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The Giant Floats of the Seihakusai Festival of Nanao, Ishikawa: Video Introduction

This video, titled "Seihakusai Festival – Dekayama Floats Parading Through Town|2017 in 4K" (青柏祭 でか山が街を行く 2017 in 4K), was uploaded by "officeliquid."

It's a powerful 4K video of the Seihakusai Festival of Nanao, Ishikawa, in Japan's Koshin'etsu Region. At the Seihakusai Festival, recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, the largest floats in Japan, referred to as "Dekayama," are pulled through the streets of the city. The sight of the Dekayama going from one alley to the next is an incredible sight. The shouting of the crowds and the gentle May breeze make it feel like the festival is taking place right before your eyes, something that can only be achieved with such high-definition video. Enjoy the 3-minute movie showing what it's like to travel to Noto during summer!

About Ishikawa Prefecture

Ishikawa Prefecture is located approximately 2.5 hours northwest of Tokyo via bullet train. It's bordered by Toyama, Fukui, and Gifu Prefectures, as well as the sea. Bordering the sea, Ishikawa is known for its delicious seafood, and is also home to a number of popular tourist attractions, including Kenrokuen Garden, one of the "Three Most Beautiful Gardens in Japan," and Kanazawa Castle, both of which are located in Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa. In addition, it's home to unique cultures and traditional crafts, such as Kanazawa Lacquerware, and Kanazawa Gold Leaf.

An Introduction to Festivals in Japan

Japan is home to thousands of festivals each year. The Japanese word for festival is "matsuri" (祭り), which comes from the word "matsuru" (祭る, to deify, to enshrine). The reason Japan has so many festivals has to do with Japanese culture and religion. Japan is said to be home to 8 million gods, and practically every area in Japan has a shrine that worships a particular god. Because of this, many shrines also have their own annual festivals, with different meanings and origins. There are seasonal festivals to pray for good harvests, bon festivals to pray for the souls of the dead, and even dance festivals showcasing traditional dances of a particular regions. There is a seemingly endless list of festivals, many of which are held near shrines or temples, and which often have food stalls, music, etc., for the enjoyment of participants.

Some of the most famous festivals in Japan are the Gion Festival of Kyoto, the Tanabata Festival of Sendai, and the Nebuta Festival of Aomori which features large, intricate floats.

Summer is particularly known to have a lot of festivals, thanks to the warm weather, so be sure to keep an eye out for them if you're visiting Japan during this time of year!

What Is the Seihakusai Festival? Unraveling the History and Origins of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage!

Image of the Seihakusai Festival, Nanao, Ishikawa
Photo:The Seihakusai Festival, Nanao, Ishikawa

The Seihakusai Festival is said to have been started as a national festival by Minamoto no Shitago in the Heian period (794-1185). Yoshimune, the third lord of the Noto Hatakeyama Clan, dedicated a float to the Seihakusai Festival, following the example of the yamaboko floats of Kyoto's Gion Festival, in an attempt to incorporate Kyoto culture into the festival, and this was the beginning of the Dekayama.

The Seihakusai Festival got its name from the fact that the food offered to the gods (shinsen) was served on the young leaves of an oak tree which are called "seihaku" (青柏) in Japanese. It's said that when people went to Noto, they paid a visit to Otokonushi Shrine and offered seihaku to the gods. The Seihaku Festival is an annual spring festival held at Otokonushi Shrine.
[Video] 0:22 - The Large Dekayama Floats of the Seihakusai Festival

The Seihakusai Festival has a history of more than 1,000 years. In 1983, the Seihakusai Festival and its large floats were designated as Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties of Japan, and in 2016, the events with the floats were registered as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages as well.

The Dekayama Floats of the Seihakusai Festival + The Dolls That Adorn Them

"Dekayama" is the common name for the largest floats in Japan. The huge floats are 12 meters tall, weigh 12 tons, and have wheels which are 2 meters in diameter. They're pulled by people and are a powerful sight. However, the magnificence of Dekayama is not limited to their size. The stages and dolls depicting famous Kabuki scenes which decorate the front of the Dekayama are also a highlight of the festival. The stage is also decorated with a single young pine tree, which is used to pray for the gods' descent and for the eradication of disease and a prosperous life.

The puppets/dolls displayed on the Dekayama's stages are called "Ningyomi" (人形見) and are unveiled at a designated "Ningyoyado" (doll inn) in each town on the evening of May 2, where they can be viewed by the general public.
The Nigyomi dolls are a rare opportunity to see the Dekayama floats from up close. After the one-night exhibition, the newly created dolls go up on the Dekayama stages each year. The Dekayama are the stars of the show, giving a large-scale performance that allows visitors to experience the history and culture of the Noto Region.

