A few months ago, I reported on what I considered the most beautiful festivals I’ve stumbled across to date in Japan – the Yamaga Winter Lantern Festival. Before it got too dark that day, I managed to shoot this very artistic manhole cover in the center of town:
Yamaga is not only known for its glowing paper umbrellas and bamboo candles. The town is actually famous for its summer festival, an event that takes place around Obon (usually around August 13-15). This festival – the Yamaga Toro Matsuri – is considered to be one of top three summer festivals in Kumamoto Prefecture. Along with the dazzling fireworks display, a highlight of the event is the Sennin Toro Odori, where 1000 women dance through the night while balancing lanterns on their heads. Lanterns are then offered to the gods at midnight on the final day of the festival.
While the women above are clearly representative of the participants in the Sennin Toro Odori, the building in front of which they are standing is also significant. This is Yamaga’s Yachiyo-za Theater, an entertainment hall dating back to 1911 that has just been painstakingly restored to its original state. It once offered kabuki performances and silent movie screenings; now, during the winter lantern festival, there are weekend performances highlighting the Toro Odori (abbreviated, of course!) and other arts (like taiko drumming). During the day, however, visitors are free to tour the theater for a small fee, the ¥530 admission is worth it just to see the theater’s ceiling alone.