Japanese Summer Festivals and Fireworks in Nagano

July 21st, 2017 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

An archer in the Nyakuichi Oji Festival in Omachi City.

The vibrant, lively atmosphere of summer festivals is one of the most memorable parts of Japan. The streets are filled with the bright colors of yatai stalls, yukata robes, and paper lanterns, and the sky lights up with brilliant fireworks. Musicians play traditional flute and drum songs as performers entertain festival-goers with dances and theater.

As summer approaches its peak, Nagano gears up for exciting festivals of its own. Enjoy traditional Japanese summer festivals along with events that are unique to Nagano.

1. Japan Alps Art Festival (Omachi City)

“Shinano Omachi Tangible Landscape” by the creative team “Me.”


Utilizing traditional kominka houses and the rich nature at the base of the Japan Alps, Omachi City is hosting the first Japan Alps Art Festival with over 30 artists from around the world. Until July 30th, you can see beautiful works of art that explore the relationship between humans and nature.

“Windy” by Kuei-Chih Lee

Tickets can be purchased for 2,500 Yen and include one admission to every work as well as discounts on certain activities and restaurants. The event runs from June 4th to July 30th, 2017. You can learn more about the festival on the event’s official multilingual website, or see firsthand photographs from one of our bloggers here.


2. Iida Puppet Festival (Iida City)

Japanese and international puppet troops perform over the course of 6 days during the Iida Puppet Festival.


All of Iida City becomes host and stage of the biggest puppet festival in Japan. Bringing together puppet theater troupes from across Japan, Asia, and as far away as Europe, the fair features all forms and styles of puppetry from traditional ‘bunraku’ hand and shadow puppets to newer forms of object theater, pantomime, and ventriloquism. Audiences of all ages are fascinated, entertained, and enchanted with the puppet shows hosted at more than 100 venues throughout the city. In addition, there are a parade, workshops, and a midnight theater.

This year’s puppet festival will be held between Tuesday, August 1st and Sunday, August 6th. See our event page or their english website for more details.


3. Nagano’s Dancing Festivals (Various Locations)

A snapshot of the dance performed at Nagano’s Binzuru festival.


Around August, major cities throughout Nagano celebrate summer dance festivals. Locals join large groups of classmates, coworkers or friends, each with their own unique and colorful happi coats, and dance through the streets late into the evening. The simple melodies are contagious and friendly groups often invite you to dance along. Enjoy the lively atmosphere, snack on fried festival foods, and dance away the summer heat.

Ueda City celebrates its Wasshoi festival on Saturday, July 29th. Nagano (Binzuru), Matsumoto (Bonbon) and Iida cities (Ringon) celebrate their festivals on the same day, Saturday, August 5th.


4. Omachi Nyakuichi-Oji Festival (Omachi City)

A young boy trying traditional “yabusame” archery from horseback.


Omachi City’s Nyakuichi-Oji Shrine not only has a history of over 700 years, but its main building and pagoda are designated national important cultural properties. The shrine’s annual festival features a “yabusame” horseback archery competition. One of the top 3 such competitions in the country, Nyakuichi-Oji’s is the only one by young boys. The boys dressed in period costumes also perform a procession through the town as part of this colorful festival.

This year it will be held on July 22nd to 23rd. See more information on our event page.


5. Sakaki Festival (Mochizuki-juku in Saku City)

A long exposure photograph of flaming torchs being thrown into the river during the Sakaki Festival.


With burning pine torches in their hands, local youth run down from the mountain to the Kakuma riverbed, and together throw their torches into the river in an exciting spectacle. This festival is held on August 15th every year in Mochizuki-juku, a former post town of the Nakasendo. Through the cleansing fire, locals pray for their health and a bountiful harvest. It is said that a long time ago, the warring states general Takeda Shingen mistook the festival’s torchs for an ambush and immediately retreated with his troops.

The festival is held every year on August 15th. See more information on our events page.


6. Suwa Fireworks Festival (Suwa City)

A shot from the 2013 Suwa Experimental Fireworks festival.


Suwa’s fireworks display, held in mid-August every year, is hailed as one of the largest displays in all of Japan. Over 40,000 devices are exploded over the lake, with the sound reverberating off the surrounding mountains. The grand finale is a 2-kilometer long “niagara” of cascading sparkles. In early September, a second fireworks display is held featuring new experimental types. Suwa’s fireworks display was started shortly after World War II in the hopes of lightening people’s spirits in the aftermath of the war.

