The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
Once a year the otherwise sleepy town of Yamagata quadruples in size. The Yamagata Flower Hat Festival has quickly evolved to become one of the biggest festivals in the entire Tohoku area.
The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, or the Flower Hat Festival as it’s often referred to in English, is a fairly new tradition, held for the first time in 1964. The festival takes place in early August every year, just like most of the other major festivals in Tohoku, such as the Aomori Nebuta Festival and the Akita Kanto Festival.
As the name of the festival implies, the cornerstone of both the festival itself, as well as the dance, is a flower hat, a traditional Japanese straw-hat decorated with artificial flowers. Albeit a miniature version, you can create your own flower hat at the Yamagata Manabi-kan where various hanagasa-related workshops take place. This building also houses a café, a souvenir shop and a small museum dedicated to the local history.
The main parade takes place in the evenings when over one hundred groups and a total of over 10,000 dancers take over the streets to perform different takes on the Hanagasa Dance. This dance used to follow a more traditional pattern back in the day but, in recent years, different groups have started giving it a more personal touch by varying the different teams’ performances. The participants mostly come from local organizations, but at the beginning and end of the parade there are also walk-in areas where anyone is welcome to join in the fun.
The true origin of the Hanagasa Dance is believed to come from Obanazawa, a smaller town located in the mountainous northeastern part of Yamagata Prefecture. These days, smaller local variants of the festival can be experienced in other cities around the prefecture.
While the city of Yamagata usually has a population of approximately 250,000 people, during the three days of the festival the huge influx of visitors brings this number up to around one million. This makes it crucial that you reserve accommodation well in advance, which is something worth keeping in mind if you plan to visit this charming festival.
The parade starts at 18:00, and usually goes on until 21:30. During the festival days there are also plenty of other events and performances taking place at different venues scattered around town. The main venue, however, is down a large street that runs in front of the Yamagata City Office, located about 15 minutes on foot from the JR Yamagata Station.