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Hanagasa Matsuri: Powerful Dancing at a Summer Festival in Yamagata

Great excitement of festivals fills the Tohoku Region when the month of August arrives. Yamagata Prefecture is no exception with its “Hanagasa Matsuri (Flower Hat Dance)”, known as one of the five major festivals in the region. It is held for 3 days from August 5th through 7th each year, and people can enjoy a parade that goes through the 1.2 km thoroughfare in the center of the city.

 

What is “Hanagasa Matsuri” Like?

花笠まつり

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Writer’s Photo

The origin of the Hanagasa Matsuri is said to be in “Zao Natsu Matsuri (Zao Summer Festival)” that started in 1963, and it came to take the current form by 1965. The powerful god of “Zao Daigongen” leads the parade in his float, and dancing people follow it, shouting “yassho, makasho”. The number of dancers is reportedly about 10,000.

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Writer’s Photo

Members of each group dance in unified costumes, with hanagasa (flower hat) in their hands, which is decorated with “beni hana”, the symbol flower of Yamagata Prefecture.

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Float of Zao Daigongen (蔵王大権現), Writer’s Photo

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Writer’s Photo

Of course men also dance energetically. The powerful dance continues into night, and it is so full of energy that spectators may wonder when then will stop dancing.

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Writer’s Photo

Adorable children also add a unique color to the parade.

 

On Hanagasa Ondo & Hanagasa Odori

During the Hanagasa Matsuri, people dance “Hanagasa Odori” to the song of “Hanagasa Ondo”. At its origin around 1919, it was sung as laborers worked. Hanagasa Ondo is said to have an astonishing 150 different lyrics.

The current Hanagasa Ondo adopted in the Hanagasa Matsuri has 15 different lyrics, composed of traditional lyrics and new creations obtained by a public search in and beyond the prefecture. The lyrics mention various tourist destinations and local specialty goods in Yamagata Prefecture, and they are very easy to remember. The song is so famous that any Yamagata resident can sing the first section of the song.

Choreography varies from area to area, and some groups dance with their hanagasa (flower hat) on their heads, while others dance and turn the hanagasa in their hands. Obanazawa City is said to be where the Hanagasa Odori was born. This area’s Hanagasa Odori is particularly dynamic, as dancers turn characteristically large hanagasa ever so vigorously. Men’s dance while turning hanagasa is especially awesome.

 

How to Participate in the Dance

A group needs to apply in advance in order to participate, however there are chances to take part as an individual.

1. Two Chances to Jump in Each Day!

“Opening Hanagasa Wa Odori” (6:10-6:30 PM in front of the City Hall, around the finishing area of the parade), Map
“Jump into the Tail of Hanagasa Parade” (8:30-9:30 PM, following the last group of the parade)

In “Hanagasa Wa Odori”, resident instructors are available to coach slow, basic movements, therefore beginners need not worry. Every year international visitors of the festival are seen to jump into the dance and enjoy participation. How about learning how to dance and taking the opportunity to jumping into the parade?

2. Location of the Festival

Time: August 5th through 7th every year between 6 PM and 9:30 PM, with eve’s events on August 4th.
Location: Yamagata City, from Tooka-machi to Bunshokan Museum through Hon-machi Nanoka-machi Dori, a straight distance of 1.2km in the center of the city.
Access: 10minute walk from JR Yamagata Station

 

Finally

Hanagasa Odori, performed in a perfect unison is especially impressive. In recent years, you can enjoy addition of men’s dance, dancing and turning hanagasa, or even original, creative dances in the parade. Attractive features of the Hanagasa Matsuri include appreciating each group’s unified, gorgeous costumes and the fact that everyone can participate, regardless of the age and gender.

We highly recommend you to experience the lively, exciting Hanagasa Matsuri that will blow away the summer heat. And it’s a shame if you only watch it. Let’s participate in it and enliven the summer of Yamagata together!

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Eiri

About the author

I live in Yamagata, so I will be introducing sightseeing information and local culture focused on Yamagata. I am currently studying English. My hopes are to acquire the ability to use English to explain Japanese culture to international visitors coming to Japan.

View all articles by Eiri
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