The Fukushima Waraji Matsuri
A Straw Sandal Festival? Yes, it is pretty much as weird as it sounds. But we think that this annual Fukushima event is worth a visit for more reasons than just its quirkiness.
Waraji is the name of the traditional Japanese straw sandals commonly worn in the past. Every year, a two-ton version of a waraji sandal is carried to great fanfare along the streets of Fukushima City. This is the Fukushima Waraji Matsuri and this sandal is, in fact, the biggest of its kind. Its final destination is the Haguro Shrine, located in the central part of Fukushima Prefecture with this festival marking the first part of this gigantic sandal’s journey.
The Fukushima Waraji Matsuri event has been held since the mid 1960s. Worshipping this huge sandal is seen as a means of wishing for good luck for travelers which is why the people of Fukushima City dedicate the first Friday and Saturday of every August to this annual festival.
The first day of the festival starts as a fairly traditional parade, where the waraji sandal is carried down one of the main streets of downtown Fukushima. The night then proceeds with the Waraji Dance which consists of a typical Japanese dance routine performed by children and adults dressed in traditional yukata.
The next part of the evening is rather unexpected when the Dancing Soda Night begins. Traditional dance is pushed aside for a performance to modern hip-hop music, where dozens of teams perform different dances to the same song. Don’t be surprised if you see a team of belly dancers performing next to a group of pink-haired cosplayers or a group of football supporters, flanked by another group dressed in kimonos. It’s all quite special, and a lot of fun to watch!
On the second day, a series of waraji races take place. These are competitions where different teams made up of local schools and companies compete against each other in the noble art of carrying an oversized straw sandal over a set distance as quickly as possible. Adding to the fun is the fact that many onlookers not just cheer on the competitors, but also throw water on them. After a dozen or so of these races, a winner is proclaimed, and the rest of the night continues with more dancing.
The Fukushima Waraji Matsuri is indeed something different compared to most of the other festivals we’ve experienced in Japan. While we wouldn’t go as far as calling it a must-see, it’s definitely worth stopping by in case you happen to be in the area during the first weekend of August.
One detail that made us scratch our heads though, was the fact that despite this being a festival dedicated to straw sandals, we didn’t in fact see anyone wearing a pair of them on their feet, except the people carrying the giant sandal. The only footwear on display seemed to be wooden geta sandals or your plain old regular sneakers.