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Kanuma Autumn Festival
Ornate wooden floats host live music in this historic festival
The Kanuma Autumn Festival is one of Tochigi Prefecture’s most impressive events, drawing around 300,000 people to the streets of Kanuma city, just 90 minutes north of Tokyo. The festival’s origins go back over 400 years, to a time of severe drought. According to the legend, after the townspeople prayed for rain at Imamiya Shrine they were gifted with a thunderstorm, and the festival arose out of their gratitude.
These days the festival is a lively affair, held annually over a weekend in October. It features 27 carved wooden "yatai" floats representing different areas of Kanuma, 14 of which date back to the Edo period (1603-1867). Local artisans employ generations-old techniques to maintain these historic floats in top condition year after year, while artisans create ornate wooden carvings and copper plating coated in gold leaf to decorate them. During the festival, the floats are transformed into portable stages and carry groups of musicians through the city. When two or more floats meet at a junction, the bands atop them have a musical duel to the delight of the surrounding dancers and spectators. The friendly and vibrant atmosphere continues late into the night.