Japan has a wide range of festivals in every region. Here, we introduce some of the basic vocabulary used in summer festivals to help enjoy visitors more fully the events. Appreciating the point of these festivals makes them more enjoyable and creates fond memories.
Images courtesy of the Aomori Tourism and Convention Association
A dashi is like a float pulled by human power during festivals and other events, adorned with various decorations. The word dashi comes from the unfinished bamboo basket suspended from the tip of the pole running along the middle of the float.
A mikoshi is a portable shrine, a sort of palanquin in which the spirit of the kami, or god, rides during festivals. Often made of black lacquered wood, the roof of the mikoshi features mythical firebird goddesses and other decorations, and the body rests on two poles that are lifted by a large number of people who carry the mikoshi around.
A nebuta can be in the shape of a fan, person, animal or other form, and is made of a frame covered with paper. Illuminated by a flame inside, the nebuta rides on a dashi during parades.
There are various theories for the origin of the word nebuta/neputa, but the most probable etymology involves the word nemutashi (drowsy). The nemuri nagashi (washing away sleepiness) is said to be a rite that developed throughout Japan as a way to keep sleepiness or laziness from preventing people from working on the farm during the autumn harvest season.
Used for lighting, the chochin or paper lantern comprises a paper exterior with a candle inside. Today, light bulbs are used in place of candles.
The wa-daiko, or Japanese drum, is a percussion instrument. Used in such events as festivals, the wa-daiko is made of a wooden frame and covered with a skin, which vibrates when beaten to produce a sound.
The yatai, or night vending stalls, are a popular feature of any festival. Here you will find vendors selling such Japanese foods as takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), yakisoba (a stir-fried noodle dish) and yakitori (chicken skewers) as well as game operators with favorites such as goldfish scooping and yo-yo fishing.
A visit to the yatai is sure to get everyone into the swing of the festival.
The yukata, or cotton summer kimono, is worn even today by many men and women as festival clothing. For many women, the style also includes geta or wooden clogs, an old-fashioned drawstring money pouch, and the hair worn up.
The uchiwa is a round fan, and the sensu is a folding fan. Both are commonly used when attending outdoor summer festivals to help get through the heat and humidity so common in festival season.