【Event Report】Tohoku Recovery Festival Nakano 2019

The Tohoku Recovery Festival Nakano 2019 (2019東北復興大祭典なかの)was held on October 26th & 27th in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, and I attended on Saturday the 26th. Started as a way to raise support for the restoration efforts of Tohoku following the catastrophic 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, this festival has been held annually since 2012.

 

Enjoying a Day of Tohoku Festivals in Nakano

When I arrived to Nakano Station on the afternoon of the event, the neighborhood was already busy with attendees. Although not one of the main event spaces, even the area directly outside the station was bustling with traditional dancers from Tohoku and a crowd of spectators of all ages. Student volunteers for the event stood nearby distributing informational fliers, and they kindly offered me a map with information about the performance schedules and venue access. According to the event volunteer I spoke with, the event was split between four outdoor spaces: Areas A, B, C, and D; I decided to make my way around the event starting with Area A

 

When I arrived to Area A, there was a small stage with audience seating and informational booths for the event. There were Japanese traditional performances such as Kuroishi Yosare and others. The music attracted crowds of people from children and students, to young people and the elderly; the people who came to enjoy the performances ranged in all ages. There was even a local elemntary band from Nakano Ward who played a number of songs. Based on the quality of their performance, they seemed very well-practiced!

 

Next I made my way to the nearby Area B, with many food & drink stalls set up. The stalls were selling famous products made in Tohoku, and many of them even offered free samples. It was the perfect opportunity for me to try products from a region of Japan I had never gotten the chance to visit. I tried at least five or six different types of fresh Aomori apples; some were sweet, some were sour, some were crispy and others were juicy. There were also products made from apples such as apple butter and apple jelly, as well as juice and cider. It was my first time to see apple butter being sold in Japan, but it was sweet and tasty. The workers at that particular booth were especially friendly and asked me about my life in Japan. I ended up buying a bottled apple juice from them to take home.

The sparkling Aomori apple juice I bought.

 

  

Other products I tasted at the area’s booths included a shellfish miso soup (shijimi-jiru) as well as Tohoku-produced beer. One booth I found was selling mochi dango and fish grilled over charcoal fire. I gave in to my appetite and bought the grilled kusamochi dango (rice-flour dumplings mixed with mugwort and filled with red bean paste). Although it was very filling for one person, I really enjoyed the unique flavor!

Tasting freshly-roasted kusamochi-dango.

 

After visiting Area B, I crossed the road to Area C which was a smaller space with more food stalls selling Tohoku regional specialties. Most of the booths there sold cooked items such as tempura and grilled beef tongue. I bought a freshly-grilled scallop that was one of the biggest scallops I’ve ever seen! Based on the crowd of customers, that booth was easily one of the most popular at the festival.

The stands at Area C were busy with customers.

The biggest scallop I’ve ever eaten!

 

At Area C I tried miso kiritanpo (grilled, miso-glazed rice sticks). It was a unique blend of salty, sweet and savory flavors that I think would appeal to many people.

My first time trying miso kiritanpo.

 

Next, I was supposed to head to Area D for the nebuta float parade, but I had extra time to kill so I made a detour. Near to the event venue is Nakano Broadway, a famous shopping arcade that includes multiple floors of shops dedicated to anime, manga, vintage toys, watches, audio/video equipment and more. It was my first time there, but I had heard about it from many people before. Even as someone who isn’t especially devoted to anime and manga, Nakano Broadway is appealing because it provides a window into some very niche-yet-popular aspects of Japanese culture. I was intrigued by the the collection of retro Godzilla and Ultraman figurines, for example. Although visiting Nakano Broadway wasn’t part of my original itinerary, I felt lucky to discover another rich slice of culture in the Nakano neighborhood.

 

Finally the time came for me to head to Area D for the festival parade featuring the Nebuta floats and other festival processions. Although I arrived about 30 minutes prior to the parade start time, the avenue was already lined with crowds of spectators who wanted to get as close as possible to the parade action.

Dancers of the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival.

Dancer of “Kuroishi Yosare” wearing traditional costumes with bells

 

The evening darkened, and the festival began with a parade of dancers. From what I could tell, the teams came from Tohoku and wore traditional costumes adorned with bells. As they danced down the street, their bells chimed, and the processions included singers, taiko drummers and Japanese flute players. Next, the Nebuta floats bobbed down the avenue. The Nebuta floats were illuminated from inside and depicted  in dynamic poses like warriors and gods. The floats themselves seemed heavy and were carried by teams who brought the floats to the edges of the parade street, tilting them toward the audience for everyone to get an up-close look at the spectacular structures.

 

Following the Nebuta floats were three teams of men each carrying giant “Kanto” rod lanterns. A single man from each team would take a turn balancing the gigantic, lantern-festooned rods. They balanced the lantern rods on their chins, shoulders and backs, and sometimes brought them together in what looked like a dance between the lanterns. Personally this was the most impressive and spectacular display of the event; the crowds got riled up every time the lanterns swayed just meters above our heads. I appreciated this part of the parade as a fantastic human feat, and it made the overall parade even more interactive as the crowds clamored while cheering on the lantern-balancers.

I’m very glad I was able to attend Tohoku Recovery Festival Nakano 2019 and witness various festivities from all throughout Tohoku. It was a great chance for me to experience Tohoku culture outside of Tohoku, but I think it also shows that Nakano comprises of diverse cultures itself. The Nakano neighborhood proved itself to be alive with various things to do and places to see, so I eagerly await my next chance to visit and explore the area further.

  

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I am Zac.I am from the United States and have been living in Japan for nearly three years. I became intrigued by Japanese culture in junior high school and have been studying Japanese ever since.

 

 

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