Nov 16, 2018 Attraction Mihara

Celebration Ranks as One of Mihara’s Proudest Traditions -Yassa Festival 2018

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The Yassa Festival, a dance celebration held every summer, ranks as one of Mihara’s proudest traditions.

This year, the Yassa Festival was rescheduled to the first weekend in November because of the flooding that ravaged the region during the summer months.

With the weather colder than usual (the festival normally takes place in August), coats and sweaters replaced traditional summer kimonos as people turned out in force to celebrate Mihara’s stand-out event in the calendar year. It was a celebration and at the same time a way to remember those who lost their lives in the flooding. It showcased the resilience and solidarity of the people of Mihara.

This year’s two-day festival kicked off with a stunning fireworks display over the Seto Inland Sea. With its long stretch of quayside and storehouses a mere stone’s throw away from central Mihara, Itosaki Station is the perfect location for viewing fireworks. Lines of outdoor food vendors replaced the forklifts and trucks that would usually occupy this industrial zone.

The display lasted for 45 minutes. Commentary and a soundtrack accompanied each volley of fireworks, the music specially chosen to match the intensity of each segment. Along the waterfront, spectators had ample room to sit and enjoy the fireworks launching into the night sky from the water. Being so close intensified the effect of each firework and some of the larger ones felt as if they exploded directly overhead.

The next day, the area outside Mihara Station was the venue for the main dance event. The origins of the Yassa Festival date back to 1567, when the townspeople celebrated the building of Mihara Castle by Takakage Kobayakawa. The festival outlived the castle – only the stone foundations and the moat remain today of the once formidable stronghold.

The term “yassa” comes from the word chanted by the performers while they dance to a melody of shamisens, drums, and flutes. The dance, known as the yassa odori, is a distinctive one. The raised arms move smoothly from side to side in an undulating motion. Every member of each troupe moves in perfect unison as they dance down the procession route. The yassa odori comes across as a more gentle dance compared to the more famous awaodori of Tokushima.

From 2pm to 4:30pm, a procession of 46 different dance troupes, each with anything between 20 and 100 members, danced through the streets past thousands of onlookers. The dance troupes come from all walks of life. A large number represent local businesses and company offices that take this opportunity once a year to swap monotone suits and uniforms for colorful kimonos. Each troupe has its own unique take on the basic yassa dance moves, but there was one aspect all the dancers had in common – they all performed with huge, beaming smiles.

In the food court, vendors offered visitors an array of local specialties centered around the octopus. This tentacled creature featured in popular dishes like octopus rice, octopus croquettes, and octopus tempura. Every serving of every dish was delicious and cooked to perfection – unsurprising for a city famed for its octopus cuisine.

In Japan, there is a song long associated with the awaodori that goes “if you look foolish dancing and you look foolish watching people dance, you might as well dance.” The Yassa tradition has a similar vibe. It is simply happiness and fun manifested in dance. It is a festival everyone can enjoy, from toddlers to the elderly. As an onlooker, you can’t help but tap your feet to the beat as the performers pass by, a part of you wishing you were out there dancing with them.