Kamaishi festival   釜石祭り

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Kamaishi festival

A festival between two worlds

Every year, the small town of Kamaishi organizes its own festival, a parade in honor of local deities. In 2019, the festival will fall at the same time as the Rugby World Cup, which is also being hosted in the town. It's a great opportunity to discover local culture between matches.

A parade at sea...

Each year, Kamaishi organizes three days of festivities from the third Friday in October. It's a long weekend punctuated by the sound of taiko (traditional Japanese drums), the songs of the participants and the sound of oars moving through the waves.

Indeed, most of the festival takes place on the water. As Kamaishi is a city with a livelihood based mainly on fishing, it regularly pays tribute to the local deities who have protected its ships and men during the year.

A hikifune, traditional Japanese boat

Tairyobata, a lucky Japanese flag

During the festival, nearly a dozen hikifune boats cross the bay of the fishing village. Originally designed to accommodate a small crew, hikifune are small Japanese boats that were traditionally used in Edo (1603-1868) to fish along the shoreline. Generally moored near the coast, these days they sail only for the festival. For the occasion, they are even by accompanied tairyobata, large traditional Japanese flags that are believed to bring luck and safety at sea.

But the main reason that Kamaishi festival attracts visitors from all over Japan is for the tiger dance, called tora-mai. Their arms covered with a cloth and holding a papier-mâché tiger's head, the dancers move their hands to the rhythm of the drums to make the tigers seem to fly over the water. An impressive dance, which chases evil spirits from the bay.

... and on land

A real local event, the parade also continues on the mainland. Linking Ozaki shrine in the south of the bay with that of Sanjija, which protects the mines east of the city, the festival sees hundreds of dancers and singers bring the streets of Kamaishi to life every year. The parade is primarily a religious event, and the procession participants also carry mikoshi, portable Shinto altars, between the two shrines.

Kamaishi tiger dance

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