Handa Floats Festival
Watch a rare gathering of magnificent floats in this small town also known as the Gateway to Chita Peninsula.
Handa Dashi Matsuri (Handa Floats Festival), takes place once every five years in Handa, Aichi Prefecture, a historically industrial city renowned for two of Japan’s most essential goods: sake and vinegar. The otherwise small city, with a population of just 117,000, swells up to roughly half a million people who want to witness the rare gathering and parade of all 31 floats from 10 different districts of Handa city. For many, it is the perfect opportunity to compare and contrast the traditional floats dating back to the Edo-period.
The 8 meter-tall wooden floats feature intricate carvings, large curtains with embroidered Japanese motifs, and karakuri, traditional Japanese mechanized puppet dolls. The hefty floats, easily weighing over a ton, need the strength of over 30 men to be pulled and paraded around town.
Also accompanying each float is a party of men, women, and sometimes children, who are the “cheerleaders” for their float. They’re all dressed in traditional happi coats (Japanese festive short robes) matching the colours of the float they’re assigned to. Meanwhile, sitting comfortably inside each float are the musicians who play Japanese flutes and drums.
The festival becomes more lively in the evening when the floats are lit up with hundreds of lanterns. Other impressive sights in the evening include the two boats called chintoro-bune, decorated with 365 paper lanterns floating on the Handa canal, and the handheld fireworks display visible from Genbēbashi bridge.
While it might be too long to wait until the next dashi matsuri (floats festival) featuring all 31 floats, each district of Handa City celebrates its individual floats festival annually during spring. The festival of the Kamezaki district is especially popular, and it even made it to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List for Humanity in 2016. For more information, you can check the official website, but it’s only in Japanese.
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