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Hyakumangoku Festival: Kanazawa’s biggest celebration

Hyakumangoku Festival: Kanazawa’s biggest celebration

Ishikawa Prefecture’s capital of Kanazawa (金沢市) welcomes the summer season over the first weekend of June each year with the city’s biggest celebration, the Hyakumangoku Festival (金沢百万石祭り Kanazawa hyakumangoku matsuri).

 

Held over three days, the Hyakumangoku Festival is a massive celebration of the history, culture, and traditions of Kanazawa and is the perfect opportunity to see them all in a short span of time.

 

What is Hyakumangoku Festival?

(Video credit: Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League)

 

Firstly, the term hyakumangoku (百万石) is one which you are bound to find all around Kanazawa.

 

Koku (石) is a counter for traditional rice barrels, so hyakumangoku literally means “a million rice barrels”, a reference to the impressive wealth of the former Kaga domain which Ishikawa was a part of.

 

This wealth was credited to the feudal rulers of the Kaga domain, the Maeda clan, who not only used their affluence to build military power, but invested heavily in culture and the arts, laying the foundation for Kanazawa to develop into the cultural capital it is today.

 

The Hyakumangoku Festival thus commemorates the historical entry of the first feudal lord, Maeda Toshiie, into Kanazawa Castle and the founding of the city with a fitting display of its many cultural traditions.

 

Day 1: An illuminating start with Kaga Yuzen lanterns

Kaga Yuzen lanterns floating down Asanogawa. (Image credit: Anna Wong)

 

The festival begins rather quietly with religious ceremonies held at Kanazawa Shrine and Oyama Shrine, including tea ceremonies and traditional dances performed as part of the rituals.

 

When evening comes, a procession of children carry red lanterns down the streets to the beat of taiko drums to celebrate the start of the festival, while the Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi event (加賀友禅燈ろう流し Kaga Yuzen Floating Lanterns) at Asanogawa River (浅野川) takes place nearby.

 

Also known as an “art of water”, around 600 Kaga Yuzen lanterns are released into the river between 7pm to 9pm, highlighting Ishikawa’s traditional silk craft of Kaga Yuzen.

 

Decorated with original designs and calligraphy by local craftsmen, the magical scenery of beautiful lanterns floating serenely down the river is one which many people line the riverbanks to watch.

 

Note: Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi will not be held in 2024.

 

Day 2: The main event — Hyakumangoku Parade

Day 2 is a must-see as it is when most of the festivities are held, from tea ceremonies to traditional performances, activities, workshops, and the highlight of the festival, the Hyakumangoku Parade.

 

The Hyakumangoku Parade

Traditional performers together with “Lord Maeda” and his entourage entertain throughout the parade. (Image credit: Anna Wong)

 

Starting at 2pm, the parade opens with an impressive display of one hundred taiko drummers playing together in front of Kanazawa Station’s iconic Tsuzumi-mon (鼓門).

 

Their final beats are followed by a procession of performing groups which make their way down the street in front of the station, stopping at intervals to entertain spectators with traditional performances like shishimai (獅子舞 lion dance), taiko drumming, Japanese dances, acrobatic displays, and more.

 

But the performers are just a precursor to the star of the parade—a reenactment of Lord Maeda Toshiie’s entry into Kanazawa Castle.

 

Every year, a popular actor and actress are chosen to portray Lord Maeda and his wife, who are accompanied by an entourage of samurai, soldiers, officials and maidens, all dressed in the appropriate armour and period costumes.

 

Lord Maeda and his procession greet and entertain spectators along the parade route all the way to Kanazawa Castle where the 3-hour-long parade finally ends with a ceremony to welcome him.

 

Celebrations in Kanazawa Castle Park

Activities and performances fill Kanazawa Castle Park over the weekend. (Image credit: Kanazawa City)

 

At Kanazawa Castle Park, festivities are ongoing throughout the day and those who prefer not to be out on the street can choose to enjoy the festival here.

 

A slew of performances, activities and stalls fill the grounds, and parade performers who arrive before Lord Maeda put on their final shows against the backdrop of the white castle.

 

The entertainment continues into the night with Noh plays put on by firelight, showcasing Kaga Hosho Noh, one of Kanazawa’s most beloved theatrical arts.

 

Hyakumangoku Odori Nagashi

The dance moves are simple enough so that anyone can join in. (Image credit: Kanazawa City)

 

Outside the castle and down the street, the excitement continues with the Hyakumangoku Odori Nagashi (百万石踊り流し Hyakumangoku Dancing Parade) beginning at 6pm.

 

Dressed in yukata (浴衣), around 6,000 people made up of teams from local companies and associations line the street in a bon odori (盆踊り Bon dance) style dancing circle, dancing to local folk songs for two hours.

 

And if watching from the sidewalk is not enough, you are welcome to join in the dancing with easy to follow dance moves too.

 

Day 3: A cultured conclusion

Appreciating Japan's tea culture in Kanazawa. (Image credit: Anna Wong)

 

After the energy and excitement of the day before, the final day of the festival is a calmer affair focused on cultural performances and events throughout the city.

 

Similar performances and activities continue at Kanazawa Castle Park, with the addition of demonstrations of martial arts such as kyudo (弓道 archery) and iaido (居合道 sword drawing).

 

As with the day before, tea ceremonies (茶会 chakai) are held by various tea schools at locations around Kenrokuen, showcasing the thriving tea culture that flourished in Kanazawa thanks to the Maedas. These tea ceremonies are ticketed and it is recommended to reserve tickets in advance here.

 

Other events include free performances of Japanese folk songs and dances (民謡 minyo) at the Kanazawa Theatre (金沢歌劇座 Kanazawa kagekiza), bonsai (盆栽) and ikebana (いけばな flower arrangement) exhibitions, and the Oyama Festival (尾山まつり Oyama matsuri) at Oyama Shrine with runs concurrent to the Hyakumangoku Festival.

 

Come celebrate Kanazawa

A rousing performance of one hundred taiko drums in front of Kanazawa Station. (Image credit: Kanazawa City)

 

With easy access to Kanazawa via the Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) from Tokyo and the parade starting right outside Kanazawa Station, getting to the Hyakumangoku Festival could not be easier.

 

Do note, however, that being Kanazawa’s biggest festival, this is one of the most crowded times in the city. Be sure to arrive early to secure a good spot for the parade and be prepared to walk since many roads will be closed for most of the day.

 

Thankfully, it is easy to walk between the festival venues—all of which are located in or around major tourist sites in central Kanazawa, such as Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen.

 

This also makes it easy to combine some sightseeing with the festival, which you can do using this simple walking route around the major sights in the area.

 

Hyakumangoku Festival is one of the best ways to catch many of Kanazawa’s performing arts and rich cultural offerings in one weekend, so make it part of your itinerary if you are travelling in early June!

 

Kanazawa Hyakumangoku Festival (金沢百万石祭り)
Festival period: Friday to Sunday based on the first Saturday in June annually
Address: Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture
Nearest station: Kanazawa Station
Access: Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa Station
Tel: +81-76-220-2194

 

Header image credit: Kanazawa City

 

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