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Float Festivals Inscribed on UNESCO Intangible Heritage List
[2016.12.01] Read in: 日本語 | العربية | Русский |

On November 30, UNESCO selected 33 Japanese festivals for its list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity at an intergovernmental committee meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Representing the Craftsmanship of Communities

Each of the regional events center on float processions, including the famous yamahoko of Kyoto’s Gion Festival and the thrilling Oiyama race of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival in Fukuoka.

During the festivals the floats serve as ritual vessels to ferry deities through neighborhoods where waiting parishioners offer up prayers to secure good fortune, ward off disaster, or ensure a bountiful harvest. The carriages have strong spiritual importance and are elaborately decorated with carvings, lacquer, dyed textiles, and other fabrics, making them important repositories of local craftsmanship.

The Japanese government had already designated the festivals as important intangible folk cultural properties and proposed the events for UNESCO registration in 2015 on the basis of their centuries-old history and important role in bringing communities together.

Bringing New Life

The Gion Festival yamahoko parade and Hitachi Fūryūmono are already registered on the UNESCO intangible cultural list, having been added in 2009. The government chose, however, to include them within a larger group of similar festivals in its latest proposal.

The yamahoko parade at the Gion Festival in Kyoto on July 17, 2016. (© Jiji)

The 33 festivals are regionally based and there is concern that depopulation of provincial areas, the aging of Japanese society, and other demographic issues may hamper efforts to keep them going. However, many people hope that increased recognition via UNESCO will bring new life to the events.

The traditional theatrical arts of kabuki, nō, and bunraku were the first Japanese elements to be registered on the intangible cultural heritage list in 2008. Later additions include gagaku (court music), the Yūki-tsumugi technique for producing silk fabric, traditional washoku cuisine, and washi paper craftsmanship.

The 33 Float Festivals Added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Municipality Prefecture
The Hachinohe Sansha Festival Hachinohe Aomori
The Kakunodate Festival Senboku Akita
The Tsuchizaki Shinmei Shrine Festival Akita
The Hanawa Festival Kazuno
The Shinjō Festival Shinjō Yamagata
Hitachi Fūryūmono Hitachi Ibaraki
Karasuyama Yamaage Nasukarasuyama Tochigi
The Kanuma lmamiya Shrine Festival Kanuma
The Chichibu Night Festival Chichibu Saitama
The Kawagoe Hikawa Festival Kawagoe
The Sawara Float Festival Katori Chiba
The Takaoka Mikurumayama Festiva Takaoka Toyama
The Uozu Tatemon Festival Uozu
The Johana Hikiyama Festival Nanto
The Seihaku Festival Nanao Ishikawa
The Takayama Festival Takayama Gifu
The Furukawa Festival Hida
The Ōgaki Festival Ōgaki
The Owari Tsushima Tennō Festival Tsushima/Aisai Aichi
The Chiryū Festival Chiryū
The Inuyama Festival Inuyama
The Kamezaki Shiohi Festival Handa
The Sunari Festival Kanie
The Kujirabune Festival Yokkaichi Mie
The Ueno Tenjin Festival Iga
The Ishidori Festival Kuwana
The Nagahama Hikiyama Festival Nagahama Shiga
The Kyoto Gion Festival Yamahoko Parade Kyoto
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival Fukuoka
The Tobata Gion Festival Kitakyūshū Fukuoka
Karatsu Kunchi Karatsu Saga
The Yatsushiro Myōken Festival Yatsushiro Kumamoto
The Hita Gion Festival Hita Ōita

(Originally published in Japanese on December 1, 2016. Banner photo: The Chiyo nagare float and local men at the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival in July 2012. Photograph by Kusano Sei’ichirō.)

  • [2016.12.01]
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