Many of Japan’s festivals date back hundreds of years and yet there is one that is relatively modern, dating back to only 1948. This is the Shiogama Minato Festival held annually on the third Sunday in July in the city of Shiogama. It is considered to be one of Japan’s three great boat festivals and was originally started to pray for the revitalization of Shiogama after difficult economic times befell the city following World War II.
The port town of Shiogama is located between Sendai and Matsushima. The city was affected by the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and there were doubts as to whether the matsuri (festival) would resume. But the residents of Shiogama persevered and the 68 year old celebration continues today.
During the festival, two giant mikoshi (portable shrines) from the Shiogama Shrine and the Shiwahiko Shrine are carried onto their own ornately decorated ship and an aquatic procession involving 100 other elaborately decorated boats commences on Matsushima Bay. The Shiogama Jinja (shrine) is considered to be one of the most important Shinto shrines in Tohoku. It sits atop a tiring flight of 201 stone steps and after the procession at sea is over, the mikoshi is unloaded from its respective ship and lugged up the steps and returned to the shrine. The mikoshi is said to weigh about one ton, so this is no easy task by any means! Nearly 3,000 Shiogama residents participate in this well attended event. Following the parade of the mikoshi, a fireworks display takes place over Shiogama Pier.
Oftentimes, visitors to Shiogama combine their visit with a trip to nearby Matsushima, as the two cities are served by popular sightseeing cruises on Matsushima Bay. Shiogama is accessible via the JR Senseki Line from Sendai.