mobile stage sets pulled along by costumed minders, who not only pull the huge decorative pieces but manoeuvre them so that spectators on fixed bleachers can see the hand-made sets from different angles:



Next, and most spectacularly is the Akita Kanto Festival of lantern bearers, aged 10-80, who balance candle-lit lanterns on their hips and shoulders accompanied by grand drummers and strolling singers. The poles are held initially above their heads, but as the poles are extended, the poles bend and on occasion crack, sending blasts of sparks and fire on to the screaming spectators.


About davlohrey

David Lohrey grew up in Memphis. He was educated at University of California, Berkeley.He has reviewed books for The Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register. His plays have appeared recently in Lithuania, Estonia and Croatia, in translation. Poems can be found at Sentinel Literary Quarterly, FRiGG, Otoliths (Australia), and Cecile’s Writers (The Netherlands). In Ireland poems appear in The Stony Thursday Book (Limerick) and Hidden Channel Zine (Mall Sligo). Recent poems have been anthologized by the University of Alabama (Dewpoint), Illinois State University (Obsidian) and Michigan State University (The Offbeat) He is a member of the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective in Houston. His recent fiction can be read in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Crack the Spine, and at inshadesmag.com. His book ‘The Other Is Oneself‘, a study of 20th century postcolonial literature, was published this year in Germany. He is currently writing a memoir of his years living in Saudi Arabia. He teaches in Tokyo.

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