Enormous! Japan’s Largest Waraji Straw Sandal at Fukushima Waraji Festival
“Fukushima Waraji Festival” is held in August every year in association with another festival called “Akatsuki Mairi,” which is held annually in February in Fukushima Prefecture. In the former festival, which is scheduled on 5th (Fri) and 6th (Sat) of August this year, just one piece from Japan’s largest pair of waraji straw sandals, which weighs as much as 2 tons and has a length of 12 meters, will be dedicated to Haguro Shrine in Mount Shinobu, which is located in the central part of the prefecture.
The reason why only half of the pair is dedicated to the shrine is because the other half has already been dedicated to the shrine in Akatsuki Mairi, which is another festival with a history of about 300 years and held annually in February. In this ritualistic dedication of the waraji sandal, people pray for the health of legs and safety in travel and in recent years for general good health, rich harvest, wellness of family and success in business.
Then the other sandal is dedicated to the shrine in the following Fukushima Waraji Festival held in August to further underscore the wish for healthy legs which they have prayed for in the previous festival. By separately dedicating half a pair of sandals, the two festivals complete the dedication ritual to the shrine. The festivals well exhibit the strong wish of local people to preserve their tradition of the festivals featuring Japan’s largest waraji sandals and enhance the community bond.
What is waraji?
Waraji is traditional straw sandals which Japanese people used to wear for daily use. Besides waraji, there are also other traditional footwear such as geta, zori and setta in Japan. The shape of waraji is similar to modern beach sandals but the long cords (or straps) leading from the front tip part first go through the loops on each side of the sandal and then through another loop on the rear end before turning back to tie around the ankle and finally get tied up at the rear end or the sides. Unlike beach sandals that are only worn with the straps going between the toes, the waraji is secured more firmly to the whole foot so in the past, many people favored them for long trips or mountain climbing. But they easily wore out and had a fairly short life span. They are rarely worn for daily use today, but people do wear them for festivals and other traditional events.
Fukushima Waraji Festival features Waraji Parade, where people march around the festival venue carrying large waraji sandals, and a mass dance (Waraji Odori), where people variously dressed up in pop and funky style yukata (traditional summer kimono) and other outfits perform cheerful dances. There is also Waraji Team Race, which everyone from children to adults participates in teams and carry a large waraji sandal to race for the goal. While you need an advance registration to join these events, the festival also features a waraji sandal making workshop which you join without a reservation. The finished waraji sandal can make a lucky charm which you can bring back home. If you are up for trying your hands on waraji making, visit the festival site by 11:30 AM.
If you ever visit the festival, why not put on some waraji themed outfit or accessory and enhance your festive mood?