What are some of your typical traditions during the summertime? Swimming? Fireworks? Barbeques? Of course, those are a large, exciting part of summer, but we can’t forget about summer festivals!
THE KITAKAMI TIMES has reported on Morioka’s huge Sansa Odori taiko parade before, but there’s also another festival with a long, rich history and tradition in the town next to Morioka – Shizukuishi’s Yoshare Festival. (Yoshare, often called Nanbu Yoshare, is a type of dance that has proliferated throughout Japan, but originated in Shizukuishi)

In this article, I’d like to dig into the Yoshare Festival and share this tradition with you.

First, I’d like to talk a bit about the town of Shizukuishi, which hosts the festival.
Shizukuishi is located about 16km to the west of Morioka, the capital of Iwate Prefecture. It’s a sprawling town, spanning 24 km east-to-west, and 40 km north-to-south, with a total area of 608.82㎢. It’s surrounded by beautiful mountains, like Mount Iwate and Mount Komagatake.
It also has a count of nine different hot springs, each flowing with water with different attributes and effects. Plus, Shizukuishi has plenty of touristy spots, with Koiwai Farm and a couple of ski resorts. You can enjoy the town’s beautiful nature no matter what the season.
In the center of the huge natural wonderful of Shizukuishi Town is the commercial district, called Shizukuishi Yoshare Street. This area has long supported the town’s industry, and it is here, in summertime, where the Shizukuishi Yoshare Festival is held. Every year, the area is filled with many attendees to see the festival, marked with energetic dancers and a colorful parade.

Next, I’ll talk about the festival itself.
This year, the Yoshare Festival marks its 53rd year, and is the largest summer event in Shizukuishi, where the whole town comes together for a single day in a flame of enthusiasm.
On the day of the festival, the Yoshare Street commercial district serves as the main stage, with a procession of traditional floats, and a parade with Nanbu Yoshare and Sansa Odori performers (made up of a number of organizations). At the Alpen Memorial Park near the town hall, there is also a performance of YOSAKOI, a type of frenetic Japanese dance.

Closing out the ceremony are the Wa Odori – large circles of Sansa Odori dancers gathering throughout Yoshare Street. Of course, anyone who wants to dance is welcome to join in.

The Yoshare Festival has its origins in 1969. That year marked the 24th National Athletic Meet, hosted in Nagasaki, and hopefuls for the Iwate mountaineering team had their first prefectural competition at the grounds of the Shizukuishi Elementary school. There, the competitors were greeted by people dancing the traditional Yoshare dance of Shizukuishi. Two years later, the first Shizukuishi Yoshare Festival was held in 1971. At the 17th festival in 1987, there were altogether 10,000 people in attendance. Every year, the scale grew bigger, and the festival became a defining tradition of the Shizukuishi summer.
In 2020 and 2021, the spread of COVID-19 meant that the festival had to be unfortunately cancelled, but people kept the event alive in their hearts. In 2022, the Shizukuishi Yoshare Festival was held at a smaller scale for the first time in three years. There were around 500 people in the parade, from Yoshare dancers, Sansa Odori drummers, and other performances. Around 4,500 people were in attendance, and the whole festival area came alive with the colorful uniforms of the performers, and the enthusiasm people had for the parade. The townspeople were so glad to have held the festival again, and even hoped they could restart the Wa Odori again at next year’s festival.

Now I’d like to talk about the Nanbu Yoshare dance itself, which is one of the performances held at the Yoshare festival.
Just as in the above picture, dancers wear a costume called “anekko isho”, which means “a lady’s outfit” in the local dialect. They are adorned with a dark blue cloth robe with white designs, black work pants, a covering on the back of their hand, and a wide-brimmed hat called an amagasa. As the Nanbu Yoshare is performed, one can feel the weight of the history behind the elegant dance.
The dance was originally performed at weddings and other celebratory events. With the National Athletic Meet held in Iwate in 1970, a simplified dance was added so it would be an easier dance for organizations.

So where exactly did the Nanbu Yoshare dance come from?
In order to unlock the mystery behind the Nanbu Yoshare, we have to go back over 400 years into the past, to the beginnings of the original Shizukuishi Yoshare dance.
In ancient times, the master of Shizukuishi Castle was a man named Shiba. He used underground waterways to funnel water to his domain, and to hide the ducts, he built a teahouse manned with a female proprietress who would always keep watch. The Nanbu clan of the neighboring domain sought to attack the castle, and used covert spies to search for these waterways, but they were not able to find them.  These spies tried to get information out of the female proprietress by complimenting the sashes on her outfit. However, she found this suspicious, and didn’t give them the time of day.
They say that is the beginning of the Shizukuishi Yoshare. From the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period, the outfits evolved and a high-level dance was developed, and as it was spread throughout the town, it became a uniquely Shizukuishi tradition. From that, the Nanbu  Yoshare form of the dance branched off, and spread throughout Japan. That brings us back to today.
In this way, we can see that not only does the Yoshare Festival have a rich story, but the dance performance itself boasts a long history and tradition as a folk performance that represents that town of Shizukuishi.
This year’s Shizukuishi Yoshare Festival will take place on August 11 (Fri, a national holiday). Last year, they restricted the amount of participating organizations, and only the parade on Yoshare Street was held, but this year will mark the first full-fledged festival held in four years. There are three areas for the festival: Shizukuishi Yoshare Street Commercial District, the World Alpen Memorial Park special stage, and the Chuo Public Hall’s Nogiku Hall. They will hold the Yoshare and Sansa Odori parades, have a procession of traditional floats, a YOSAKOI performance, and also hold a song and dance performance by last year’s winner of the Nanbu Yoshare National Competition.

We hope you come to visit Shizukuishi’s shining glory, the Yoshare Festival!




海水浴?花火大会?バーベキュー? どれも心躍るものばかりですが、夏祭りを忘れてはいけません!
 これまで、「THE KITAKAMI TIMES」では盛岡市の「さんさ踊り」について取り上げてきましたが、実は盛岡市のお隣の雫石町には長い歴史と伝統を持つ「雫石よしゃれ祭」という夏祭りがあります。