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Beautiful Japan | Lanterns Over the Dark Sea Create Dreamlike Kiriko Festival on Noto Peninsula



‘Kiriko’ are carried to the pitch-black ocean, creating a thrilling and mystical scene in Horyu, Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture. (Photo by Hirofumi Kakihira)


A glow from festival lights fills the air with excitement. 


As the warm days of summer arrive, the Noto Peninsula begins celebrating the Kiriko Matsuri, which continues until the early days of autumn. Colorful hanging lantern floats called kiriko are carried by participants, who show off designs which vary by region.


“Yassa, yassa!”


This is the Horyu Tanabata Kiriko Matsuri in Horyu, a town in Suzu on the Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture. Amid the voices, 14-meter-tall kiriko lanterns are balanced and paraded around. In the evening, the festival grows lively with music from the strings of the koto and taiko drums. 


Six large kiriko and one child-size kiriko are carried as the participants wind through the streets, bringing color and life to the town. The peak of the festivities comes near midnight, when the lanterns are brought to sea and sparkling fireworks light up the night sky.


“There’s still time before the kiriko get to the ocean,” said Hideki Terai, 71, a local. As the sun sets, a dinner party begins at the Terai home. 


During the Kiriko Matsuri, it is customary to invite family and friends, and even acquaintances, to one’s home. After graciously being hosted for the evening by the Terai family, it’s time to head out to the ocean.



The illuminated kiriko lightly bounce up and down in tandem with the steps of their bearers, lighting up the glossy black coastal waters. The fireworks reveal the reflections of the men in the water as they struggle to support the heavy lanterns. Their bravery adds to what feels like a dream. 


This practice has been carried out since the Edo period, when people would pray for a bountiful harvest or large catch at sea. These days, though, it is very different. There is only one kiriko for children due to Horyu’s declining population; in the past, there were four. 


The town is rapidly getting smaller. 


“The festival used to be held at around 180 locations. However, there aren’t enough people to help, so more and more places aren’t providing kiriko,” reported Masaharu Takenaka, the director of Kiriko Meeting Hall in Wajima City.


Most areas now host events on the weekend as a result. The town of Horyu, too, changed their annual August 7 date to the first Saturday of the month in 2019 to encourage participation. 


Noboyuki Hashimoto, 64, manager of a local liquor retailer, reminisces: “During my childhood, I was overcome with excitement when I heard the beating of the taiko. I want that experience to remain.”


“We must pass on the knowledge and practices needed to preserve this part of our culture,” said Director Takenaka, speaking with passion.


(Click here to read the story in Japanese.)


Author: Hirofumi Kakihara, The Sankei Shimbun Photojournalism Department 


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