UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Events in Akita

Akita's World Acclaimed Festivals

Akita Prefecture is home to three of the 33
total Yama, Hoko,
and Yatai float
festival events from 18 prefectures nationwide.

The Yama, Hoko, and Yatai float festivals, proposed by Japan as Intangible Cultural Heritage, were selected for inscription at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee Session held in 2016 in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Japan’s Intangible Cultural Heritage inscriptions thereby increased to 21 total, with the previous inscription of washi paper being recorded two years earlier in 2014.
The Yama, Hoko, and Yatai float festivals comprise 33 events total, held in 18 prefectures nationwide to pray for peace in each region and protection from misfortune.
The festivals, each of which are designated by the central government of Japan as important intangible folk-cultural properties, are characterized by parading through the town with the floats and other sculpted objects, which are magnificently decorated using the traditional crafts of woodwork, lacquering, and dyeing, in order to enliven and pacify the Gods being hailed.
Amongst the 33 inscriptions, three events were from Akita Prefecture, the yatai float event of Hanawa Festival, the hikiyama float event ofTsuchizaki Shinmei Shrine Festival, and the yama float event of Kakunodate Festival.

Hikiyama Float Event of Tsuchizaki Shinmei Shrine Festival. Annually July 20th&21stHikiyama Float Event of Tsuchizaki Shinmei Shrine Festival. Annually July 20th&21st

  • Akita City

It is an annual festival held at Tsuchizaki Shrine on July 20th and 21st every year. Sometimes it is called "Tsuchizaki Port Hikiyama Festival" and it's familiar to many people who living in Akita city. Also, it is officially designated a national Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in 1997.

The number of the floats pulled by locals depends on the year, but more than 20 float dedicated recently. This festival is a magnificent traditional rite that parades throughout the city with festival music of "Minato (Port) Bayashi (music)", one of the three major festival music in Akita.

On the front of Hikiyama float there are decorated samurai doll called Musha-ningyo and bare doll called Hadaka-ningyo, representing battle scenes or the aspects of history event, therefore it is spectacular. On the back side there is equipped with a scaffold, upon which the festival music performers sit, adorned on the top with comical sculptures and on the sides with depictions for reflection (known as mikaeshi) which satirize political, economic, social, or cultural events from a new perspective. Each year there are many people who come in anticipation of seeing the mikaeshi.

Yatai Float Event of Hanawa Festival. Annually August 19th&20thYatai Float Event of Hanawa Festival. Annually August 19th&20th

  • Kazuno City

The Hanawa Bayashi is festival music performed in consecration at festivals of Sakiwai-Inari Shrine, where local followers of the God Ubusunagami (the deity of one's birthplace), who is a guardian of land, have congregated since olden times.

Since 1960, the festival of Hanawa Shinmei Shrine has been held on the same day as the festival of Sakiwai-Inari Shrine, with the festivities taking on new meaning under the notion og the village God (of Hanawa Shinmei Shrine) hailing the God from the mountains (of Sakiwai-Inari Shrine).

On August 16th, the sacred object enshrining the spirit of the Sakiwai-Inari Shrine deity is transferred to the village shrine’s otabisho (temporary shrine used during the festival), and returned on the 20th. From August 19th to 20th the sound of Hanawa Bayashi music performed by groups from 10 different towns reverberates throughout the town of Hanawa. The most spectacular moment is when all of the yatai floats from the 10 different towns coalesce in front of the train station, with the festival music being jointly performed in great numbers.

The features of the festival are gorgeous floats decorated with lacquer and gold powder as well as lively festival music resound throuout the night. Yatai Float Event of Hanawa Festival was designated by government as an important intangible folk cultural property in 2014.

Yama Float Event of Kakunodate Festival. Annually September 7th,8th&9thYama Float Event of Kakunodate Festival. Annually September 7th,8th&9th

  • Semboku City

Huge Hikiyama floats from 18 district, adorned with samurai sculptures and sculptures of kabuki performers, are pulled around the town where the cityscape remains from the Edo period. Performers who play Oyama Bayashi festival music sit on the Hikiyama floats providing musical accompaniment, while local girls charmingly perform a dance incorporating hand gestures.

On the 7th the floats visit Shinmei Shrine, and on the 8th they pass through the district of samurai houses to be presented before the head of the North Satake family.

Each district has a place to operate a festival called "Haliban", and the responsible persons in each district are here to ensure the festival proceed smoothly.

During the festival, the route of Hikiyama has not been decided, so whenever it come across another one on a narrow road, participant’s local men assert and negotiate the traffic priorities of which floats to move first. When the negotiations break down, "Yama Buttsuke" (Clash of the floats) is done, at this point, the people pulling the floats as well as the festival music reach a climax, making for the pinnacle of the festival.