March of the Fishing Boats

Shiogama Minato-Matsuri: Parade of the Dragon Boats

On a fine summer day in 2017 I finally managed to catch the 70th Shiogama Minato-Matsuri after missing the one in the previous year. When I got there people had already flocked from near the station to the main road, where many food stalls were open. I rushed my way into where the event started.

What is Minato-Matsuri you asked? Eh, I didn’t explain that? Very well let’s start from the beginning…

Such festivities. Guess they really did go all out in decorating the boats.

Shiogama is a small town neighboring Sendai in Miyagi prefecture. Normally it is just a pretty quiet town. But every year, on ‘Umi no hi‘ or Sea Day, a national holiday in Japan, the sleepy municipal transforms into a huge platform for a summer festival called ‘Shiogama Minato-Matsuri’. Unlike other festivals, perhaps the origin of this festival is rather new, for it started on 1948 after the end of World War II. During that time, the once flourished port city of Shiogama had come to a economic slump. In order to rejuvenate the town, the city officials decided to organize a festival that will honor the gods and provide entertainment for the citizens alike. Thus Shiogama Minato-Matsuri was born.

Throughout the years the festival date changed from 20th of July, to 10th of July in conjunction with annual festival of Shiogama Shrine, then changed again to August 5th, until the organizers decided to set the date to ‘Umi no Hi’, on the third Monday of July. The night before the festival, a rather grand fireworks display will be held on the bay next to Marine Gate, the ferry terminal located next to the bay. Do see the fireworks if you like summer festivities.

Now that I have explained what is Minato-festival, time to move on to the main event!

In a gist, Minato-Matsuri’s core is the procession of mikoshi or portable Shinto shrine from the shrine to the port. Thus, the ceremony begins in Shiogama Shrine, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Tohoku region. Two of the shrine’s mikoshi are taken out from their abode. The priests chant prayers to venerate the gods inside the mikoshi, then the men clad in white clothing carry them down the shrine’s front stairway.

The portable shrines will pass through the main thoroughfare of Shiogama while making stops along the way before getting to their final destination: the port. Here they would be loaded onto two ornamental boats for a royal parade around the port.

The ornamental boats are named Hououmaru and Ryuuhoumaru, with a phoenix head adorning Hououmaru’s bow and a dragon head for Ryuuhoumaru. Both are made in the 1960’s and had been kept in fantastic shape throughout the years specifically for the annual event.

Although the highlight of the parade are these two boats, almost all fishermen in Shiogama will participate with their boats. They would decorate their boats with various fishermen’s banners originally used to indicate a big haul. The said port was filled with colorful banners all the way up to the sky, a little bit similar to another festival that I have been to in Fukushima. People would cheer as the boats they’re riding on passed the mikoshi or when they made contact with another.

Past noon the loading ceremony finished and sailing procession began. When the boats started to make their rounds along the port I was treated to a rare sight. Such heavily ornamented boats and fishermen’s banners that I have never seen before. Though the sun was striking and relentless, I could never take my eyes off the parade until eventually they stopped going in circle and headed into the open sea for the final part of the festival, which unfortunately I could not witness unless I was aboard one of the boats. But I made a short cool video nonetheless!

As soon as the boats had gone towards the horizon, the visitors that flocked into the port moved on. Some went back home, but some like me, stayed in Shiogama a little longer. In the main street there was this odori parade, but I was aiming for more off-the-beaten-track experience. Hence I wandered around away from the parade, into the depth of Shiogama until the sun set down.

Until next post folks!

This is the husk of a cicada, an insect responsible of the damage of your ear during summer season.


Access information From Tokyo:

Take Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Sendai Station then change to JR Senseki line and stopping in Hon-Shiogama Station.

From Sendai:

From Sendai Station take JR Senseki line and get off in Hon-Shiogama Station.

Useful websites Kankou-bussan (Japanese)

Click here



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