Japan’s greatest Dashi, or parade float festival, the Handa Dashi Festival (はんだ山車まつり) happens once every 5 years in Handa City, the gateway to the Chita Peninsula and just south of Nagoya City. Handa City with a population of about 120,000 is famous for it’s record 31 Dashi. The eight meter tall, ornately carved, richly decorated wooden floats date back to the Edo Period (1603-1868) and although one or two do occasionally appear at other festivals during the year, only once every 5 years do all 31 go on parade together. Just like the icecream shop, all 31 are treats!
The heavy floats are pulled by teams of 30 to 40 men in colorful Happi coats and traditional garb through the streets lined with thousands of onlookers, all cheering the teams on and thoroughly enjoying the spectacle and exciting atmosphere. At night, the floats are lit up by hundreds of traditional lanterns and again paraded through the town.
Outside of the Handa Dashi festival, Handa is also famous for the brewing of sake and vinegar since the Edo period, and many traditional kura warehouses with their distinctive black wooden walls line a 500m stretch of old Handa even now. You can enjoy Handa with your eyes, and your nose. The old vinegar brewing district has been named as one of the “100 Most Fragrant Sceneries” by the Ministry of The Environment. In fact, the Mizkan Vinegar brewing corporation’s World Headquarters remains in its traditional home, Handa.
When you visit Handa, order yourself a Kabuto Beer. A Kabuto is a Samurai’s helmet, and the mark of the beer that won the Gold Medal at the Paris Expo of 1900. The old red-bricked Kabuto Beer factory, built around 1887 produced the nationally popular brew until 1921. In 2005, the locals restored the historical factory and revived the popular beer, complete with old style labels. Goes well with the locally raised Chita Beef!
Another attraction is the Niimi Nankichi Memorial Museum. The Japanese author, known as the “Hans Christian Andersen of Japan” was born in Handa, and died there 30 years later.
By the way, if you’d like to see the next Handa Dashi Matsuri, it’s set to take place in early October 2022, plenty of time to plan ahead and no need to Dashi.