Yama, Hoko, Yatai, float festivals in Japan

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Inscribed in 2016 (11.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan, 2015

In cities and towns throughout Japan, float festivals are held by communities annually to pray to the gods for peace and protection from natural disasters. The element of Yama, Hoko and Yatai float festivals encompasses 33 representative examples in various regions throughout Japan showcasing the diversity of local cultures. They involve the collaborative efforts of various sections of the community and as a traditional practice are an important aspect of the cultural identity of participants. Men, women, the young and elderly from cities and other parts of the area share responsibility for the organization and running of the festivals. This includes every step from the design and construction of the floats that reflect the diversity of local culture, to the accompanying music and overall event coordination. The Takaoka Mikurumayama Festival, for example, involves residents from the city centre assembling the floats while those from surrounding areas are in charge of pulling the constructs and playing the music. Tasks cater for specific ages with senior bearers providing guidance to those less experienced and classes run for young people. For instance, for the Ueno Tenjin Festival participants first learn how to play the music (they are referred to as hayashikata), they then progress to steering the floats (tekogata), guarding them (keigoyaku) and finally, managing the festival (saihaiyaku).

A float decorated with tapestries is pulled through the streets while people in the floats play festival music (Kyoto Gion Festival)
Puppet theater is being performed on a colourful stage set up on a float (Hitachi Furyumono)
Children and adults wearing festive garments ride a float being pulled by community members (Chichibu Festival)
A procession of magnificent floats crosses a bridge in spring (Takayama Festival)
Community members pull floats with decorations made to look like flowers through the streets (Takaoka Mikurumayama Festival)
Members of local safeguarding associations work with a schoolteacher to teach children aspects of the festival through a class at school as part of transmission through formal education
Members of local safeguarding associations teach children festival music in a workshop outside of school as part of transmission through non-formal education
Craftsmen work together to preserve and repair a float decorated with wooden carvings
Community members plant red pine saplings to secure future materials used for the floats in a sustainable manner
The National Association for the Preservation of Float Festivals organizes an outdoor seminar on how to assemble floats for members of local safeguarding associations