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Last year for Tohoku Rokkon -- six Japanese festivals all in one
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With pretty much every town, village and city in Japan hosting at least one festival per year, it's tough for visitors looking for cultural experiences to choose which one to hit.
Fortunately, Japan's spectacular Tohoku Rokkon Festival, held annually to support the northern region of Tohoku's recovery efforts, lets you enjoy six "matsuri" (festivals) in one location.
Every year since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March of 2011, the Tohoku Rokkon Festival has assembled the region's best six summer festivals -- one from each prefecture -- to raise awareness of restoration efforts and bring blessings to the region.
The festival is held in a different Tohoku prefecture each year.
Electrifying and colorful, its parades draw thousands to the streets to check out the participants' beautiful costumes and impressive floats.
Now comes the bad news.
This year is the final Tohoku Rokkon, taking place June 25 to 26 in Aomori.
In addition to parades, Tohoku Rokkon will have elaborate displays, live music performances, food and crafts from the six prefectures -- all showcasing the remarkably enduring folk traditions and intricate arts and crafts of the northern Tohoku region.
If you can't make it this year, it'll still be possible to catch all the festivals in their respective prefectures in years to come.
They all take place in early August but the dates are staggered to allow for travel between all six.
Here are the six festivals you can experience either at Tohoku Rokkon or in their home prefectures.
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is perhaps the most famous of all six festivals on this list.
Fantastical warrior dolls and beasts are illuminated atop giant, multistory floats as musicians and haneto dancers pack the streets.
According to legend, the colorful burst of drums and dances are intended to rouse people from their summer lethargy.
Flute tunes play as onlookers admire the magnificent floats, made with painted washi paper sculpted over wire, bamboo or wooden frames.
Aside from the Tohoku Rokkon event in June, the main Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is held every year between August 2 and 7.
It's reported to draw three million visitors to the city of Aomori.
For those who can't make it to either event, Aomori's outstanding Nebuta Warasse Museum displays many of the floats from the past year's festival, allowing visitors to eyeball the craftsmanship up close and at their own pace.
It's one of the most beautiful festivals in northern Japan.
On summer nights, huge, popsicle-shaped curtains of light grace the streets alongside paraders in hachimaki bandanas, hanten jackets, tabi socks and straw sandals.
A single bamboo pole -- up to 12 meters long and weighing up to 60 kilograms -- bears tiers of lanterns. It's all skillfully balanced on a participant's forehand, shoulder or back.
This harvest festival is traditionally held to ward off malice and diseases.
Besides making an appearance at the Tohoku Rokkon Festival, the main Akita Kanto Matsuri is held from August 3 to 6 annually in Akita City, the capital of Akita prefecture.
It's listed as the world's largest taiko drum ensemble in Guinness World Records.
Joined by dancers and flutists, synchronized drummers make their way through the city of Morioka, the capital of Iwate Prefecture from August 1 to 4.
Half-meter-wide taiko drums are strapped to the front of participants.
Known as the Sansa Odori dance, it stems from a legend in which locals rejoice in dance after making an unruly demon pledge that he'll never terrorize people again by leaving his handprints on the rocks of Mitsuishi Shrine.
It also gave rise to the prefecture's name, Iwate, which literally means "rock hand."
First held in 1964, this massive floral hat dance is relatively new compared to its Tohoku counterparts but is now considered one of the region's major festivals, and is held from August 5 to 7.
Costumed women dance while wearing or holding hanagasa hats decorated with artificial safflowers -- Yamagata prefecture's official flower.
Folk songs accompany these synchronized movements, led by lavishly adorned floats.
Also known as "the star festival," Tanabata is based on a Chinese legend about two star-crossed lovers.
Though festivals are held all over Japan in its honor, the one in Sendai, held every year from August 6 to 8, is among the more famous.
To commemorate the doomed pair, downtown Sendai's shopping arcades get transformed into a forest of handcrafted, elaborate streamers made out of colorful washi paper and bamboo poles.
A huge fireworks display is held the night before the festival kicks off.
More info available at the official festival website, Sendaitanabata.com.
At this funky festival, oversized waraji (straw sandals), hoisted up by participants, parade the streets of Fukushima.
The biggest one -- a special 12-meter-long straw sandal made of woven ropes weighing two tons -- is offered to Fukushima's Haguro Shrine in the hopes of getting blessed with strong legs and safe travels in return.
Men and women, old and young gather to dance away the hot summer night.
To lure younger participants, waraji dancers groove to reggae and hip-hop sounds.
On the second day, participants compete in a dramatic race, pulling gigantic floats with huge waraji mounted on top.
Aside from its guest appearance at the Tohoku Rokkon Festival, the main Fukushima Waraji Matsuri takes place August 5 to 6.