Gion Matsuris Galore
There are numerous "Gion Matsuri" scheduled for late July. "Gion Matsuri" are Shinto festivals usually taking place in the evening hours and centering around the portable shrines carried of rolled along the street. Information as to exact times and locations are not given in the Japanese listings, and so you may want to have a Japanese speaking friend call ahead for details. Foreigners who have not seen these celebrations find them an interesting bit of Japanese culture, and you have plenty to choose from. Other festivals are also included here.
Friday evening, July 26, is the time set for a gorgeous display of fireworks along the Kinu River in Mitsukaido. The fireworks are to be launched from the river bank just to the north of the route 354 bridge. Tel 0297-23-2111.
Ushiku Kappa Matsuri
Focusing on the mythical character "kappa" (river monster), this annual festival is directed primarily at children. Held on the east side of Ushiku Station, it runs two days, July 31 and August 1.
Mt. Tsukuba Gama Matsuri (Toad Festival)
Sunday, August 4th, 10 am - 5 pm. This takes place around the Mt. Tsukuba Shrine and is an interesting event. Vendors of "toad's grease" chant their slogans during that time. Tel. 36-1111
Tsuchiura Kirara Matsuri During the period from Aug. 2 to 4, the shopping area to the west of Tsuchiura Station ("Menuki Doori") will be holding its annual festival. On the 2nd and 3rd, from 6 to 8:30 pm, there will be traditional dancing along the route ("Nanayuu Odori"), and on Sunday from 1 - 4 pm, you can get free rides on the tour boat on Lake Kasumigaura. On the 4th at 7:30, there will be a fireworks display on the east side of the station on the lake shore. tel. 24-2810.
Mito Komon Matsuri, Aug. 2-4. Named after the famous ruler who dressed as a commoner to go out and help his people, this festival is the main one held in Mito near the station. There is a fireworks display on the 2nd from 7:30 - 9:00, and on the 3rd from 5 to 9 pm, there is traditional dancing. The main parade is on Sunday from 2 to 6 pm. tel. 029-224-0441.
*Shimodate holds its "Hanabi Taikai" on Aug. 4, on the banks of the Kinu River. tel. 0296-24-2111. Shimotsuma holds a similar event on Aug. 10 at the Sunanuma Bridge with about 3000 bursts scheduled. tel. 0296-43-2111.
Karasaka Manto (10,000 lanterns)
Held during the Obon holidays on August 15, this festival centers on the lighting of lanterns. Traditionally, lanterns were lit to help guide the spirits of the ancestors "home for the holidays" before they would be sent off again into the nether world for another year of wandering. The location is the Obatake Washi Jinja (shrine) in Niihari-Mura about 2 km west of the Tsuchiura Kita Interchange of the Joban Expressway.
If you are planning a trip to the pottery capital of Kasama, Aug. 16, 23, & 24 is a good time to go (or to avoid, depending on your interests), and get some of the flavor of Festival ala Japan. tel. 0296-72-9222.
Ina no Tsunabi
Literally meaning "rope fire", this traditional festival will be held twice, on the 23rd at the Takaoka Atago Shrine and on the 24th at the Obari Atago Shrine in Ina-machi (both events are from about 7:30 to 9:30 pm), to the south of Tsukuba. tel. 0297-58-2111.
The first weekend in September is the traditional date for the local Tsukuba Matsuri, and this year is no exception. Held Sept. 7th and 8th, a number of interesting booths are set up and various cultural events take place through the 2 days. If the other festivals mentioned here are not something you want to take the time and effort to go to, this is your back-up option. It's always located along the central bicycle path and adjacent parks, and so it's not hard to find.
One of the bigger local festivals is the Ishioka Matsuri held in mid-September every year. This year's festivities are from the 14th to the 16th, culminating in a grand parade in the center of town. This is probably the biggest local Matsuri, and is right at the end of the season. So, last chance until next year. tel. 0299-23-1111.
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