I don’t care what anyone says, summer is my favourite time of year here in Japan (or anywhere for that matter). Yes it’s hot. Yes it’s humid. Yes you may feel a bit like the sun is parboiling you for breakfast. But August is also the month of that wonderous thing, the Natsu Matsuri, aka the summer festival.
Many matsuris in Ishikawa have a history as long as your arm. Their origins can be traced back hundreds of years to the folk customs and beliefs of the rice farmers that populated this area. As they were originally religious festivals, matsuris nowadays are usually centred around a specific shrine – you’ll know which one by the rows of food stalls leading up to it. Matsuris come in all shapes and sizes, from the Wajima Taisai that draws the whole town out in a three day drinking, drumming and kiriko-carrying frenzy, to the local machi matsuri held at that little shrine up the road from your house.
If you feel up to braving the heat, then these are some of the big matsuris that will be going down in Ishikawa this summer.
Shishiku Natsu Matsuri – July 25th-31st
in Tsurugi (Hakusan City)
Seven days of musicians and street performers wandering through the trees at Park Shishiku. This place is worth a visit on any day, matsuri or not – the Shishi (guardian lion) museum and the wood-fire pizzas at the attached restaurant, Mokuyuurin, are more than worth the hassle of getting there.
From Kanazawa station, go one stop south, get off at Nishi-Kanazawa station and walk across the parking lot to the Hokutetsu train line, which will take you to Tsurugi. Depending on where the train terminates, you can get off at Tsurugi station (look at the map outside to get your bearings), or Kaga Ichi-no-Miya station. I recommend the latter simply because the way up to Shishiku will take you through Shirayamahime Jinja, the most sacred shrine in Ishikawa ^_^
Hoto Festival – Sat, August 1st
in Ishizaki (Nanao City)
The Noto is renowned for its kiriko festivals – teams of men carrying giant one tonne lanterns through the often narrow streets of the town, usually until they fall over from all the sake ^_~. The Hoto matsuri in Nanao is probably the best known of the Noto kiriko festivals (though it doesn’t hold a candle to the Abare fire and violence festival).
According to this website, the matsuri is held 10min walk from Wakura Onsen train station.
Kawakita Fireworks – Sat, August 1st
This is the biggest fireworks display in Ishikawa, and from all accounts it’s spectacular. Unfortunately, without a car, the site is pretty difficult to get to. If you can find someone to drive you, go. If not, head down to Katayamazu for their fireworks fest at the end of the month.
Matto Fire Festival – August 1st-2nd
in Matto (Hakusan city)
The matsuri runs over two days, where straw floats are washed and paraded through the streets on the first day and then burned on the second.
Matto is easily accessible from Kanazawa station: take any train going south, it’s the third stop down.
Katayamazu Fireworks – Fri, August 21st
in Katayamazu (Kaga city)
From the 1st to the 25th, there is a short burst of fireworks every night over the lake in Katayamazu, starting at 9pm. The 21st however is the biggest display, lasting 45min in total and definitely worth catching if you can’t get to Kawakita.
From Kaga-onsen station, the fastest way to get to Katayamazu is by taxi. Fare is between 800-1,100 yen (sorry, my memory’s fuzzy).
Wajima Taisai – August 23rd-25th
in Wajima (Oku-Noto)
Another Noto kiriko festival, the townsmen carry the kiriko lanterns and portable omikoshi shrines through the streets to the sea, to the accompaniment of taiko drums and lots of alcohol. At the end of the festival, a giant bonfire is lit and men in loincloths try to catch any white strips of paper that escape the flames.
There is a bus from Kanazawa station’s east bus terminal (bay #1 or 2) that runs to the Oku-Noto several times a day. A return ticket to Wajima will set you back around 4,500 yen, but if you can organise to stay with someone overnight, all the better.
Guzuyaki Matsuri – Thur, August 27th
in Iburihashi (Kaga city)
One of the most enjoyable festivals in the prefecture! If you want to see very drunk men, young versus old, fighting with two giant paiper mache fish, then this is the matsuri for you. The fish are paraded through the town and then in front of the train station, the two fish do battle – aka the men run screaming at one another and I believe it’s whoever has the most men still standing is the winner (though rumour has it the results are rigged… ^_~). At the end of the night, the losing team’s fish is burned.
Iburihashi station is on the JR Hokuriku line, about 45min south of Kanazawa. If you want to stay for the fish-burning, organise to stay with someone, as the last train back leaves Iburihashi at 10:43pm