In Japan, summer time means that it is festival time. People come together to celebrate the warm weather and each other’s company. These festivals happen in every single prefecture of Japan. Many people are drawn to the larger ones in cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Don’t get me wrong, these festivals are fantastic in their own right. But if you are looking for more of an authentic Japanese experience, you need not look farther than Nagasaski Prefecture in Kyushu. Whether you are looking for a celebration, fireworks, a karaoke competition, or some good authentic food, you will be covered.
1. Summer Festival in Nishi Arie
The first festival is the Summer Festival in Nishi Arie. This little town of just about 8,500 hundred people lies to the east of Nagasaki City on the southeastern side of the Shimabara peninsula. It is a part of Minamishimabara, a city which was created to combine a bunch of little towns.
Every year on July 25th this tiny town becomes the center of a lively summer festival. The festival itself takes place inside the compound of the Tenmangu Shrine. Inside a Cogon grass ring is prepared over the entrance. These grass rings are used for a symbolic ritual of purification, which dates back to the Edo Period. They can either be individualized, being handed out, or be a center piece which people pass through. In this particular festival, it is the latter. The Cogon Ring is supposed to help purify the soul and promote good health in the coming year.
The festival contains the spiritual side within the shrine, and a fun cultural side outside of the shrine. As you make your way to the shrine, food vendors, and general festivities will be set up. One of the things unique to this festival is the free somen nagashi. What this means is that there is a large bamboo shoot with running water set up on the main road. Inside, somen noodles float from one end to the other. People along the sides then use chopsticks to attempt to catch the noodles and eat them. This practice goes on the entire day, so if you ever get hungry you can wander over and see how good you are at catching the noodles.
Nishi Arie is best gotten to through car, as the train line stops at Shimabara some ways up north. However, taking the train to Shimabara and then a bus down to the city is another plausible option.
2. Summer Festival in Arie
The next festival is only a stone’s throw away from the first, and only a few days apart as well. Making these two a combined trip is a definite possibility. This summer festival is held just north of the previous one at the Arie Onsen Shrine. The event takes place on July 29-30th , just 4 days after the previous festival.
The main event takes place on July 29th. Here everyone comes together to pray for good health. Within the shrine, stalls are set up where local people sell different products. A festival atmosphere is created through local music, a lottery, and other fun activities. There is even a Karaoke competition for those wanting to show off their singing.
This festival has a strong history to it and is very popular among the local townspeople. It is one of the most authentic experiences one can get. A few days of fun are sure to ensue if you visit.
Arie is just north of Nishi Arie, and therefore can be gotten to the same way that you get to Nishi Arie.
3. Summer Festival in Kazusa
Around the same time as the other festivals, Kazusa, just east of Arie, has a large amount of festivities going on. Many people come here to watch the dolphins which live right off the coast.
But during July and August the summer festival as well as the summer fireworks take place. The summer festival begins somewhere between mid-July and mid-August. It is chosen locally every year. The Youth Division of the Town Chamber of Commerce and Industry along with local business owners organize the event. Karaoke, food, and events are set up during the festival to enjoy.
August is often the time of fireworks in Japan. Kazusa has some of the best fireworks on the peninsula. In mid-July the local townspeople gather to launch 1,500 fireworks off over the water.
On the same beach you might spot the dolphins, people gather on the night of the fireworks to celebrate. It’s a magnificent event that really marks the summer season.
You can get here best from taking the bus to 水月橋(suigetsubashi) or Kazusa-Kaisuiyokujo-Mae and then walk on over.
4. Hamagurihama Summer Beach Festival
The last festival is a little bit of a distance away from the other festivals. All the way over on the Goto islands. These are some of Japan’s most beautiful islands. It takes place on Hamagurihama Beach, which is one of the top 100 swimming beaches in Japan.
It takes place on the third Monday of July, and features activities ranging from kayaking, to a beach volleyball competition. The main festivities take place on Sunday morning. It’s a great way to celebrate the summer season.
You can get to this island from Nagasaki, Sasebo City, Ojika town, and Uku island. Just take the ferry to the Arikawa Ferry Terminal. From there it’s within walking distance, so you can’t miss it.
5. Summer Festival in Futsu
This festival features many Taiko (traditional Japanese drummer) groups coming together to expel bad spirits. The taiko drums are supposed to be loud and vibrant enough to both accomplish this task, and to bring up the spirits of those affected by the summer heat. The festival takes place during the Oben season, which is in the middle of August.
It features the Taiko performances as well as many other festival activities. One specialty of this festival is the local Tenobe, which are hand stretched somen noodles. There is also eel catching, which sounds interesting in its own right.
Futsu is located on the most eastern side of the Shimabara Peninsula. The best way to get here is by car or bus, as the train lines end just north of here. However, you can also take a train to Shimabara and then take a bus down south to Futsu.
Nagasaki is a great place to go if you are looking for some authentic summer festivals. Whether you want to celebrate on an Island, on a beach, or at a shrine, there are opportunities all over the place. Make it apart of your future travels and you won’t regret it!
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