Festivals of Japan: Nagasaki Kunchi Festival
By John Asano
The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival is a colourful and energetic festival held in Nagasaki in the Kyushu region of Japan. The festival is Nagasaki’s most famous and has been celebrated for close to 400 years now.
The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival originally began as a celebration of the autumn harvest in the late 16th century, and later became a shrine festival of Suwa Jinja. The festival incorporates different aspects of both Chinese and Dutch culture, which have played an important part in Nagasaki’s vibrant history.
Nagasaki has played a multilayered role in Japan’s emergence as a modern nation as an active trading port. The city has one of Japan’s three Chinatowns the others being in Yokohama and Kobe, and still has an energetic Chinese community which has formed part of the city’s culture and identity along with its Dutch and Portuguese influences.Photo by Julian
The festival, which first started in 1634 is an autumn shrine festival of Suwa Jinja, which is picturesquely located on a forested hilltop in the city. The shrine plays a major role in the festival, coming to life every year with the Chinese dragon dance, which is one of the main attractions of the festival.
The festival occurs annually for three days, starting on October 7 and finishing on October 9.
The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival features dance and show performances from groups representing various districts within the city. Each year, a select group of participants are selected to perform from the 59 separate neighbourhood performance groups. The groups perform on a rotation basis of once every seven years. Some of the main attractions of the festival include traditional Japanese dances, Chinese dragon dances, festival floats shaped as ships, elaborate costumes and fireworks.
The highlight of the festival is the Chinese dragon dance which was originally performed on New Year’s Eve by the city’s Chinese residents. The dance is mesmerising and is performed by a highly skilled team of stage performers with fluid natural movements which appear to bring the dragon to life.
The various performances of the festival are held at four main venues located around the city which are Suwa Jinja, Otabisho, Yasaka Shrine and Kokaido. The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival is one of Japan’s most colourful and vibrant festivals and highlights the wonderful cosmopolitan history of Nagasaki as a port city in Japan.
Location: Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
When: October 7-9
Time: Times vary according to the event
Cost: FREE with paid seating available at the four main venues
The festival is held at various venues around the city. To reach Nagasaki, take the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen from Tokyo to Fukuoka’s Hakata Station and transfer to the JR Kamome limited express train to Nagasaki.