Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

Yamagata

Hanagasa Festival
The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is nearly synonymous with Yamagataitself and attracts nearly 10,00 spectators each year

Yassho makkasho!” cry out the kimono-clad Hanagasa dancers as they parade their way through the streets of Yamagata City! As the colorful dancers sing and shout songs passed down from generations past, they brandish their round straw hats strewn with Yamagata Benibana Safflowers known as Hanagasa through the air to the pounding rhythm of Taiko drum.

History of the Hanagasa Festival

Hanagasa Festival
There are over 2,000 dancers in the Yamagata Hanagasa, each with their own style and dress

The orgin of the festival reaches back to 1963 when the Hanagasa was integrated into the Zaō Summer Festival in an effort to make up for the lack of tourism that the Zao area misses out on in the summer. Being famous for its hot springs, snow monsters, and ski resorts, the summer can be economically a pinch for many businesses that rely on seasonal tourism, and so having a large summer festival helped bring in much-needed customers during the slow season.

As the years rolled by, the event grew and grew to the extent that it could no longer be held in Zao Hotspring Town, and now it takes place each year in Yamagata City over a three-day period between August 5th and 7th. The festival is now considered one of the four major festivals of Tohoku, standing alongside Aomori’s Nebuta Festival, Akita’s Kanto Festival, and Sendai’s Tanabata Festival.

Most recently, the festival has been known to draw a massive 1 million visitors annually and sees people visit not only from the entirety of Japan but from all over the world. Over 10,000 dancers from all over Yamagata are featured in the festival, and everyone who participates is all proud to celebrate the unique folk culture of Yamagata that binds us all together as a community.

The Hanagasa Dance

Hanagasa Festival
Participating in the Hanagasa is no easy job, most dancers will practice for up to two months before the festival

For many, the biggest draw of the Hanagasa festival is indeed the 10,000 dancers all brandishing their crimson benibana hats in perfect unity to the ton ton ton of the Taiko. The name of the dance traditionally performed by the Hanagasa dancers translates to the “Fragrant Breeze of the Mogami” in English, or in Japanese, it is officially known “Kunpu Mogamigawa” dance.

In Yamagata, it is said that the Mogami River is the “Mother of Yamagata” as historically, culturally, and even economically, the Mogami has been a source of life and prosperity for the people that call this region home. Therefore, the movements of this dance are meant to mimic the sway of a cool breeze on the Mogami during a hot summer day. The moves of the graceful dancers are said to have a refreshing, relaxing effect as well, lulling you into the tranquility that is the dog days of summer.

Traditionally, the most common dance associated with the Hanagasa is called the Onna Odori, the “Women’s Dance,” and while very graceful and femine in nature, can be performed by anyone today.

There is also the Otoko Odori or “Men’s dance” from Zao (also called the Zao Gyoko) which features many powerful and dynamic dance moves that feel very masculine in nature.

Another common dance that you can see at the festival is the Kasa Mawashi (hat spinning dance) from Obanazawa. This take on the Hanagasa dance has dancers constantly spinning their safflower hats at rapid speeds as they dance while making swooshing movements.

Each region of Yamagata has their own take on the dance but many other local groups and teams have incorporated their own modern twist. Local dance studios that specialize in styles such as ballet, hip-hop, jazz, and even hula are always in attendance with a refreshing take on something that has been beloved by Yamagatans for decades.

The Hanagasa Ondo Song

Hanagasa Festival
Many schools, companies, and local groups will send a team to participate in the Hanagasa

The name of the song sung at the Hanagasa Festical is the Hanagasa Ondo. There are multiple speculations as to where the true origin of the Hanagasa song comes from. However, the generally most widely accepted version is that it was an old folk song sung by construction workers in Murayama.

Supposedly, the year 1910 was a particularly rainy year for Murayama and as the workers diligently pounded away at the earth to construct a flood embankment they would sing to keep the rhythm and boost morale. One half of the workers would rhythmically shout out “Yassho!” to which the second half would return the call with “Makkasho!”

The song eventually was met with additional lyrics and accompaniment and was given the name Dontsuki Uta or “Earth Pounding Song.”

The accompanying lyrics added to the iconic chant were polled from the general public, and among the fifteen verses, two are from historical narratives, while the remaining thirteen verses of lyrics were selected to represent the rich, diverse tapestry that is Yamagata Prefecture.

Hanagasa Ondo Lyrics
English Translation and Meaning

Hanagasa Festival
The floats featuring taiko drummers are an essential part of the Hanagasa as they keep the beat

 

There are many versions of the song and quite a number of verses that differ and change depending on where (and who) is playing the song. This is one of the more common versions of the song and often the order of the verses can change as well. After each verse, the chorus “ha yassho makasho shanshanshan” is sung and the audience typically joins in.

目出度目出度の

若松様よ

枝も (チョイチョイ)

栄えて葉も茂る

(ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

Medeta medeta no

wakamatsu sama yo

eda mo (choichoi) kaete

ha mo shigeru

(ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

The very auspicious

young pine trees,

their branches too (choi choi),

their leaves prosper as they grow

わしがお国で

自慢なものは

茄子と (チョイチョイ)

胡瓜と笠踊り

(ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

Washi ga o kuni de

jiman’na mono wa

nasu to (choichoi)

kyuuri to kasaodori

(ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

Oh great country of mine,

Our things to boast are,

eggplants (choi choi)

cucumbers and the Kasaodori Festival

花の山形

紅葉の天童

雪を(チョイチョイ)

眺むる尾花沢

 

(ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

Hana no Yamagata

kōyō no Tendō

yuki o (choichoi)

nagamuru Obanazawa

(ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

 

The flowers of Yamagata

The maple leaves of Tendo

As for snow, (choi choi)

it’s best viewed from Obanazawa

裏の石橋坂

ならよかろう

とんと (チョイチョイ)

踏んだら悟るよに

(ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

Ura no Ishibashizaka

nara yokarou

tonto (choichoi)

fundara satoru yo ni

(ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

Hidden Ishibashizaka,

in that case that’s right!

Completely (choi choi)

Once you set foot there you’ll understand

米のなる木で

作りし草鞋

踏めば (チョイチョイ)

小判の跡がつく

(ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

Komenonaruki de

tsukurishi waraji

fumeba (choichoi)

koban no ato ga tsuku

(ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

The stalk of a rice plant,

made into straw sandals

Once you take a step, (choi choi)

you’ll leave the print of a golden coin

 

俺が在所に来て

見やしゃんせ

米の (チョイチョイ)

なる木が

お辞儀する

 

(ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

Ore ga zaisho ni kite

mi ya sha n se

Kome no (choichoi)

naru ki ga

ojigisuru

(ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

To my dear home village,

please come and see

rice (choi choi)

stalks that 

bow humbly

 

Enjoying the Parade

Dondon Yaki
Dondonyaki is a favorite snack during the festival and is an unique Yamagata soul food

Every year the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is held from August 5th-7th and typically takes place in the evening from around 18:00 until 21:45. In the surrounding areas around the parade, streets are filled with street vendors selling delicious festival food and hosting carnival games where you can try your skill and luck in getting a prize!

The parade takes place right on Nanukamachi, the main street of Yamagata City, and spans all the way to the Bunshokan. You can get easy access by walking 5 minutes right from JR Yamagata Station.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: