There are many annual events and festivals that go on in the Gun, depending on the season. Most of the school events are common throughout Japan, but many of the festivals are unique to Kuma Gun.
Hina Matsuri or Dolls Festival. The Dolls Festival is celebrated throughout Japan on Girls’ Day on March 3rd. The dolls are displayed all over Hityoshi but in Sagara, at the Craft Park and Temple near JUSCO are the most popular and biggest collections of Dolls from the ages.
Every February there is a half marathon, 10K, 5K, and 3K race run in Hitoyoshi. People from all over Kuma Gun participate. Some wear interesting costumes.
Plum Blossom Festival (Ume Matsuri), Okoba Koen Hitoyoshi
In late February, go see the plum blossoms in Okoba Park along with many stage performances. Held under the pink and white blossoms of some 4,600 plum trees. The weather is usually still a little cold, but the taiko is good and a pretty quaint little place for a festival literally under the canopy of plum blossoms. Dancing and Taiko, free Shochu and an open-air Tea Ceremony are the highlights of this festival.
Late Feb/Early March – Festival held at the temple site in Sagara.
March 3 – Dolls’ Festival (see above) Dolls are on display until the end of the month.
20/21 (Vernal Equinox) March – The Spring Pilgrimage of the 33 Kannon. Each site of the kannon are open for ceremonies and a small offering of food and drink is provided for those visiting as part of the pilgrimage/tour.
Sakura Matsuri, Mizukami
In late March or April, Mizukami throws a Sakura Matsuri as well as a Sakura Marathon while the sakura are blooming.
Late March/Early April – Kuma Shibadatehime Shrine Festival.
Early – Ue Sakura Festival
Mid-April – Yamae Azalea (Flower) Festival. Held on the third Sunday of April.
Late April – Spring Festival. A flower festival held at the Green Palace in Yunomae.
Hitoyoshi Onsen and Shochu Festival
Held the second weekend in May (Sat & Sun). Aside from the Fireworks Festival in August, this is Hitoyoshi’s main festival, held primarily at the festival square in the middle of the river with floats and mikoshi paraded along the main street. The dances performed on the Saturday night are a particular attraction at this festival.
Toyama Zakura, Asagiri Town (Sue Village)
After the regular sakura blossoms bloom, next come the “Yae” sakuras. These types of sakura trees have 8 petals instead of five and are quite beautiful as well. The most famous Yae Zakura tree in Asagiri Town is called “Toyama Zakura” in Sue Village. There is a small festival that takes place, where they sell local tea, produce, and strawberry icecream.
Syounen Kendo Competition. Held annually in Nishiki.
Early June is the time for Iris Festivals!
Hana Shobu Matsuri 花菖蒲祭り (Iris Festival), Asagiri Town
The Iris Festival takes place in Tenshi Mizu Koen (天子水公園), in Fukada around early June. There are food vendors, stage performances, and beautiful irises!
Mid-June – Itsuki Firefly Festival. While it might be a small road trip to get there, the firefly festival in Itsuki is one it is famous for.
Late July – Sagara River Festival
Hanabi Taikai (Firework Festivals), in almost every town
Every summer there are firework festival throughout Japan. Many girls wear yukata (summer cotton kimono) to these festivals. As with most festivals, there are many food stalls and games.
First Sunday of August – Kaname Falls Festival. At the site of the waterfall in mountains of Hitoyoshi.
Early August – Yunomae Summer Festival
Early August – Ue Yoka Festival
Early August – Fukada Summer Festival. In Fukada down by the Kuma river, with fireworks over the river at night.
Asagiri Kumagawa River Festival
At the beginning of August, when all the JETs arrive, there is usually a festival held in Asagiri (Fukada) next to the Kuma River. There are many food stalls where you can buy kakikori (shaved ice) and yaki Ayu (grilled Ayu, which is a fresh water fish caught in the Kuma River).
August 12ish – Yamae Summer Festival
August 15ish – Hitoyoshi Fireworks. The mother of fireworks in Hitoyoshi-Kuma gun. Held over the river and quite cool. The centre of the matsuri is on a little patch of land in the middle of the river providing a nice setting to watch the fireworks. Popular festival with loads of food stalls.
Ebisu Matsuri (coming soon)
Mid-August – Ebisu Summer Festival and Fireworks. Quite a big, popular festival with dancing and fireworks to finish.
August – Kyushu Highland Mountain Bike Competition. Held on the third weekend of August every year.
Late August – Japan’s No. 1 Ayu fishing competition. Kuma
Late August – Kumagawa Marathon. Held in Sue, a road marathon winding around the mountains and along the Kuma river.
Mid-September – The Autumn pilgrimage of the 33 Kannon. Like that during Spring (March) a time when many people take the pilgrimage and visit the sites of the 33 Kannon.
Mid-September – ‘Fruit’ Ladies Marathon. Nishiki
Mid-Late September – Shirozu Shrine Festival. The God Snakes in Mizukami
Mid-September – Shrine Autumn Festival in Sagara.
Autumn Harvest Moon Viewing Festival (Tsukimi 月見, Jyugoya 十五夜)
For Tsukimi, people get together to celebrate good harvest and view the moon on the 1５th of September. They eat traditional foods like Tsukimi dango and rice balls. They may also make straw ropes and carry it throughout the neighborhood yelling, “Washoi Washoi!” to get collect all the neighbors together and celebrate.
Early – Hitoyoshi Autumn Festival. By namesake, a festival to celebrate the ninth day although the celebrations are held usually for about a week (3rd-11ish) with the main processional celebrations on the 9th. Processions carrying portable shrines are led by Shinto priests and dances are performed in traditional religious and Saurai clothing.
Mid-October – Taragi Furusato Festival.
Mid-October – Professional Kendo Tournament in Nishiki.
Mid-Late October – Mt. Ichifusa Marathon. Not just any old marathon – add the challenge of climbing Mt Ichifusa while you’re at it. Mizukami
Late October – Fureai Matsuri.
Kirishima Shrine Festival in Okaharu.
Early November – Itsuki Lullaby Festival. Every weekend in November
Early-November – Nishiki Furusato Festival. A huge festival in Nishiki held on the town’s sports ground on the first weekend in November.
Mid-November – Yunomae Comic Festival
Mid-November – Kumamura Festival
Early – End of year Theatre
Dondoya, almost every school
Dondoya is a school event often held on the grounds of elementary schools after or during the New Year break. People from around the neighborhood stack bamboo poles up together and put in old mamori charms and other items that need to be burned in order to “cleanse” their households for the new year. People also bring old, dried out mochi (sticky rice balls) offerings, tie them to the end of a bamboo pole, and roast them like marshmallows over the bon fire. A sweet red bean soup called “Zenzai” is usually eaten with it.