Nakanobu Furusato Matsuri: neighborhood festival put on hold

As a general matter, Autumn is festival season in Japan. Alas, the pandemic has forced cancellation of festivals across the nation, some for the first time in centuries, others for the first time in decades.

Since 1989, the Tokyo neighborhood of Nakanobu has hosted a “Furusato Matsuri” (hometown festival) on Nakanobu Skip Road, a 330 meter shopping street, on the weekend of the third Saturday of September. While it has been cancelled for 2020, we can hope to see its return next year. In the meantime, let me tell you what we’ve missed out on this year and encourage you to mark your calendar so you don’t miss it next year.

In even numbered years, the festival features Nebuta, the giant colorful paper floats lit from the inside more commonly associated with Aomori Prefecture.

In odd numbered years, the festival features Yosakoi, a lively modern group dance that incorporates certain features of traditional Japanese festival dancing, but is much more avant garde.

The festival only dates back to 1992, quite recent by Japanese festival standards. At that time, after Japan’s economic bubble had burst, the government was sponsoring various community revitalization projects. Some of the younger merchants of the Nakanobu Skip Road, a shotengai shopping street that runs between Ebara-Nakanobu Station and Nakanobu Station, thought a community event would help liven things up. After researching various other festivals, they decided that a parade of nebuta-style floats (better known in Aomori Prefecture) would attract attention. They were right, and the Nakanobu Nebuta Festival has gone on to become the largest nebuta festival in Tokyo.

Like most festivals that involve parades, there are also lots of groups participating in the parade, pulling the floats and dancing along. They encourage bystanders to join in, as well!

From 2007, the Yosakoi dance was added and it was decided to have the two types of festivals in alternating years. Yosakoi dance originated in Shikoku’s Kochi Prefecture in 1954 as a variation on traditional Japanese festival dancing that can use modern music and incorporate modern steps. The only requirements to be Yosakoi dance are that the dancers use naruko clappers, that the original “Yosakoi Naruko Dancing” song is incorporated  somewhere in their musical accompaniment, and that the dance team has no more than 150 members. Yes, it is so popular that teams can actually get this big.

Another fun aspect of Yosakoi dancing are the colorful costumes worn by the dancing teams. They, too, are modern variations of traditional festival garb, or sometimes just completely different kinds of outfits.

Like most Japanese festivals, all age levels are included, too.

While the parade only takes place on the Saturday evening (beginning around 5:30 pm), there are also events, including dance and drum performances (courtesy of the local taiko drum school) at various intervals throughout the three days of the festival. Of course, there are food and drink vendors everywhere and the local shops have special sales to mark the occasion.

It’s unfortunate, but understandable, that the festival had to be cancelled in 2020. Apparently, organizers are still undecided whether next year’s festival will feature the nebuta that were supposed to be up this year, or whether they will stick to the original schedule and have Yosakoi. Personally, I would vote for both! (Fingers crossed that the Nakanobu Furusato Festival will be able to take place in 2021.)

© 2020 and Vicki L. Beyer
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