On a fine summer day in 2017 I finally managed to catch the 70th Minato Matsuri after missing the one the previous year. When I got there people had already flocked from near the station to the main road, where many food stalls were open. I rushed my way into where the event started.
What is Minato Matsuri you ask? Eh, I didn’t explain that? Very well, let’s start from the beginning…
Shiogama is a small city neighboring Sendai in Miyagi prefecture. Normally it is just a pretty, quiet city. But every year, on the third Monday in July (exactly on ‘Umi no hi’ or Sea Day, a national holiday in Japan) the sleepy city transforms into a huge platform for a summer festival called ‘Shiogama Minato Matsuri’. Unlike other festivals, perhaps the origin of this festival is rather new, for it first started in 1948. After the end of World War II, the once flourishing port city of Shiogama had hit an economic slump. In order to rejuvenate the town, the city officials decided to organize a festival that would both honor the gods and provide entertainment for the citizens alike. Thus Shiogama Minato Matsuri was born.
The procession of the festival begins at Shiogama Shrine, one of the most important Shinto shrines in the Tohoku region. Two of the shrine’s ‘mikoshi’ or portable shrines are taken out from their abode. The priests chant prayers to venerate the gods inside the mikoshis, then men clad in white clothing carry them down the shrine’s front stairway. The mikoshis will pass through the main thoroughfare of Shiogama, making stops along the way before reaching their final destination: the port. Here the portable shrines are loaded onto two ornamental boats for a royal parade around the port.
The ornamental boats are named Hououmaru and Ryuuhoumaru, with a phoenix head adorning Hououmaru’s bow and a dragon head for Ryuuhoumaru. Both were made in the 1960’s and have been kept in prime shape for the annual event. Although the highlight of the parade are these two boats, almost all fishermen in Shiogama participate with their own boats, too. They decorate their vessels with various fishermen’s banners and flags, originally used to indicate a big haul. The port was filled with colourful banners all the way up to the sky.
Past noon the sailing procession began. When the boats started to make their rounds along the port I was treated to a rare sight. Such heavily ornamented boats and fishermen’s banners I have never seen before. Though the sun was striking and relentless, I couldn’t take my eyes off the parade until eventually they stopped traveling in a circle and headed out into the open sea for the final part of the festival, which only those lucky enough to be aboard the boats could tell you about!
The Shiogama Minato Matsuri is held annually on the third Monday of July (aligning with the public holiday ‘Umi-no-Hi’, ocean day!)
From Tokyo: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Sendai Station, then change to the local JR Senseki Line stopping at Hon-Shiogama Station.
From Sendai: From Sendai Station take the local JR Senseki line and get off at Hon-Shiogama Station.
The festival is held about a 5~10 min walk from Hon-Shiogama Station.