The Suwa Fireworks Festival is held every year on August 15th. The Suwa Experimental Fireworks festival is held on September 2nd. See more information on our events page.


7. Yuzawa Shrine Lantern Festival (Nozawa Onsen Village)

The performer dressed as Sarutohito no Mikoto dances while twirling a large bundle of burning hay.


During Yuzawa Shrine’s religious Lantern Festival, a parade of large poles weighted with plentiful lanterns extends through the streets of Nozawa Onsen. The Shinto deity Sarutohiko-no-Mikoto performs the purifying ritual called “Shimekiri,” where he rhythmically swings a large bundle of fire before cutting a ceremonial rope with a katana. Throughout town you can see performances of the Sarutahiko-no-Mikoto dance, the dance of the 36 great poets, and the dance of the lion. Also, from 19:30 yatai stalls fill the streets and fireworks light the sky. The next day an omikoshi float makes its rounds through the whole town.

This year, the festival will be held on September 8th and 9th.


Additional Information

Summer festivals are one of Japan’s most memorable experiences. Wear your own yukata, enjoy delicious street food and marvel at the sight of Japanese fireworks. People of all ages are out and about so you can meet locals and enjoy an authentic slice of life in Japan. If you’re interested in learning more about Nagano’s summer festivals and activities, take a look at some of the other resources below!

Links

Japan Alps Art Festival at Omachi, Nagano

June 30th, 2017 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience

 

Located at the foot of the 3000+ metre Kita Alps mountain range in the Northwest of Nagano Prefecture in the town of Omachi, The Japan Alps Art Festival (JAAF) is conceived to showcase unique and imaginative natural artworks, commissioning many international artists, that complement and highlight the region’s epic natural landscapes and features. Planned to continue on a triennial basis, the inaugural 2017 event is currently nearing the midway point of its approximate 7-week course (June 4-July 30) and is on  track for over 20,000 attendees.

Being a proud Omachi resident of 3 years, I was invited to join the bloggers tour for a day sampling some of the art installations (and 1 or 2 local restaurants). The exhibition is far too large to see every exhibit in one day – there are 38 primary exhibits [you can preview the complete catalogue at the JAAF website] distributed all over Omachi in 5 separate sections {eastern mountains, three lakes, headwaters, dam, downtown} – transport of some kind is required – with a private car, progressing through the exhibition sequence at a relaxed enjoyable pace, we were able to see about a dozen exhibits over 8 hours. For visitors, at least two and probably three days is recommended to see it all comfortably. A special bus and a special taxi servicing the entire span of exhibits runs daily for the duration of the festival. Car rentals are available, offering more flexibility and time efficiency. (These require an international driver’s permit for foreign visitors).

Following is a small sample of a few of the exhibits we have seen thus far. We will cover the remainder over the remaining month of the festival.

Pre-opening jazz music act:

 

Exhibit 30:

Tangible Landscape by Japanese artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 33:

Bamboo Waves by Russian artist Nikolay Polissky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 15:

Arc ZERO is by Australian “Land-and-Light” artist James Tapscott (who, we were astonished to learn, hails  from our former suburb back in Australia – quite a coincidence in this part of the World.)

 

Exhibit 16:

Trieb – Forest in Rain by Japanese artist  Toshikatsu Endo

 

Exhibit 34:

Hameau d’ellipes by Swiss artist Felice Varini

 

Exhibit 29:

Located at Reishoji Temple, a collection of fantastically ornate wood sculptures and a sound+light show by the highly accomplished local Omachi resident artist Sadao Takahasi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibit 14:

Tatsu by Italiian artist Patrick Tuttofuocu


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Special thanks go to the many, many organizers and volunteers from the Omachi community and to the various local, regional, national and even international corporate and government sponsors of this impressive event – in its inaugural instance, the Japan Alps Art Festival appears to have exceeded all expectations and bodes well for a burgeoning tenure in the years and decades ahead.

5 Great Winter Festivals in Nagano

December 9th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

Enjoy fire festivals, illuminations and more in this winter wonderland.

