Known as one of the major festivals in Sendai, the Aoba Festival (青葉祭り), which is usually held on the third weekend of May, highlights the festivity of spring after the typical sakura season early in April. The festival lasts two days, with the ‘opening’ day on Saturday and the main event on Sunday.
Aoba Festival originates back to the Edo period, during the time when the founder of modern Sendai Date Masamune still lived. Back then, it was said that an older festival called the ‘Sendai Festival’ predates the current Aoba Festival until around the Meiji era.
What to expect
On the festival days, you should visit Jozenji Avenue, where the main celebration is held. The first day is called ‘yoi-matsuri’ and showcases various groups performing sparrow dance (suzume-odori). Up to a week before the festival’s second day, you can also see some ‘yamaboko’, a substantial-sized wheeled festival float reaching up to 6 meters in height, parked in the arcade.
On the evening of Yoi-matsuri, a lantern festival float will parade through the streets, followed by a free-for-all event resembling bon-dance where everyone is invited to dance along in the streets. Thus the first day ends quite late at night until 9:00.
The second day of the festival, also known as ‘hon-matsuri’ or the main event has the yamabokos of festival floats being paraded around Jozenji Avenue. Currently, there are 11 yamabokos made and operated by various companies and organizations in Sendai, such as Sendai City itself.
After the festival floats have all passed by, next comes the parade of past important figures related to Sendai, including the beloved founder of Sendai Date Masamune, admirably performed by ‘Date bushoutai,’ a group that dedicates themselves to reliving the Edo period of Sendai.
Once they pass, the next in line will usually exhibit the warriors’ procession, where groups of armor-wearing and matchlock-styled arquebus-toting hail the viewers with their exquisite attention to details of reenactment.
When the last of the warriors exited, the festival entered the main course: the seemingly never-ending flow of suzume-odori performers. Each group will proceed slowly, separated by some distance from the others while accomplishing the dance in unison according to the accompanying tune.