Summer Festival Season in Japan
Summer is in the air! In Japan August is the season for families, friends and lovers to gather at Natsu Matsuri festivals, dressed in colourful yukatas to enjoy ample street food, fun games, dances and watch the sparkling fireworks at the finale. Attending a summer festival has always been a highlight of our trips to Japan and we have enjoyed a variety of festivals all over the country, from Matsuyama to Miyajima and even tiny villages like Kibuhitsu and mostly recently on Yakushima Island in Miyanoura Port.
Many villages and towns have their own, local traditions and we were excited to discover that Miyanoura would hold its summer festival during our stay on Yakushima. The lovely friendly waitress at Hitomekuri Restuaurant had informed us that there would be a somen (cold noodles) run along the local high street, followed by a float, dancing and then a fireworks display. Excitedly we spent our day snorkelling on Isso Beach and ventured into Miyanoura Port late afternoon. The high street runs parallel to the river and is lined with cafes, restaurants and some old-fashioned bars and shops, reminding us of our time in Fujiyoshida.
Longest Somen Run Ever!
Unlike many other festivals, there were only a very few food stalls along the high street, but the main attraction, a long bamboo channel was propped up at the centre of the street with clear fresh water running down its gentle slope. Slowly floating along were hundreds of strands of somen noodles. The tradition in Japan is to catch the noodles from the bamboo channel and collect as many as you can to eat. To eat somen off the possibly longest somen run we had ever seen, we bought a cup with dipping sauce and some chopsticks and dug in. While this was surely not Japan’s most delicious meal, it was a lot of fun and a very unusual experience. The curiuous and happy smiles of the local children were an absolute joy to witness.
Wander Past the Street Stalls
Wandering past the stalls we admired a selection of giant beetles with horns and antlers, unlike anything we had seen in Europe. The guy selling the shimmering bugs enthusiastically lifted the lid of his terrarium to show his creatures to us. I think he would have even allowed us to pick them up if we wanted to. The other food booths were selling grilled meat skewers and fried noodles so were less interesting and we took a wander towards the footbridge across the Miyanoura River, as this was where the lantern float would come past once the sun had completely set behind the mountains.
The Impressive Lantern Float
A crowd of locals already eagerly awaited the procession of the impressive lantern float. At first we could hear the faint bangs of the drums, shortly afterwards we could see a group of people in the distance moving towards us. Amongst them shone a bright light that grew larger in size and took the shape of a giant cockerel with a samurai. The float was shipped down with a group of people from Aomori in Northern Japan, a tradition of the befriended towns taking place every few years.
Meet the Locals
The glowing float was surrounded by restless dancers moving to the drum beats. The men dressed in simple white yukatas and geta sandals, the women wore elaborately coloured yukatas. The women also featured magnificent hats, embellished with vibrant flowers. A group of children had crafted lanterns, inspired by underwater creatures, their proud and excited faces aglow with beaming smiles.
Joining the Celebrations and Dancing
Amidst the group of dancers we were greeted by the friendly hosts from Café Kiyokonnegai in Isso, they immediately dragged us into the procession to join in the dancing and festival celebrations. While I tried hard to move with the drums and chanting, I was unable to find my rhythm and I just could not get in line with the others. It was fun nevertheless the enthusiasm was extremely contagious. The float would stop every now and then and wildly turn the float in a circle almost trancelike, the men’s faces in sheer and utter delight. As the float turned the whole crowd chanted but whilst we joined in we could not fathom the words!
Hanabi – Fireworks Display
Upon reaching the entrance to the Yakujina shrine the entire congregation came to a halt. After a few more cheerful turns of the float, we could hear the bangs of the fireworks. Above the harbour wall a short but mesmerizing fireworks display lit the night sky. It has always amazed us that even the smallest towns and villages have the funds for this kind of extravaganza. After the hanabi was over, the float set once again into motion and returned along the road with its hordes of dancers and drum beats returning to the start of the procession.
Very Memorable Experience
This natsu matsuri in Yakushima was definitely a very memorable and fun experience on our trip to Japan last summer. We have always found that the smaller, more intimate festivals are the best way to get an insight into local traditions and we have always felt welcome to join the celebrations. We would therefore highly recommend anyone travelling through Japan during the summer months to seek out the lesser known festivals in the countryside, rather than the big tourist draws like Awa Odori in Takayama or Tokyo, although they are without a doubt a spectacle on another level.
Where we stayed in Kyushu:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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