June: Atsuta Festival

June 01, 2023

Atsuta Festival at Atsuta-jingu Shrine, Aichi(Google Maps)

Known for its spectacular floating lanterns, the annual Atsuta Festival in Nagoya is one of the nation’s most stunning events. Held on June 5th each year, it signals the start of summer with dancers, drummers and float-parades bringing the air of celebration to the city streets. Starting with a rare imperial envoy delivering white paper strips for the opening ceremony’s shinto rituals, their arrival launches a day of revelry and traditional arts.

The festival takes place at the 1,900-year-old Atsuta-jingu Shrine in the south of the city. Crafted in the Shinmei-zukuri style, it is one of the most significant shinto shrines in Japan. The ancient structure enshrines the sun goddess Amaterasu and is home to the sacred sword of Kusanagi, one of Japan’s three imperial regalia. While the treasured item is never displayed, the Kusanagi-kan is a new, dedicated museum displaying many ancient swords to the public.

Atsuta-jingu Shrine, Aichi(Google Maps)

During the day-long event, portable shrines known as mikoshi are carried through the shrine’s groves, held aloft by locals. Alongside them, the smaller, child friendly kodomo-mikoshi are carried, a sight rarely seen at regular festivals. As evening falls, the kento makiwara floats appear at the shrine gates, with glowing lanterns festooning the unusual dome-shaped structures. These are the symbol of the festival and each hold 365 individual lanterns.

As offerings to the gods, locals perform a wide variety of traditional performances throughout the day. These include taiko (drumming), kyudo (archery), kendo and judo—all requiring years of practice and refinement. One of the true highlights of the festival, however, is the Atsuta Kagura. Performed in the shrine for over 1,800 years, the local version of the kagura dance involves drummers and gentle flute music, with performers entrancing audiences with ease. Allowing visitors to experience a wide range of traditional arts, the festival is an incredible opportunity to see the many skills practiced through the ages. Wandering between performances and trying local delicacies from the street stalls, locals dress in bright cotton kimonos bringing a summer flair to the scene.

Kishimen noodle

As a dramatic closing ceremony, the city’s skies are illuminated with countless fireworks. A summer tradition in Japan, fireworks provide a stunning backdrop to the evening’s end, with many staying for drinks and food alike.

While there are plenty of classic festival foods to enjoy, one of the local dishes that can’t be missed are the kishimen noodles. Served throughout the year at the shrine, these are flat udon noodle with crinkled edges perfect for carrying the delicious broth. Often topped with deep fried bean curd and sprinkled with bonito flakes, it’s a simple but tasty dish that goes perfectly with a cold beer. For something heartier, keep an eye out for misokatsu, a pork cutlet served with the locally made red miso, called aka-miso. In fact, visitors should take any opportunity to try dishes such as doteni, served with hatcho-miso, a dark, rich miso unlike anything else in Japan’s savory repertoire.

Offering sights, sounds and flavors unique to the region, the Atsuta Festival is an unforgettable day of delights. A celebration of creativity and beauty, it certainly challenges the city’s reputation and ensures no one ever consider Nagoya in any way boring.

For more details, contact DMC Japan to discuss ideas, locations and rates.
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