An important Bon Festival that takes place every 15th and 16th day of August every year in the Kumamoto Prefecture is the Yamaga Lantern Dance Festival or Yamaga Toro Matsuri in Japanese. Yamaga is known for its lanterns. Despite being made from handmade washi paper and glue, the lanterns are very sturdy. Thus, the craft of making the Yamaga lanterns became a national craft in 2013.
The history of the Yamaga Toro Matsuri dates back to 130 A.D. During Emperor Keiko’s visit to Yamaga, where the residents light up torches to guide the Emperor and his troops into the village after they were blocked by a deep fog on their way. After that, the people at Yamaga offered torches to the Omiya Shrine until the torches were replaced by paper lanterns in the Edo period.
Large and sophisticated replicas made of paper of famous Japanese buildings are displayed all over the town. These paper models will be offered to the Omiya Shrine together with the paper lanterns. On the evening of August 15th, a large fireworks display lit up the sky around Kikuchigawa River.
One of the highlights of the festival is the Sennin Toro Odori – a group of 1,000 lovely female dancers in their white summer yukata with gold and silver paper lanterns as a headdress. The head piece is illuminated which makes the performance more spectacular. The ground is dimmed intentionally to feature the flickering of the lanterns from each dancer’s head. The dancers dance into the tune of the traditional folk song, Yoheho. The illuminated headdress of the dancers seemed to float in the dark which transformed the venue into a magical place. The soothing music of the Yoheho also contributes to the magical experience. The Sennin Toro Odori consists of two parts: the first part is at 6:45 PM while the second part is held from 9:00 PM. The finale of the festival is signaled by the offering of the Toro lanterns to the Omiya Shrine with the people hailing “Haai Toro”at 10:00 PM.
How to get to Yamaga:
From Shin-Tama station, board the Yamaga Onsen bus and disembark at the Yamaga Bus Center.
From Tamana station (JR Kagoshima line), aboard the Yamaga Onsen bus and disembark at the Yamaga Bus Center.
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