What is the Hachinohe Sansha Taisai?
Boasting a history of over 290 years, the Hachinohe Sansha Taisai has been designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
The most notable highlight is the procession of mikoshi (portable shrines) from Ogami Shrine, Chojasan Shinra Shrine and Shinmei-gu Shrine, as well as the parade of floats (sansha) featuring subjects such as mythological figures and kabuki characters. As the floats which can reach heights of 10m and widths of 8m pass by, spectators often shout with joy. The night time parade of illuminated floats seems to hover in the night air and creates a fantastical atmosphere that provides a completely different way to enjoy the festivities.
Every year for the 5 days from July 31 to August 5, Hachinohe is enveloped in a unique excitement.
The History of Hachinohe Sansha Taisai
Hachinohe Sansha Taisai was started in 1721 when a portable shrine procession was held from Horyodaimyojin (the current Ogami Shrine) to Chojasan Kokuzodo (the current Chojasan Shinra Shrine). Later, powerful merchants held a procession of floats decorated with dolls, and locals added a tiger dance, and by the late Edo era, it had developed into the biggest festival in the Hachinohe castle town area.
In the early Meiji period, the Chojasan Shinran Shrine and Shinmei-gu Shrine processions were added to the festival, forming the basis for the current Sansha Taisai.
In the current Hachinohe Sansha Taisai, not only are the traditional procession routes and folk entertainments preserved, but the 27 floats which feature folk tales and kabuki characters form a side show to the festival (a festival within a festival), and make the festival even more beautiful and energetic.
Hachinohe Sansha Taisai Events
July 31: Eve festival / August 4: Last night festival
At the evening festival before the first day, and the last night festival on the final day, illuminated floats are displayed in the city center. The glittering floats and traditional music competitions help create an energetic mood. At the evening festival on the 31st, the excitement reaches a climax, electrifying the hot summer night with anticipation. This fantastic sight has registered as one of Japan's "Night view assets". (Several photos)
August 1: Otori (Departure) / August 3: Okaeri (Return)
Through the modern departure (otori) and return (okaeri) parades, the gorgeous floats and portable shrine parade combine to create a real life historical picture scroll which show the origins of the festival as a way to pray for good harvest and express gratitude.
In the three shrine parade, a diverse range of processions and performances are on view, including the shrine maiden (miko) procession, the warrior (musha) procession, the brisk tooth-chattering of the lion masks from the Horyo kagura, and the tiger dance which delights spectators with its humorous movements.
The highlight of the parade is definitely the 27 amazing floats. The large floats, which can reach 8m in width, 11m in length and 10m in height, feature multiple mechanical devices which can spread the full width of the road, and when they cause the main figures to move about, the crowds shout with excitement. (Photo of procession / Photo of floats)
Horyo kagura, a unique kind of shrine music, was initially created by a Buddhist monk and has been passed down through the ages at Ogami Shrine. The central element of the music involves several dancers wearing lion masks which personify the deity Gongen-sama which they move in a precisely timed order and rhythm to cleanse the hearts of the spectators.
Toramai (Tiger dance)
With their humorous movements, the tiger dance entertains roadside spectators. Passed down through the years in many parts of Hachinohe City, including Same, Minato, Konakano, Niida and other areas, the tiger dance is performed through out the parade. It is said that if you are bitten by the tiger, you will have good health, making this a very popular performance.
Two floating leading dancers (tekomai), dressed in traditional clothing, lead the float parade while clacking sticks together.
Hanayatai (flower stall)
The end of the parade features the hanayatai, where dances such as the Hachinohe kota (ballad) are performed.
August 2nd: Nakabi
Kagami-style kiba dakyu (Japanese polo) which was started in 1827 at Chojasan Shinra Shrine is played in the refined traditional style. In addition, in the evening illuminated floats are paraded through the city center.
Kagami-style kiba dakyu (Japanese polo)
On this day, horseback polo is played at the Sakura horse field at Chojasan Shinra Shrine. The Hachinohe Domain was blessed with areas perfect for horse husbandry, so the eighth lord of the domain, Nobumasa Nanbu, started kiba dakyu in 1827 as a way to improve the riding skills of his soldiers. Today, this kind of traditional kiba dakyu remains only in Hachinohe, the Imperial household and Yamagata Prefecture.
The riders are divided into two teams (red or white), and they compete by using a pole with a net to catch the ball and throw it into their goal, all while on horseback. Collisions between horses add excitement to the competition, and this ancient sport has been called Japanese polo.