10 Unique Autumn Festivals in Kyushu
In Japan, where the harvest season of autumn sets in as the heat of summer subsides, many matsuri (festivals) with music and dance performances are held all over the country to give thanks to good harvest and honor certain deities. Below are some of the distinct autumn festivals that have taken root in Kyushu.
1. Onigie (Dorotsukudon) (Fukuoka)
Onigie is a festival held at Mihashira Shrine to signal the arrival of autumn to Yanagawa. The name “Onigie” comes from the local pronunciation of the Japanese word “onigiwai” (huge crowd). The main highlight of this festival is the Dorotusukudon, a float ridden by dancers wearing masks who lean out of the float while dancing to the music. With sounds echoing from huge drums, flutes, and gongs, the dancers parade along the road leading up to the shrine and around town, and the exciting event lasts until late at night.
Festival dates: 3 days, usually centering on the 2nd Sunday of October (the 2018 festival is from October 6th - 8th)
1. Onigie (Dorotsukudon) (Fukuoka)
2. Miare Festival (Fukuoka)
The Miare Festival is actually a shrine ritual with a 750-year history that is held at the beginning of the Tajima Hojoe, a major autumn festival that takes place at Munakata Taisha Shrine. This ritual is held to pray to the Munakata Sanjojin (three goddesses enshrined in the shrine that gather at Hetsumiya Shrine once a year)for a good catch and an abundant harvest. You will be thrilled when you see about 200 fishing boats sailing on the waters around the gozabune (roofed pleasure boat) that is carrying the deity, with their tairyo-bata (a flag that is raised when a boat goes back to port with a big haul) flapping in the wind. This event is held within the area of "Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region," which has been designated as a World Heritage Site.
Festival date: October 1st
3. Nagasaki Kunchi (Nagasaki)
Listed as one of the three greatest festivals in the country, Nagasaki Kunchi is a major autumn festival that takes place in Suwa Shrine. The main highlight of this festival is the hono-odori (offering dance) that has a rich international flavor owing to influences from China, the Netherlands, Portugal, and other foreign countries. You have to see the takarabune (treasure ship) that symbolizes good luck, the namban-sen (Dutch-style sailboat), and magnificent dashimono (performances) such as dragon and lion dances. With shouts of “mottekoi” ("encore!"), the performers and spectators will bring the event to a climax! This iconic Nagasaki festival attracts many visitors from inside and outside of Nagasaki Prefecture.
Festival dates: Every October 7th to 9th
4. Yosakoi Sasebo Festival (Nagasaki)
Held in late October each year, Yosakoi Sasebo Festival is the biggest Yosakoi festival in all of Kyushu. Yosakoi is a dance that is performed to the tune of local folk songs while using naruko (clappers) that make a clapping sound, and at the core of the festival is contest-style dance event wherein teams compete against each other. Around 7,000 dancers comprising about 180 teams perform their unique yosakoi dances at more than 10 spots around the city, starting with the Nakiri Festival Square in Chuo Park, which is the main venue of the festival. You will surely be awed by the powerful dances!
Festival dates: October 19–21, 2018 (19th is the eve of the festival)
5. Karatsu Kunchi (Saga)
Karatsu Kunchi is the autumn festival of Karatsu Shrine. During the festival, 14 lacquered hikiyama (gigantic stall with wheels that is used in festivals) parade around town while accompanied by music from flutes and drums. The festival runs for three nights, starting with yoiyama (small festival on the eve of a main festival), during which the hikiyama seem to magically float with the light from lanterns. If you come outside of the Kunchi festival schedule, you can still see the hikiyama floats that are stored in the Hikiyama Exhibition Hall on the west side of Karatsu Shrine.
Festival dates: Every November 2nd to 4th
6. Usuki Takeyoi Festival (Oita)
Usuki Takeyoi is a festival wherein 20,000 bamboo lanterns create a mystical world. The view is especially beautiful in the historic cobblestone streets around Nioza that are illuminated by warm lights, but you will also be awed by the beauty of the elaborate objects at the Former Shingyoji Temple as well. This event reenacts the legend of Princess Hannya, who lost her life in a storm and left a young daughter behind, going back as a spirit to her hometown in Usuki where her parents and young child are waiting. Koto (Japanese harp) performances and various events are held throughout the city during this festival.
Festival dates: Every 1st Saturday and Sunday of November (November 3-4, 2018)
7. Fujisaki Hachimangu Grand Fall Festival (Kumamoto)
The Grand Fall Festival at Fujisaki Hachimangu Shrine has a history that dates back more than 1,000 years. The biggest attraction in this 5-day festival is the shinko gyoretsu (divine procession). With the mikoshi (portable shrine) at the center, a procession of samurai wearing large armor gallantly march on the streets while 15,000 dashing seko (horse chasers) pulling around 70 decorated horses shout “Dokai dokai!” The performers parade around town while the festival becomes even more festive with the sounds of trumpets and other musical instruments.
Festival dates: 5 days, with the 3rd Monday of September serving as the last day of the event
7. Fujisaki Hachimangu Grand Fall Festival (Kumamoto)
8. Mythical Takachiho Yokagura Festival (Miyazaki)
Takachiho Yokagura Festival is a festival in which Takachiho no Yokagura is performed as a form of offering at the Kagura Hall of Takachiho Shrine Shrine, which is known as a "power spot" (a location thought to be flowing with mystical energy). Takachiho no Yokagura the name for a type of folk entertainment that has been taking place in this region for 800 years now, in which 33 kinds of dance (viewing is free of charge) are performed to give thanks to the autumn harvest and pray for abundant crops in the following year. Outside of the festival dates, four representative dances are performed every day (viewing fee: 700 JPY) as Takachiho Yokagura.
Festival dates: Every November 22nd and 23rd
※The Yokagura event that is held in each village for a limited time starting mid-November is a shrine ritual, so please be mindful of others and pay close attention to the shrine customs.
9. Miyazaki Shrine Grand Festival (Miyazaki)
Miyazaki Shrine Grand Festival is an autumn festival that is held at Miyazaki Shrine on October 26th. This grand autumn festival directly precedes the biggest festival in Miyazaki - Jinmu Sama, a shinkosai (festival to celebrate the temporary transfer of a deity away from its main shrine) that is held on the first Saturday and Sunday after the Miyazaki Shrine Grand Festival. Held in honor of Emperor Jinmu who was the first emperor of the country, this festival calls on participants to pray for huge harvest. The festival is mainly held on the 4km stretch from Miyazaki Shrine to the otabijo (temporary shrine), and with the portable shrine at the heart of the festival, people clad in ornate costumes march around town together with an ancient ship and people dressed as deities. The pomp of this festival grows every year.
Festival dates: Every October 26th and the first Saturday and Sunday that follow
10. Ohara Festival (Kagoshima)
The Ohara Festival was created by citizens who were passionate about postwar restoration. This festival's So-odori, wherein more than 20,000 dancers simultaneously march while dancing to Kagoshima folksongs such as “Ohara-bushi,” is such a dynamic scene that is worthy to be called the main event of the festival. Another highlight of this festival are the groups clad in elaborate costumes. Apart from those, you can also enjoy the stage event and stalls selling regional specialties at Minato Odori Park.
Festival dates: Every November 2nd and 3rd
Festivals are great opportunities to catch a glimpse and touch the cultures of the areas where they are held. So check out and enjoy these truly unique autumn festivals in Kyushu!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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