Tsujimawashi and Fireworks at the Seihakusai Festival

The highlight of the Seihakusai Festival is the turning of the floats, which is called "tsujimawashi." To turn the floats, a special lever called an "Oteko," is wedged beneath the wheel to change the direction of the float. Seeing the tsujimawashi performed on the narrow streets of the city with an 8-meter-long lever is quite the show.

Young men climb on top of the Oteko and use leverage to lift the front wheel and turn the floats. The scene of the dangerous rotation of the floats is a spectacular sight to behold.

[Video] 2:35 - Young Men Riding on the Oteko as the Float Is Turned

The powerful Tsujimawashi can be seen from the night of May 3 to the night of May 5 at various locations in the city center.

Another highlight of the Seihakusai Festival is the fireworks. The first shot at around 8:30 pm on May 3 is for Kajicho, the first town to pull out its floats. The second shot goes off at 1:00 am on May 4, signaling Fuchu to pull out its floats, and the last shot goes off at 8:00 am on May 4 for Uomachi. Unlike the other two towns, only Uomachi has two fireworks signals, one at 7:00 am and the other at 8:00 am. The time of the fireworks may change, and fireworks may not be displayed on rainy or cloudy days. Please check weather information, etc. in advance on the official websites.

When will the 2024 Aokashi Festival be held? Where will it be held?

The Aokashiwa Festival, held at the Daichishu Shrine in the center of downtown Nanao, is usually held from May 3 to 5. However, from 2020, due to the spread of the new coronavirus, only the Shinto ritual was held. After the end of the outbreak, in 2023, the Dekayama Matsuri was resumed for the first time in four years, and the festival was very lively.

However, the Aokashiwa Festival in 2024 was cancelled due to the Noto Peninsula earthquake. We hope that the local people will return to their daily lives as soon as possible and that the Aokashiwa Festival will resume after reconstruction.

The surrounding area will be very crowded during the festival. Traffic regulations will be enforced, so we recommend that you look up information in advance, including information on temporary parking lots, if you plan to visit the area by car.

How to Participate in the Seihakusai Festival

In previous years, the Seihakusai Festival was open to public participation in the form of pullers. Unfortunately, this was not possible in 2022 in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Recently, with the national policy of wearing masks after March 13th being left to the discretion of individuals, it's possible that the event will be open for public participation once again. It's best to wait for an official announcement regarding whether pullers can participate in the event. During the Seihakusai Festival, many sightseeing events will be held in the region, so be sure to check them out as well.

3 Popular Japanese Festivals Celebrated in May

Here are 3 more festivals that you could consider checking out if you're visiting Japan during May:

Aoi Matsuri, Kyoto
Aoi Matsuri is festival with origins dating back 1,500 years. The festival features a large procession of 600 people wearing traditional clothing of Heian Period court nobles. The procession, the main event of the festival, takes place on May 15.

Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo
Sanja Matsuri is a festival held on the 3rd Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in May. It's one of the most famous festivals in Japan and attracts nearly 2 million spectators each year. The festival is held at the popular Sensoji Temple in Asakusam Tokyo and consists of musical floats, geiko (apprentice geisha), dancers, etc.

Kanda Matsuri, Tokyo
Kanda Matsuri is held at Kanda Shrine in Chiyoda, Tokyo. It is one of the 3 major festivals of Tokyo. The festival's main event is a procession of around 500 people dressed in Heian Period attire that passes through Akihabara, the electronics capital of Japan.

Summary of the Seihakusai Festival of Nanao, Ishikawa

The Seihakusai Festival is a spring festival that is regarded as one of the most representative festivals of the Noto Peninsula. The tradition of Hikiyama, which has been passed on since ancient times, is filled with the wishes of many people.

Before the Dekayama parade, the biggest highlight of the festival, be sure to visit the Ningyoyado, where you can see the elaborate dolls and decorations up close every year. It's an awesome part of the Seihakusai Festival!

Nanao, Ishikawa is one of the most accessible tourist destinations, being only about an hour away from Kanazawa, which has many tourist attractions, by train or car. We recommend visiting here for a relaxing trip to enjoy traditional events, the delicious cuisine of the Noto Peninsula, and a variety of tourist attractions!

Written By
Last Updated : Apr. 13, 2023
I'm an upcyclist living on the tip of the Boso Peninsula.
The Seihakusai Festival of Nanao, Ishikawa! See the Large Floats and the Unique Street Parades in 4K Video!
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