【Festival Feature】How to Enjoy the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival Even If You Have No Interest in Hanagasa!

As of mid-July 2018, we’re entering the peak of the festival season.

If you’re planning to go to a festival, and particularly if you’re heading to the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, I want to share some tips from my previous visit to this festival on how to enjoy it without focusing on the hanagasa!

Festival Overview: What Is the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival?

The Hanagasa Festival involves participants carrying hanagasa hats adorned with red flowers and parading through the streets to the tune of the “Hanagasa Ondo.” While it is held in several locations in Yamagata Prefecture and beyond, the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, which takes place in Yamagata City in August, is the most well-known. Despite its relatively recent history, it has become a major regional event comparable to the three major festivals of Tohoku. There are also references to the “Five Major Festivals of Tohoku” that include the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival and the Morioka Sansa Dance, in addition to the three traditional major festivals (Hirosaki Neputa, Sendai Tanabata Festival, and Akita Kanto Festival). – Wikipedia Hanagasa Festival

The “Hanagasa Ondo” is quite famous and is frequently featured on TV during the summer. Despite its relatively short history, it has become a significant festival involving the whole community, rivalling the major Tohoku festivals.

However, the labels of “Top Three” or “Top Five” festivals can vary, and I personally believe it’s more about personal preference. It’s great to have your own “Favorite Festival” instead of sticking to someone else’s rankings.

Event Details:

Location: Central Yamagata City (Tohkamachi-Honcho-Nanokamachi Street to Bunshokan), a 1.2km straight course

Dates: August 5-7 every year, from 18:00 to 21:45 (traffic restrictions from 17:45 to 22:00)

Access: A 10-minute walk from Yamagata Station. Although access to Yamagata Station itself isn’t very convenient, with the Yamagata Shinkansen and Senzan Line available, you can even combine this with a visit to the Sendai Tanabata Festival.

Official Website: Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

Side Note: The 2018 poster was incredibly stylish, with a Taisho Romantic feel. You can check it out in PDF format on the official website.

Festival Highlights ①: Even If It’s Basic, You Should Watch the Hanagasa Ondo!

Despite the heading suggesting otherwise, since you’re at the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, you should take a moment to watch it!

You don’t have to, but you’ll see it in your peripheral vision anyway, and even if you’re not a fan of dancing, think of it as a cultural experience and watch it with an open mind.

From evening to night, performers parade along streets adorned with lanterns, their expressions illuminated by the orange glow, creating a charming atmosphere. Festivals that unite a community always exude a special heat and character, and this unique ambiance is something everyone should experience, even those who usually see festivals as just big parties.

To participate in this dance, there are several options, with the most common being to join the “participation corners” held twice during the parade. If you have a group of 20 or more, you can apply for a group entry or even learn the dance beforehand to join in. So, if you’re eager to dance, check it out!

Festival Highlights ②: Fully Enjoy the Local Food Stalls!

Personally, I recommend this way of enjoying the festival more. Even if you’re not interested in dancing, you’ll definitely enjoy this! The number of stalls might be fewer than at other festivals, but their quality is top-notch!

Let me introduce a few things I tried:

First, this! “Dondon Yaki”

This has been trending a bit on Twitter lately, but I’m sure many people still don’t know about it.

I didn’t know anything about it until I came here…

Basically, it’s like a thicker version of okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) wrapped around a skewer, with sauce and bonito flakes on top. It’s like eating a filling okonomiyaki on a stick.

It’s very filling, and just one will fill you up. It’s also cheaper than fried chicken, making it one of the best-value foods at the stalls.

From what I found, this dish is mainly available in places like Iwate, Sendai, and Yamagata, and it seems the ones that use a sauce-wrapped style are unique to Yamagata. Definitely try it out; it’s educational too!

Next, this! “Sasanishiki Syrup (with fruit) Shaved Ice”

This was one of the best “all-out shaved ice” dishes I’ve ever had at a festival! (Though it doesn’t look great)

Festival shaved ice is often lackluster, just thrown together. But this one is different. It’s on par with high-end shaved ice from specialty shops. It’s incredibly delicious. They use syrup made from Sasanishiki, a high-sugar variety of cherry, and pour it over finely shaved ice, giving it an outstanding flavor and aroma. The ice is fluffy and not watery, showing a commitment to quality.

Considering the taste, quality, and regional uniqueness, it’s very cheap! In Tokyo, this would cost over 1000 yen.

You don’t need to dance, but you must try this before leaving. You’ll never forget Yamagata for the rest of your life if you do. This stall is usually located in front of a stylish store every year, so let’s hope it’s there again this year.

Summary!

n conclusion, here’s how to enjoy the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival even if you’re not interested in hanagasa: with delicious and unique food stalls included, the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is a holistic experience.

The festival is wholeheartedly supported by the local people who are keen on making it a grand event, and that enthusiasm is palpable.

For example, in addition to dancing and food stalls, there are many public and portable toilets that rarely get crowded, plenty of nearby parking, and the police are out in force ensuring safety and traffic management (I even saw a police officer getting quite angry at a bicycle crossing in front of Bunshokan). These efforts to enhance satisfaction and the dedication to the festival are clear.

(↑ The end point of the Hanagasa Parade at Bunshokan. So cool.)

Additionally, if you step off the main street, you’ll find quiet areas where you can escape the crowds and relax. This accessibility adds to the satisfaction.

(↑ A street with many stalls near the main street. Lots of bars too.)

It’s a festival where you can discover your own favorite spots, so why not visit the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival this summer?

(Editor/ふみ吉)

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