— Festivals — A Harbinger of Spring
Since the old days, many festivals have been held across Japan to mark the changing seasons and reflect the agricultural cycle. Most autumn festivals are an expression of gratitude for the harvest, and celebrate the return to the mountains of the god of the fields. Winter festivals take place in the off season. And spring festivals are held before the start of farming work, to pray for their crops. In this episode of Journeys in Japan, we revisit 3 festivals held from fall to early spring — festivals that usher in the beginning of spring.

Karatsu Kunchi (Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture)

This festival was originally held by farming people to pray for bountiful crops and give thanks for their harvests. By the 19th century, it had developed into an impressive parade through the city of gorgeously decorated floats known as Hikiyama.

Yokagura (Takachiho Town, Miyazaki Prefecture)

Yokagura is a series of ritual dances that depict Japan's creation myths. Since ancient times, it has been performed by villagers during their off season from farming. By tradition, Takachiho is thought to be the place where the deities first descended to earth and began to create the Japanese islands. The dances are performed during winter as an expression of gratitude for their harvests and prayers for the next year's crops.

Somin-sai (Oshu City, Iwate Prefecture)

For more than 1,000 years, the Somin-sai festival has been held at Kokusekiji, the first Buddhist temple founded in the Tohoku region. During the coldest period of midwinter, the local men gather at the temple. After purifying themselves, they scramble to grab a hempen bag called the Sominbukuro, which is said to bring good fortune to anyone who can get a hold of it.