Minato Matsuri, the Marine Day port festival in Shiogama starts the afternoon before the national holiday, when food stalls and fairground style entertainment go up on the main stretch of road along the bay. Early attendants get ample time to see the shrine boats, which are docked just past the ferry pier at Marine Gate, the city's ferry-port which also offers several restaurants and souvenir shops.
These two boats shine in a rainbow of lacquer and paint. For most tourists, this is the best chance to get a good picture of these boats. They cannot be rented or occupied by anyone other than the Shrine staff as their sole purpose is to carry the omikoshi, or portable shrines, to visit the outlying Urato islands in Matsushima Bay on Marine Day. In preparation for that event, they are brought to the ferry pier where anyone willing can get close enough to see the details of the scales of the dragon or the feathers of the phoenix.
Past the shrine boats this year sat a large Japanese Coast Guard ship, open to the public. Some areas aboard were roped off, but the staff was helpful and very interested in ensuring everyone had a good time, even the foreign guests.
The overcast sky turned wet around noon, though the downpour itself was neither violent nor windy. Still, people came out, yukata-clad or otherwise. Some staked out the coveted dry positions under the pedestrian walkway while others utilized umbrellas to check out the food stalls or watch the concerts happening at the new roofed stage in a nearby park.
Despite the drizzle, people filled the parking lot of the Aeon and by dusk the street bordering the bay was shut down. In years past, cloudy skies have prevented the full enjoyment of these fireworks, but this year was an exception. The rain stopped before nightfall and even with fairly intense humidity, the street, parks, and sidewalk were all packed with spectators.
As the fireworks started, the food vendor line remained, but even those waiting for refreshments could enjoy the show booming far above Shiogama bay. The firework spectacle lasted upwards of thirty minutes.
Monday morning saw slightly smaller crowds on the opposite side of Honshiogama Station, where the two portable shrines were marched down the 202 stairs of Shiogama Shrine's main entrance around 10:30 AM. Clusters of white-robed shrine attendants carried the omikoshi down the road and on toward Marine Gate, followed by throngs of eager festival-goers, anxious to see the shrines take to the sea. Around noon, the omikoshi and attendants boarded the small vessels and set out for the islands in the company of other decorated boats. Vendors strewn on both sides of Shiogama's main street stood open and waiting for festival watchers to make their way back.
Shortly after noon, dancers in groups began coming down the street toward the main entrance, celebrating the ocean's many contributions to the town of Shiogama with versions of a historical dance done in unison to traditional-style music being blasted from speakers hung along the street.
Many people set up blankets and tarps on the sidewalk to observe the coming parade. Heat sensitive festival goers took refuge in the few restaurants along the street or refreshed themselves with cool beverages or shaved ice. Every year, most of these groups do similar interpretations of the same basic dance, though some groups get more inventive and add their own specific style to the mix, including country-and-western dancers. Others just follow the motions, but even in groups of exhausted elderly participants, the lasting dedication of a few can still be very entertaining to watch.
After the dance groups had crossed the finish line on the street in front of the main entrance to Shiogama Shrine, the omikoshi returned and made the same journey up those 202 steps shortly after 6 PM.
The Minato festival in Shiogama is held every Marine Day (the third Monday in July) with fireworks the night before. HonShiogama Station (本塩釜駅) on the Senseki line (仙石線) is the most useful for these festivities which run from around 3 PM Sunday to 6 PM Monday. From Sendai, the trip takes 30 minutes and 320 yen.
Article by 'JTsuzuki' at www.city-cost.com