Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival – 二本松提灯祭り
This festival is the BEST festival in Fukushima-ken HANDS DOWN! To be fair, I’m totally biased, as the majority of the people that take part in this festival are my student. Still, the Chouchin Matsuri in Nihonmatsu on October 4-6 (especially the main day, Sunday Oct. 4) is one of the best festivals in Fukushima-ken. Here’s why:
The Lantern Festival starts at a main intersection in Nihonmatsu, a five minute walk from the station, around 6 p.m. Seven gigantic carts are adorned with hundreds of traditional red lanterns (yay for fire hazards!) each lit with real fire. If one lantern goes out, there are guys that scurry around the carts to light them or to put out fires when they happen. These carts also each have to be at least three stories high.
On the lower levels, there are taiko drummers, while on the upper levels there are guys clad in tradition Japanese junbeis who cheer on the crowds of men and boys who pull these carts through the massive hills of Nihonmatsu. Yeah, thats right, using ropes, they pull these things up AND down massive hills! Boys and men pull the carts, with the littlest kids leading the way; some of them are really friggin cute. The carts are followed by teenagers who scream “WASHOI, WASHOI” the whole way, especially during the two big hill sections.
The best spot to view all of this after the initial start is on the top of the 2nd hill. Head there directly after the opening ceremony and get a good spot so you can watch the carts start their ascent from the bottom of the hill and be there when they reach the top. Then, follow the last one down to the main intersection again.
Why do I think this is the best festival? That’s easy. This one is less of a spectator-type festival. It’s totally alright for you to jump in and jump around with the kids that are screaming “WASHOI, WASHOI” behind each cart. I wouldn’t recommend trying to take the ropes from one of the big Japanese dudes pulling that thing around the town though, that’s just asking for trouble. However, it is really nice being able to jump in and follow a cart around.
This festival has everything that you want that is intensely Japanese: lanterns, taiko, tradition, chants of “WASHOI WASHOI”, beautiful floats, and let’s not forget, fire hazards abound!
So, if you’re not going to Nagano this weekend, I highly recommend you check this festival out!