Every April this peaceful northern town comes alive from its famous tiger festival.
Miyagi prefecture may just bring to mind the nice old man from the Karate Kid movies, but this northern region of Japan has a unique charm all of its own.
Whether it’s the bright lights of party city Sendai, or the beautiful coastal town of Matsushima, it’s got something for everyone. Much less known to people living elsewhere is the small country town of Kami (or kamimachi.)
Normally it’s a very quiet place, with little but a natto (traditional dish of fermented soy beans) factory and miles of rice fields. Every April 29, the town has its Tiger festival, called “Toramai.” It has been designated a regional “Intangible Cultural Property” and is not to be missed.
What’s a Toramai?
The Kami Toramai festival takes elements from many country festivals and puts them into a great one day package. Nearly 40,000 gather for the event yearly. According to legend, praying to the tiger gods of Kami would prevent the traditional wooden houses of Kami from catching fire. On this day only you can see the tigers parading through town.
These tigers are played by the young people of the town, who train for months for this one day. Behind the tigers come the brightly decorated “dashi” carts. If you want, follow the carts for a tour like no other.
If you’d prefer not to follow the carts, why not wait for them to come to you? The main cobblestone road is elbow to elbow with stalls set up by local artisans and merchants. You can buy all manner of local crafts and food. Staples of the area include cow tongue or gyutan, chocolate covered bananas, and delicious takoyaki (octopus dumplings). There are also many carnival games for children. The tigers will pass through this street often, and put on a great show.
Lions, tigers and libraries, oh my!
Generally, people from all over Miyagi come to watch Toramai, so it’s a good time to see this small rural town. When you’ve eaten your fill, why not walk the streets and look at the beautiful sakura blossoms?
At night, you can go to the library and see the tigers doing a dance on the roof. It is the grand finale of the day, and usually accompanied by some fireworks and warm words from the friendly folk of Kami.