Kiriko Festivals in Noto




Contribution 01

A trip to meet the deities of Noto
— Exciting Kiriko Festivals

What is a Kiriko Festival?

Noto is a mecca of festivals. Shintoism, Buddhism, ancestral spirits and nature are deeply rooted in people’s lives, and despite the passage of time and changes in lifestyle, festivals continue to be a source of spiritual sustenance. There are many types of festivals in Noto, but those that feature lanterns called kiroko are the most amazing.
The history of kiriko festivals dates back to the Edo period. As time passed, the festivals spread to the north of Nanao City and Shika Town. There are now about 200 such festivals. Since the festival period is long, extending from July to October, it is quite possible that you will have the chance to see a kiriko festival if you travel to Noto during this period.
Kiroko is the abbreviated name for kiriko-toro, or kiriko lantern, and it is also called hoto or oakashi. Kiriko lanterns are used to light up the feet of portable shrines. The largest kiriko weighs two tons and is 15m high. Some kiriko, which are rolled along the ground rather than carried, weigh as much as four tons.

Attraction of Kiriko Festivals

The festivals mostly take place at night. Once the kiriko are lit, shrine parishioners start to carry them around the town. The scale and characteristics of the festivals differ depending on the area; in Noto Town’s Abare Festival, portable shrines and kiriko dance vigorously, in Nanao City’s Issaki Hoto Festival, more than 100 lantern carriers dance wildly, and in Wajima City’s large and energetic Wajima Grand Festival, gorgeous lacquered kiriko floats parade along the streets. In Suzu City’s Horyu Tanabata Kiriko Festival, kiriko are carried into the sea, which is also a gorgeous site. In addition, in Shika Town’s Saikai Festival, women carry kiriko floats, and in Anamizu Town’s Okinami Tairyo Festival, kiriko floats dance wildly in the sea under the blue sky. Each festival is unique, and attracts many spectators.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the attraction of the kiriko themselves. Kiriko are elegant floats with distinctive characteristics. They have evolved in a unique way in each area, and each area tries to outdo the others in terms of the scale and brilliance of its lanterns. Some remarkable examples are gorgeous kiriko coated with Wajima lacquer and decorated with gold leaf and engravings, a large kiriko with a roof as long as 12 tatami mats, sleeve kiriko, which are sleeve- or cloud-shaped, and doll kiriko which are decorated with large dolls. In addition, kiriko are the “entertainers” that give the festivals their energy. They parade along with portable shrines to the music of bamboo flutes, drums and gongs. The Kiriko give various performances to the accompanying music and add excitement to the proceedings; they are the “heroes” of the festivals.
During the kiriko festivals, people invite relatives, friends and acquaintances to their homes and treat them to homemade dishes and sake. They give thanks to the deities for their abundant harvest and good catches of fish. These feasts, called yobare, play an important role in the community. They are feasts for deities and people to enjoy together, which is the original form of hospitality.
Kiriko festivals are a big annual event that involves entire communities. Their essence lies in “making an offering to the deities” and “waiting”. People offer lights to the deities and wait for the festival, while considering the wisdom that has been passed down from their ancestors. Through waiting, they accumulate energy, which they let out all at once for the festival once a year. This is why the festivals are so exciting. People who live in the region and those who have moved away for work come together for the festival. The enthusiastic spectators also make up an important component of kiriko festivals.

Contributor profile

Asao Fujihira
Ishikawa Prefecture
Special Tour Guide

Lives in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. Appointed as Adviser to Noto Peninsula Tourism Association after holding the posts of Secretary General of Wajima Tourist Association and Director of Wajima Kiriko Art Museum. Presently engaged in writing and giving lectures related to the tourism, culture, history and folklore of Noto as a Hot Ishikawa Tourism Meister and an Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism Special Guide.
Author of: “Northern Noto Mangekyo”, “Machilus Thunbergi Remained”, collaborative books with Toshio Shibuya; “Noto San-san”, “Noto Kiriko Festivals”, “Noto Theater Eighty-eight Picturesque Sights”. Has appeared from time to time on the NHK radio program “My Morning Report”. For him, the attraction of Noto is the fact that deities, Buddha, the spirits of ancestors, nature and the places where people live are integrated.

For "Japan heritage"

“Japan Heritage” is a national designation (Agency for Cultural Affairs) for cultural assets that create regional attraction. In April 2015, kiriko festivals (“Noto Peninsula where candle lights flicker – Exciting kiriko festivals”) were designated as Japan Heritage.