As a city with a long history, there are a couple of representative festivals in Morioka that you could consider joining. During the festivals, the city is packed with visitors. Yatai stalls selling every kind of festival food you could hope for also fill the approach of the shrines that hold them.
The Top Festivals in Morioka
- Chagu Chagu Umakko (チャグチャグ馬コ)
- Morioka Sansa Odori Festival (盛岡さんさ踊り)
- Morioka Autumn Festival (盛岡秋まつり)
- Morioka Hadaka-Mairi (盛岡裸参り)
Chagu Chagu Umakko (チャグチャグ馬コ)
Chagu Chagu Umakko is a festival that can be seen nowhere else in the world. At 9:30 am on the 2nd Saturday of June each year, around 100 horses in glittering costumes depart from Onikoshi Sōzen Shrine (鬼越蒼前神社) for Morioka Hachimangū.
As bells are a part of the horse’s colorful fittings, the sound of the bell chimes throughout the 14-km, 4-hour journey. So the event was named Chagu Chagu.
Regarding what the horses wear. The colorful fittings are made from hemp, a great material that is resistant to horse sweat. About 700 small bells are then sewn to the costume. The final product weighs as heavy as 60 kg!
Tip: Free shuttle buses departing from Morioka Station’s bus stop no. 16 to Onikoshi Sōzen Shrine are available on the festival day. If you don’t want to travel too far, the parade arrives at Morioka Station around 1 pm.
The Origin of Chagu Chagu Umakko Festival
Iwate Prefecture has been famous for its horse farming industry since the 8th century. Originally, only the warhorses were bred. Eventually, the prefecture started exporting farm horses. The connection between the farmers and the horses is thus deep, which is why Chagu Chagu Umakko is held by Onikoshi Sōzen Shrine.
Sōzen (蒼前) was a horse breeder in Northeastern Japan who was skilled at treating sick horses and farming techniques, which was why a shrine was erected for him to be the god of agriculture and guardian of horses. At Onikoshi Sōzen Shrine, the statue of a guy riding a horse is Sōzen.
Chagu Chagu Umakko was originally held on the 5th of May in the lunar calendar. It was when the farmers were busy plowing a rice field, so horses were usually worn off from the farm work. Their owners would take them to Onikoshi Sōzen Shrine for a break and to pray for their health and enjoy the rest of the day at the shrine.
Over time, May 5th of the lunar calendar has become the peak season for rice planting. So from 1952, the date of Chagu Chagu Umakko was changed to June 15th of the Western calendar. Since 2001, the event has been moved to the second Saturday of June to allow more people to see it.
Morioka Sansa Odori Festival (盛岡さんさ踊り)
As its name suggests, the Sansa Odori Festival’s main event involves the participants dancing the elegant, supple, but dynamic Sansa dance while playing Japanese Taiko drums and flutes in unison. In 2014, when 3,437 people played the Taiko drums in the Sansa dance, it broke the world record and the event was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest drum parade.
Sansa Odori has existed for a long time. It is said that the festival originated from the celebration that the locals had at Mitsuishi Shrine (三ツ石神社) after the god chased away a demon called Rasetsuki (羅刹鬼).
The small celebration has since developed into a grand festival with more than 30,000 people joining each year from the 1st to the 4th of August!
The legend of the Sansa Odori Festival is also where Iwate Prefecture’s name originated. For more information, refer to our article on Must-Visit Temples and Shrines in Morioka!
The festival starts in the afternoon from 1 pm to 4 pm when various Sansa Odori local communities perform their version of the Sansa dance (伝統さんさ踊り競演会). From 6 pm to 9 pm, one group after another, each group after another, parade through Morioka’s Chūōdōri street (中央通).
If you want to join the dance on the day, you can!
No registration, fee, or special costume is required to join what is called Kuwaeru Sansa (加わるさんさ). Just be at Iwate Prefecture City Hall (岩手県公会堂) at 5 pm on any day during the festival for a short practice and join the parade at 6 pm!
Morioka Autumn Festival (盛岡秋まつり)
Morioka Autumn Festival is Morioka Hachimangū‘s main festival, held from the 14th to the 16th of September. Festival floats parades are held throughout the festival period.
The climax of the 3-day festival that has been held for more than 300 years is the parade called Sansha Dai-emaki Parade (山車大絵巻パレード) when all the gigantic splendid festival float is paraded from Morioka History and Culture Museum (もりおか歴史文化館) throughout Morioka’s city center at 6 pm. At 1 pm on the 16th of September, horseback archery (流鏑馬) is held at the shrine.
The festival was first held to celebrate the completion of the Nambu Domain’s castle town. A portable float was offered to the shrine from each part of the town.
Nowadays, the festival floats are decorated with figurines of heroes and flowers. Because the floats are so big, about 200 young men become the carriers of the floats in the massive parade.
Morioka Hadaka-Mairi (盛岡裸参り)
Hadaka-Mairi is a New Year celebration event held at a couple of shrines and temples in mid-January at Morioka. The evening possession of men wearing white headbands and costumes made from straw with lightly chilli-spiced paper in their mouths arrive at the shrine/temple that held the ritual. It is another ritual to pray for a prosperous year.
The usual participated temples and shrines are:
- Futaiin Temple (不退院): the 12th of January
- Eishoin (永祥院): between the 11th to the 14th of January
Kyojo-ji (教浄寺): between the 11th to the 14th of January
- Morioka Hachimangū Shrine: the 15th of January
- Sakurayama Shrine: the 26the of January
Note the actual ritual date of the year can vary. Please inquire with the tourist information center if you will be at Morioka in mid-January.
Important: The total length of the possession is about 2km. Each group’s length is about 50 meters. Please avoid traversing a group’s formation because it means what they are praying for won’t come true. Look for the
lantern held high on a pole (Takahari Chōchin, 高張提灯). It signals the front of a particular group.
Discover the Must-Visit Attractions in Morioka
Speaking of Morioka, Wanko Soba and Morioka cold noodles are probably the two most common things that come to your mind. But the city isn’t just about food. Morioka also has many cultural properties, hot springs, nature and more!
So refer to our Morioka article for ideas about where to stop by when visiting Iwate Prefecture’s capital city!