How to Join the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is one of the big festivals of the Tohoku region, and there are plenty of ways for you to take a more active role in it. Apart from joining the dance, you can also create your own Hanagasa-themed wind chime or hand towel.
The dance performed at the Yamagata Hanagasa festival is called Wa Odori and is performed in a parade that usually has more than 10,000 dancers participating. And the good news is that you can be one of them! At the Yamagata Manabi-kan building, not far from the main street where the parade takes place, free lessons are offered to anyone willing to learn the dance moves. The dance is very simple and easy so if you’re confident you can pick it up quickly you won’t necessarily need to take part in the lesson before joining in the dance at the festival, but it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on you skills beforehand.
Once you’ve mastered the moves, you need to find one of the open dance areas, as just jumping in with one of the teams is prohibited. The first chance to dance is in front of the city hall, on the north end of the street where the parade takes place. Around 15 minutes before the parade starts, some of the drummers and dancers dressed in colorful kimonos get the ball rolling with a performance that anyone is welcome to join. There is also a similar open dance area at the end of the parade, where people gather to dance and have fun together. As you will see, this is a very popular activity to take part in and one of the best ways to experience the festival first hand.
If you plan to join the dance, we highly suggest that you also bring your own flower hat. These can either be purchased at a store in Yamagata (they are available at several places all over the prefecture), or you can make one yourself. All you’ll need to fashion your own is a bamboo hat and some artificial flowers. Online guides will talk you through the best way to put them together. If you’re feeling especially lazy, you can also go for the easy option and pick up one of the free hanagasa-print fans that are distributed around the festival. We saw plenty of participants doing this, so you can rest assured that this is an entirely socially accepted way of doing it.
At the Manabi-kan you can also have a go at making your own hanagasa decorated wind chime. Kits including all the parts you need are sold for a few hundred yen and the instructions on how to put them together are so simple that this is an easy activity for both adults and children.
You can also make your own tenugui, or hand towel, that makes a very nice little souvenir to bring back home for a modest fee. The tenugui come with a set print of several of Yamagata City’s well-known landmarks and buildings already printed on. Extra stamps are provided to personalize your tenugui with hanagasa dancers in various poses and different colored lanterns as a nice little reminder of the festival.