Date: 5th–7th August 2022
Location: Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture
Fukushima Waraji Festival 2022
(Image courtesy of Fukushima Waraji Festival Executive Committee・画像提供 福島わらじまつり実行委員会)
Discover Fukushima's summer matsuri parading a giant waraji straw sandal
Named after Japanese straw sandals called waraji, this festival is regarded as the epitome of summer in Fukushima. Featuring a parade of waraji sandals, including a giant waraji sandal, the largest in the country, measuring 12 meters long, 1.4 meters wide, and weighing a hefty 2 tons! This sandal is dedicated to the Haguro Shrine on the symbol of Fukushima City: Mount Shinobu. For 400 years, every February locals dedicate a large waraji to this shrine to pray for healthy legs and safe travels. During the summer festival, a second waraji sandal is offered, thereby completing the waraji sandal set and reinforcing the wishes from the first offering. This unique festival should definitely be on your bucket list of Japanese summer matsuri!
The festival spans 2 days with notable events including waraji races and waraji folk dancing to folk and contemporary hip-hop music.
The Origins of the Waraji Festival
Although this festival only dates back to 1970, it's roots can be traced back 400 years to the Edo Period. Every February since that tine, locals participated in the traditional Akatsuki Mairi Festival, also known as the Mt. Shinobu Dawn Procession. During the traditional Akatsuki Mairi, a giant waraji is dedicated to the diety Niomon —whose feet measure the same size as the giant sandle— for good health and safe journeys. Today, hoewever, the offerings are done with wishes of good health, bountiful harvests, saftey in the home, and prosperous buisness ventures.
The Fukushima Waraji Festival is derived from the Akatsuki Mairi in order to protect the traditions of Japan's largest waraji. It features a second waraji offering to the Niomon diety, reinforcing the prayers made the first time around.
The Waraji Ondo Song
The Waraji Ondo was created by the famous Japanese composer, Yuji Koseki, through a fusion of new and old music from Fukushima Prefecture. He was notably inspired by the "Fukushima Bon Odori" song, passed down families in Fukushima since ancient times, as well as newer music including the "Waraji Taiko" wild drums. Flutes and other instruments used throughout the Tohoku Region are also prominent in the festival too. What really makes the current Waraji Ondo stand apart from previous iterations are the large number of dancers and unprecedented live musical performances.
The Waraji Odori Dance
The Waraji Odori was created with the goal of being a dance that anyone can enjoy and participate in, regardless of their age and dance skills. With the help of a "waranowa" small rope-made wreath that is held with both hands, the dance focuses mainly on moving the lower part of the body, like a "strong walk". Dancers wear clothing designed by Chieko Ito who was charged with the hefty task of creating truly unique pieces representing Fukushima Prefecture that anyone would want to wear and dance in.