Traditional Festivals in Aomori : Hachinohe Sansha Taisai - 1 (Hachinohe, Aomori, Japan)

Hachinohe had been originally a castle town and the damage of World War II in the downtown Hachinohe was small. Nonetheless, it remains no old townscape surprisingly but modern buildings occupy the town as a proof that it developed as a town of industry and fishery industry after World War II.

In such Hachinohe, two festivals that are held in February and July pass down the old vestige hidden behind the modern town.

The festival held for five days from July 31 to August 4 is the Hachinohe Sansha Taisai Festival. It is the festival of three shrines, the Ogami Jinja Shrine (ex-Horei-sha Shrine), the Chozyasan-Shinla Jinja Shrine and the Shinmei-gu Shrine.

According to "The History of the Hachinohe Sashja Taisai Festival " written by Tadaji Miura, the beginning of the festival derives from 1721 when a potable shrine of the Horei-sya Shrine went around the castle town and was dedicated to the Chozyasan-Shinla Jinja Shrine. It was a festival of gratitude for the recovery of unseasonable weather and bumper crops that citizen had prayed to the Horei-sya Shrine. However, it was no mere festival but seems that it also intended commercial prosperity in Hachinohe castle town. In that sense, it might be a countermeasure to revitalize the downtown in that time. The merchants of the castle town also actively participated in the festival parade and floats, and it gradually became gorgeous.

The above book writes about a document of that time that recorded that simplification of the festival was ordered in the year of famine but a merchant stated it was difficult to suspend the festival because the lower class people lived by working as a laborer of the festival. The festival was also a countermeasure against the recession.

In 1887 after the Meiji Restoration, the Chozyasan-Shinla Jinja Shrine and the Shinmei-gu Shrine participated in the festival. Until then, the same dolls had been placed on floats every year, but floats came to be produced newly every year from then as they are now. That was not necessarily led by natural tendency but was achieved through efforts of Tamon Osawa who was a feudal retainer of Hachinhe Domain once and succeeded as an enterprise promoter in the new era. The festival was the forerunner of a revitalization project by a producer which is not uncommon now.

Well, the first day of the festival is the pre-event, that is, the eve of festival.

In the evening, floats pulled by a truck appeared one after another in front of the city hall and on the main street which are the venue. At this moment, I had an impression that floats were smaller than I thought. That was natural because decoration of floats was housed inside.

As soon as the floats were at fixed positions, the decorations were opened and was gradually coming up by the combination of the lifting device for going up and down and the folding device for moving back and forth. In an instant, the height reached at about 4 stories high. Moreover, the floats were opened right and left by hand. The floats changed into the size that I could not imagine at the arrival time when those were put on a truck deck.

The floats piled up many decorations that gradually increases the height from the front to the back. Mostly, those were based on historical events, legends and the Kabuki Play from the famous “Annals of the Three Kingdoms” of Chinese literature or “The tale of the Bamboo Cutter” to “The scene of the departure of Moroyuki Nambu and cavalry corps” which is unknown except locals.

However, even if those were huge, most were not a complicated three-dimensional composition like the Aomori Nebuta but were produced by a perspective expression by layer overlap similar to a stage setting of the Kabuki Play or Ukiyo-e Painting. I remembered a huge rake sold in a Rake fair held in November.

During the festival, the transition of the festival was exhibited in the cultural center "Hatchi”. The original floats were of four types. "Rock float“ on which trees and waterfalls got entangled on a rock as a main body, “Balustrade float” that expressed scenes of dancing with a doll inside a red balustrade, “Wave float" that was produced as a ship surrounded by a wave splash to express the sea and ”Building float " that put a large gate or a part of the castle on a float.

The present floats were a complicate combination of four types. Compared with the picture of old floats, the present floats combined the basic elements in a luxurious way meanwhile the volumetric representation was expressed by overlapping of flat surfaces and was approaching the traditional Japanese perspective way. The floats have been diversified but, as the result, the difference among floats got smaller.

Among four types, only “Building float” was dying out now. Looking at the pictures of the past, it was quite amazing. A building protruded into the air with a cantilever of 3 or 4 meters. It might be a volumetric representation sense incompatible with the present trend of flattening.

During the Edo period, merchants had produced a float, but, after the Meiji Restoration, a neighborhood association came to produce it. In 2011, 27 teams participated. What was surprising was that each float was handmade by the residents of a neighborhood association. That is also newly produced every year. I asked several teams. The production cost was about 2 million yen on average, and the earliest team begun producing from February.

When approaching, it soon became clear that the materials were polystyrene foam and plywood. The members painted it with various colors and decorated it with costumes. Even if the materials were easy to work, it is amazing that the residents themselves produced a float of this scale and the fineness without support of professionals. Hachinohe is an town with strong community power.

When the sun set, the children sitting in the front row of floats beat small drums and began shouting "Yareyare". In the interior, matured men and women struck big drums, and whistles and local songs joined. Only today, the old-fashioned sound echoed in the building street. As it got darker, the floats were shining more brightly with lighting. Although it rained a little, most of the musical accompaniment followed the performance, getting soaked to the skin. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., the eve of festival continued, caring nothing for rain.

To Japanese Version

Google Maps

From Tokyo to Hachinohe
by train
: 3 hours from “Tokyo Station” to “Hachinohe Station” by Shinkansen (high speed train), one service per one hour.

From “Hachinohe Station” to “downtown Hachinohe”
20 minutes by bus from “Hahinohe Station” to “Jusan-nichi-machi”, frequent service in the daytime. The site is within downtown Hachinohe near "Jusan-nichi-machi".

Hachinohe Tourist Information Website

Aomori Sightseeng Guide

Acoommodations in Hachinohe

"八戸三社大祭の歴史"(三浦忠司, 伊吉書院, 2007)
"八戸三社大祭公式ガイドブック"(八戸観光コンベンション協会, 2011)

2018.01 Photos in English version, and photos and text in Japanese version
2018.07 Text in English version


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Hachinohe Sansha Taisai - Festival-eve vigil

Photo by Daigo Ishii