Fireworks fall on you and the Niwaka Lanterns!
You already learned how the unique Kiriko lanterns have a tall, thin shape when you read the article about the Issaki Hoh-Toh Matsuri Festival. Those types of Kiriko are spread all over the Noto peninsula, and you'll see them in many fishing villages during the Kiriko Matsuri festival. However, you won't see them at Niwaka Matsuri festival in Ukawa district, Noto-Cho town! They use a different type of Kiriko lantern, called "Niwaka". Niwaka literally means "unexpected". When the 13th Lord Maeda traveled around the peninsula for an inspection, the Ukawa people "unexpectedly" built the lanterns to console their lord. That's the origin of the name.
The festival started around 350 years ago, meaning that they didn't call the festival Niwaka Matsuri before the 13th Lord Maeda. The fishermen decorated the Kiriko lanterns with pictures of warriors, appealing to the goddess Benzaiten (the Seven Gods of Good Fortune) for a big catch.
Now, I can see nine Niwaka lanterns showing up in front of Sugahara-Jinja shrine. The beautiful warriors are newly painted every year, then cut out of each lantern to trace the pictures. The fantastic objects are truly fascinating!
Niwaka Matsuri Festival
Place: Ukawa district, Noto-Cho
Date: The fourth Saturday of August
Schedule: Fireworks (20:30~) / Bringing Niwaka to the streets and performing (21:00-3:00) (21:00-3:00)
How to get to Ukawa District: Take a Hokutetsu Bus "Kanazawa - Ushitsu/Mawaki Line via Ukawa", get off at "Ukawa-Guchi"! Check the timetable!
Although it's a two hour drive from Kanazawa, the festival is worth the trip!
On the last Saturday of August 2011, we decided to drive to Noto-Cho town, located almost in the nose of the peninsula, in order to watch the festival. Even for local people like us, it's pretty far from Kanazawa city. We left the downtown area at 5 pm, making our way through the Noto toll road. After a one-hour-drive, we got off the highway at Anamizu IC. If the festival was not at night, we would have headed to the district immediately. But, we knew that it isn't that easy to find a restaurant in the Noto-Cho which is open at night. Perhaps Anamizu is the last place to have dinner before arriving at our destination, that should give you an idea of how local Noto-Cho is!
After dinner, we headed to the east coast. It was after 7:30 pm and starting to get dark. We passed by the Bora-Machi Yagura scaffold, one of Anamizu city's icons, eventually arriving in Ukawa district, Noto-Cho town in 30 min.
The nine massive Niwaka lanterns in front of Sugahara-Jinja Shrine simply overwhelmed me!
As soon as we arrived in the district, we drove around to find a parking lot, finding a place at the pier in front of Kawase-Jinja shrine. I knew the shrine would be the main stage for the festival. Where are the Niwaka lanterns? We walked along the Yamada-gawa River, following the sound of Taiko drums.
There they are! 7-meters-high and 5-meters-wide, the lanterns were getting ready for their performance, just in front of Sugahara-Jinja Shrine. On each of them, boys wearing Happi (festival jackets) were beating a drum just for fun. Each of them must have dreams of having an important role for the festival someday!
On the grounds of the shrine, some festival stalls were around. Having games to play, selling hot dog or fried chicken, typical festival fare... I glanced at some high school girls enjoying some shaved ice and hoped to get one later. We saw the first fireworks around 8 pm, a sign letting us know that the festival would start soon. But the second ones didn't follow immediately. We were waiting about 30 minutes. Honestly I wasn't really interested in the fireworks, I had already had my fill from this summer. I was just waiting for the lantern’s performance by the shrine. Suddenly... a blast appeared and got everyone's attention! It was like it would cover all of us! "Huuuuuuuuuge!!!", I screamed! The roar of the fireworks slowly echoed. I had never seen such a huge display of fireworks!!! Though the number of fireworks for this festival is less than in the big cities, I was pretty impressed! Perhaps the best I've seen!
Time to move the lanterns! I'm so excited to see their performance!
Each Niwaka lantern has a number and it seems like they start to move in numerical order. The wheels of lantern #1 slowly moved to the street, then turned left. "Oh, they go to this way...", I thought. However, the huge object suddenly stopped and began to swing like a pendulum. The lantern looked like a jumping fish out of water! Wow!
As I blinked, lantern #1 dashed in the opposite direction and ran past the shrine! Lantern #2, #3... they all did the same. It's like they dedicated their performance to the shrine! All of Niwaka lanterns were on the narrow street and started to march while swinging like pendulums.
Buzzing with excitement, screaming "Yassai!" in the rhythm of the drum and the bell... everyone seems to be enjoying themselves! There are still many traditional town houses well-preserved in the district, and the buildings were lit up by the huge lanterns when they passed by.
We left around 11 pm, however the festival goes on until 3 am. I wanted to spend the night and watch the highlight at the Kawase-Jinja shrine, but we had to get back to Kanazawa. Traditional festivals are always the pride of a local area. You can really see the people's faces radiate with happiness. It's an unforgettable experience!