“YARE!!” Okay, I don’t know what that means but that’s the battle cry as men, women, children grab the rope to heave and pull these huge, garishly decorated floats through the streets of Hachinohe in the Sansha Taisai matsuri. As one, they grab the rope, shouting “Yare!” as they pull/walk the floats through downtown Hachinohe.
The Sansha Taisai festival originated as a celebration and a prayer for good harvests, and today, more for good business – hence the involvement of the town’s shopowners and businesses. Honouring three major kami (gods) from three important Shinto shrines, this is a major event in the town’s calendar. But since this is typically Shinto, any excuse is a good excuse for some serious partying!
In the northernmost corner of Tohoku, the people of Hachinohe celebrate the Sansha Taisai matsuri by literally pulling out (pun intended) their gorgeously elaborate floats. Families, office-workers, children come in their yukatas and happi coats and shorts to take up the ropes and pull these giant floats through the town. Nevermind that it’s way past bedtime, the whole family is out to catch the procession or ‘pull’ a float.
Those who are not busy pulling are ON the floats, banging on drums, playing the flutes, singing, dancing or waving to spectators.
These large fancy structures are all brand new, planned and built since early January every year. At the end of every festival, the floats – which cost tens of thousands of yen to build, are dismantled (hopefully there’s some creative recycling going on), so every year you can expect to see totally new designs.
It’s also not enough to just dress up the mannequins and put them up. These floats are custom-made with all the gizmos like strobe lights, smoke machines and mechanisms to open up and close, like magic cabinets:
The floats are decorated with lanterns, flowers and popular mythological figures from legends and kabuki theater. So larger than life are demons, ogres, fairies, goddesses, warriors amid a backdrop of banners, fake cherry blossoms and maple leaves who wave their arms and swords in jerky mechanical timing. And once in a while, one or two would emit a bellow and a plume of smoke courtesy of the hidden smoke machine as the crowd cheers.
The 27 floats congregate at different parts of the city. It’s a noisy sweaty carnival atmosphere as people throng the area to see the floats up close.
To be honest I thought some of the figures, their faces uplit and shiny-white, were a little scary. Particularly those with long hair, fierce eyes and menacing grins brandishing huge swords:
But the kids were unfazed. They were clearly having a good time hanging out. And yelling into each other’s faces with tiny megaphones:
In summer all over Japan, the festival circuit goes into full swing. That almost always means a massive street party and usually visually spectacular events that are well worth the journey north. Plus its a great chance to see some of the famous Japanese reserve slip a little as they let their hair down for some well-deserved fun.