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Summer the world over brings people to beaches for barbecues, beers, and a quick dip in cool ocean water. In that respect, Japan is certainly no different from any other country. However, if you go on the right day, you might be lucky enough to catch some fundoshi-clad revelers carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) through the streets—and to the sea waters! Here’s a few of Japan’s unique ocean festivals!

  • Enoshima Tennou Festival – Fujiasawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture — July

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A festival partnering two different shrines—the Yasaka Shrine, which lies on the grounds of Enoshima Shrine, and Koyurugi Shine in Kamakura City, the Ennoshima Tennou Festival is quite a sight! Dressed in white fundoshi and white tabi (traditional split-toe footwear), groups of men carry mikoshi into the ocean for purification.

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Apparently, this is symbolic of a real event. At some point, holy relics which enshrined the deities were washed out to sea by a tsunami but were fortunately recovered by local fishermen. Though you’d think after losing the relics once, they wouldn’t want to tempt fate again…

  • Shiogama Minato Festival – Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture — July

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A relatively new festival, the Shiogama Minato Festival was established in 1984 to pray for the revitalization of Shiogama City after difficult economic times. The festival features two ships, each carrying one mikoshi around the bay, accompanied by another 100 elaborately decorated ships.

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After the aquatic procession, revelers unload the mikoshi with the accompaniment of some lively taiko drumming and then transport the portable shrines through city streets. After the trip around the bay and the parade, the city’s people lug the mikoshi up some dizzyingly steep steps to return them to the shrine.

▼You can see a condensed version in this video.

In case you were wondering, the mikoshi in this particular festival weigh about one ton. There’s also a fireworks display on the eve of the festival, so if you plan on going, be sure to arrive a day early!

  • Hamaori Festival – Chigasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture — July

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Starting at 5 am, when most people are still sweating in their beds and wishing for winter, Chigasaki revelers are up and out hauling nearly 40 mikoshi from area shrines to the beach. Starting at 7 in the morning, they dance out into the seawater for a purification ritual, chanting “Dokkoi! Dokkoi!”

▼Check out the mikoshi dancing and purification in the video below.

As for the origin of the festival, it seems that in 1838, while returning sacred objects from another festival, a fight broke out between parishioners of different shrines. This lead to the objects disappearing into the river. However, some days later, a fisherman discovered the relics and returned them to their rightful shrines. From then on, the purification ceremony has been performed to show thanks for the safe return of the objects. We kind of think the relics might prefer to stay on dry land, but we’ve never housed sacred deities before…

  • Sonomairi Festival – Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture — July

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Even deities need romance!

Once a year, the male deity from Keihi Shrine and the female deity from Jouguu Shrine are united when the mikoshi of the male deity is brought via boat to Jouguu Shrine. Though not dissimilar to Tanabata, this festival is more romantic and obviously highly attended by men and women looking for love. Interestingly, it also attracts many fishermen, as it is believed to bring fishers three years of good luck.

It’s all about reeling in a great catch, right?

  • Kangen Festival – Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture — July

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Initiated by Kiyomori Taira in imitation of Heian aristocrats who would float about on ponds or lakes at night, this festival takes place at the World Heritige site, Itukushima Shrine, in Hiroshima Prefecture. Revelers load themselves into boats and paddle through the “floating torii gate,” playing music.

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Though the festival goes all day, the highlight is after nightfall when a large fire is set at the front of the boats with lanterns hanging off the sides, creating an ethereal, other-worldly atmosphere.

We can’t help thinking absolutely no one on that boat is sober…

  • Kibune Festival – Manaduru City, Kanagawa Prefecture

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One of the three biggest boat festivals in Japan, the Kibune Festival is a designated cultural asset of Japan. This raucous event has actually been celebrated for over 350 years in Kanagawa, as a way of praying for stability and safety as well as bountiful fishing.

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In addition to boats and mikoshi, everything is decorated with large “white crane forests,” long thin rods adorned with colorful balls. The name seems to come from the rods’ resemblance to the long necks of white cranes.

▼You can see examples of the white crane forest decorations in the video below.

  • Kibune Shrine Summer Festival — Shunan City, Yamaguchi Prefecture — July

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Another festival with a long history, this tradition began around 300 years ago, and, like many others on this list, is a way to ask the deities to keep the community safe and piles of fish rolling in.

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Men, once purified, carry the mikoshi about 500 meters (546 yards) from the shrine to the ocean where they splash water onto the portable shrine. Meanwhile, other revelers cheer, floating around in boats that also serve as platforms for the energetic dancing of men in white face paint.

  • Nafune Grand Festival – Nafunemachi, Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture — July/August

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The centerpiece of this festival is some rather unique taiko drumming/performance art that seems nearly primeval in its conception.

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Upon a high stage, several drummers gather around a single large taiko drum and dance wildly, pounding on the drum and grunting like possessed demons. Their contorted masks and traditional clothing make the performance doubly surreal and highly entertaining.

▼Skip to 00:48 to see the performance. This is definitely one you don’t want to miss!

In addition to the drumming, which is also performed at night with the benefit of some large bonfires, mikoshi are set upon small boats, called kiriko, and paddled out to a torii gate in the harbor.

  • Shiroshi Dance – Kasaoka City, Okayama Prefecture — August

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Held on Shiroshi Island, about 12 kilometers (about 7.46 miles) off the coast of Kasaoka City in Okayama Prefecture, this dance festival was started to quell the spirits of those who died in the Genpei War about 800 years ago.

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Using a very old style of bon dancing, participants from the local community dress in traditional clothing and dance in a circle as musicians play taiko drums and flutes. Separated into groups, such as men, women, children, etc., there are 13 different types of dances performed and accompanied by the chanting of song lyrics.

▼You can check some of the dancing at around 1:05 in the video below.

We hope you enjoyed our tour of some Japanese summer ocean festivals. Try to stay cool, everybody!

Sources: Enoshima Mina to Machidukuri Kyokai, Kankou Bussan, Wikipedia (Hamaorisai), Fukushima Shimbun, Kehijingu, Wikipedia (Kangensai), Miyajima, Manazuru, Oidemase Yamaguchihe, Wajima Navi, Bon Odori, Naver Matome