The Hachinohe Sansha Taisai (Hachinohe Three-Shrine Festival) will be held in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture from July 31 to August 4.Culture
The Hachinohe Sansha Taisai (Three-Shrine Festival) is a five-day long celebration that takes place from July 31 to August 4 every year in Aomori. This UNESCO festival features 27 unique floats that can reach up to 3 stories high. Each of the floats is beautifully decorated with scenes from classic Japanese and Chinese folk tales, Kabuki plays, historic battles, and more! Join the people of Hachinohe as a whole city comes together to celebrate this traditional festival in the height of summer.
The History of the Hachinohe Sansha Taisai
The festival’s history stretches all the way back to 1721 when the people of Hachinohe held a procession from a shrine to give thanks for a good harvest. Over the years, wealthy townsfolk began adding floats decorated with dolls to accompany the procession and others joined in as lion dancers, tiger dancers, and so on. Soon, it had developed into the biggest festival in the Hachinohe area. In the early Meiji period, a final third shrine was added to the festival route, forming the base of the modern Sansha Taisai, or Three-Shrine Festival.
The Hachinohe Sansha Taisai of today still features the original shrine procession, but the simple floats of old have since evolved into gigantic moving stages where scenes of traditional folk tales and dramatic plays are put on display. These massive floats, or dashi in Japanese, are constructed by neighborhood groups and organizations within the city, and have become the main feature of the festival.
Dashi (the Festival Floats of the Sansha Taisai)
From around three months before the festival takes place, neighborhoods across Hachinohe begin constructing their dashi or festival floats. Unlike many other festivals, the people that make these parade floats aren’t professionals. Instead they are just regular members of the community who gather together after they get off from work to construct these massive floats.
After the festival is over, all of the floats are dismantled and broken down to prepare for the next year. Each year the float groups pick a new story for their dashi and start from scratch. This ensures that no two floats out of the 27 are the same.
This impactful display of tireless ingenuity is what lends the festival its lasting impression of beauty, vibrancy, and ephemeralness.
The Unfolding of a Dashi
Another unique feature of the festival floats is that they are made to be able to fold their layers and portions down or open them up, almost like a pop-up book. This feature is to help the floats fit through the narrow streets and sharp corners of downtown Hachinohe, but it also provides a stunning display for spectators watching the parade. The best time to see a float is when it is just starting to open up and expand, so watch the floats carefully and don’t miss your chance!
Where & When to Watch the Sansha Taisai
The festival takes place in the downtown area of Hachinohe from July 31 to August 4. The procession’s route and content varies from day to day.
■July 31 & August 4
When: July 31 (18:00～21:00) & August 4 (18:00～20:00)
Where: In front of Hachinohe City Hall & Downtown Hachinohe
On July 31 & August 4 the floats of the festival are stationed on display in the streets of downtown. The floats are illuminated as the night sets in and the bands of traditional flute and drum players that accompany each float create a whirlwind of music that energizes the air with palpable charge. This fantastic scene is registered as one of Japan's “Best Night Views”.
■August 1 & 3
When: August 1 & 3 (15:00～)
Where: Downtown Hachinohe
During the 1st & 3rd the floats move through the streets of Hachinohe, a scene that brings a classic Japanese picture scroll to life.
Besides the festival floats, the procession also features a diverse range of performances and groups, including shrine maidens, people in traditional warrior attire, tooth-chattering lion dancers, and comical tiger dancers.
Where: Downtown Hachinohe
On the middle day of the festival, the procession takes place in the dark of night. The floats are brightly illuminated, creating an atmosphere that is fantastically beautiful.
Additionally, during the afternoon of August 2nd the Kagami-style Kiba Dakyu event is held on the grounds of the Choja Shinra Shrine. This traditional sport was started in 1827 and is similar to western polo. Hachinohe is one of only two places in Japan where Kiba Dakyu is still regularly held.
By car: 15 minutes from Hachinohe Station
10 minutes from Hachinohe Expressway Hachinohe IC
By train: About 10-minute walk from JR Hon-Hachinohe Station