In Japan, there are a large number of festivals happening in many locations during the year to celebrate the different seasons, particularly in the summer. It is a great time to experience Japanese culture and the individual specialities of different regions.
The largest annual event in Imabari is the Onmaku Festival (おんまく), a weekend long event held in early August to celebrate summer. It attracts many local people and outside visitors. There are a number of different activities that take place including fireworks, dance competitions, a parade, and music performances using traditional instruments such as taiko (太鼓) drums.
Imabari is usually rather a quiet country town so it was wonderful to see such big crowds of people outside enjoying the weather and the local culture.
The Ginza is a shopping street in Imabari near the port which, during the summer months, has food stalls and various cultural events happening on a Saturday night.
During Onmaku, one of the main events takes place here; there is a parade of different local businesses and groups wearing costumes and performing the Imabari Towel Dance. This is exclusive to this region because of Imabari’s famous locally made high quality towels. There are people of all ages performing the dance, including some very adorable kids and many people dressed in their companies’ colors or featuring their mascots.
The bigger the company, the more people involved; the most impressive displays came from the ship-building companies which are the biggest businesses in the coastal town of Imabari.
Some were handing out fans to the crowds, a kind gesture given the heat with the added bonus of being a promotional item for the company. They are the perfect memento to take home from Onmaku.
Local food, drinks, and souvenirs
On either side of the parade along the Ginza, there are a range of stalls selling food and souvenirs. Any meat you could think of could be found barbecued on a stick. My fiancé, Bruno, is a meat lover and wasted no time sampling this local cuisine.
Also present was Imabari’s famous yakitori (焼き鳥). Elsewhere in Japan, traditionally yakitori is cooked on a skewer, but in Imabari, to speed up the process the chicken pieces are simply fried in the teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) style between two hot steel plates.
We also tried kakigori (かき氷, shaved ice), which is a hugely popular summer treat throughout the country. It is a Japanese twist on a snow cone; shaved ice is put in a cup and flavored syrup is drizzled over the top, making a sweet and refreshing treat.
Bary-san, the local mascot
The final part of the parade was held out on the main street to the port. We were so excited to see a giant Bary-san being carried up the road; I have a soft spot for the very cute Imabari mascot.
Bary-san is one of the many yuru-kyara (ゆるキャラ) in Japan, a mascot representing cities, districts, organisations, and buildings. They are a huge part of Japanese culture that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Bary-san is an adorable round yellow chick with motifs that reflect the signature products of Imabari. The fact that he is a chick is a nod to Imabari’s unique yakitori. He holds a ship to represent the many local shipping companies and wears a towel as a tummy warmer (haramaki, 腹巻). His crown is reminiscent of the Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道) bridges, specifically the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge (来島海峡大橋), which begins in Imabari.
Other events in Onmaku
Aside from the parade, the other big event during Onmaku is the fireworks show that takes the place the next day on a Sunday evening.
The fireworks are set up on the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge, which means you can get a great view from anywhere around the port in Imabari. Many people take boats out onto the water for a better vantage point. The fireworks are a spectacular finale to the weekend of celebration.
Like most things in Japan, the events are timely, well organised, safe and family-friendly, making it perfect for everyone to attend.
Onmaku Festival Information
http://www.onmaku.jp/ (in Japanese)
The festival is held yearly in early August.