Winter is here. Snow is falling steadily up in the mountains and people around Nagano are bringing out their kotatsu tables, kerosene heaters and nabe pots. Once again, it’s that time of year for skiing, hot springs and great winter festivals. Why stay inside when you could warm up in front of a magnificent fire festival or in the company of Japan’s many spirits?

Make some wonderful memories this winter with some of the festivals below!
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The Night View Train to Obasute

September 28th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Report, Sightseeing

The front of the Night View Obasute train.

Perched several hundred meters above Chikuma City is Obasute Station which boasts beautiful scenery of the Nagano valley. The Shinano line passes through this area on its way between Nagano and Matsumoto cities, and is considered one of Japan’s three best train line views.

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Impressions of the Onbashira Festival

July 13th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Report

Locals watch as the first pillar is lifted into place at the Harumiya shrine.

The Onbashira festival is finally at an end. After months of preparation and twelve long days of labor, the sixteen onbashira pillars have reached their resting places at the corners of the four shrines of Suwa Taisha.

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Cherries and Sumo Wrestlers Coming Back to Matsumoto and Saku Early April

March 26th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Seasonal Topics

Last year's cherries with the Matsumoto Castle (April 9th)


According to the latest ‘Cherry Blooming Forecast’, cherries in major spots (except for highlands) in Nagano Prefecture would begin blooming March 28th (Iida, Tenryu Gorge in Southern Nagano) till April 14th (Omachi, etc in Northern Nagano) and full-bloom around 4th to 19th.

At the popular spot, Matsumoto Castle, they might start blooming on April 3rd according to the forecast. An event ‘Nighttime Cherry Blossom Viewing’ will be held from three days after cherries begin blooming and continue 8 days (so possibly around April 6th till 13th)
The special illumination for the cherries will start from the same day and will continue two days longer (10 days).

On April 7th, maybe a little before full-blooming of cherries, ‘Sumo road-show’ will be held again in Matsumoto and on April 19th it will be held in Saku City. The last year’s road-shows in Matsumoto and Nagano City were heated because of a new hero ‘Mitake-umi’ from Kiso in Nagano Prefecture. You might see some sumo wrestlers viewing cherries somewhere in Matsumoto after the show if you are very lucky.
See here about the time, venue and ticket of the show in Matsumoto.

Nothing But Flowers

March 14th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing
Wild white flowers bloom above the green leafy brush of a mountain clearing

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing to see in Nagano, whose wide variety of climate and terrain is suitable for all sorts of beautiful flowers and plants. During Spring, fields bloom in dazzling shades of yellow, red, pink and purple as the white-capped Japanese Alps stand majestically in the distance. It’s a great time to visit Nagano’s sightseeing spots and enjoy its natural beauty.

Below are some of Nagano’s best and most beautiful orchards and gardens to visit during the Spring months. See some of Japan’s largest apricot orchards, azalea parks and more!

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Nagano’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots

March 4th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

(This was originally posted in 2016, but dates and timetables have been updated for the 2017 season.)

Cherry blossoms and snow make a beautiful pair.

Spring is on its way and that means it’s time to break out those blue tarps, make some rice balls and drink plenty of local beer and sake. It’s cherry blossom viewing time! There are a lot of beautiful spots to enjoy them here in Nagano prefecture, where the mountains add a beautiful touch of white to the spring scenery. Who knew you could see sakura and snow at the same time?

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Winter 2016 Illuminations and Festivals

January 29th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Areas of Nagano prefecture are getting ready for a series of festivals in February, and in that spirit I thought I would put together a list of current and upcoming events for the Winter season. Tear yourself away from the ski resorts for a night and visit some of Nagano’s other scenic spots!

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Nagano’s Latest Gourmet Dish: Gibier

January 8th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Information, Seasonal Topics
Leafy greens, mushrooms and veniso fill a small hotpot, ready to be cooked.

Deer meat prepared in a traditional Japanese style: Tsumire Nabe.

Gibier (Jibi-eh!) is the French word for animals that are hunted for their meat. Also called game, these include animals such as deer, wild boar, pheasants and bears. Nagano’s mountainous regions are home to many of these animals, and have a long history of wild game hunting, particularly in Akiyamago and Oshika-mura (literally: big deer village).

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