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Float Festivals of Owari
The Owari region covering the western part of Aichi is a treasure house of dashi karakuri, or puppets made for festival floats. The floats (dashi) provide a mobile stage upon which the puppets (karakuri) perform, astonishing and delighting spectators while the floats are transported around the town. Karakuri puppets are of mechanical and marionette types. The mechanical puppets (hanare karakuri) operate by means of springs, cogwheels, and other such devices, and they strike drums and gongs, stand on their heads, and perform other such stunts. The marionette puppets (itokuri karakuri) operate by means of strings, which are deftly manipulated to make the puppets express wide-ranging emotions with a facility exceeding human actors.
The roots of karakuri puppets reach deep into Japanese history. Mention of them can be found in the Nihon shoki (720, Chronicle of Japan) and Konjaku monogatari (ca. 1120, Tales of Times Now Past). The Owari region became a center of the arts involved in puppet shows, and this laid the foundation for the development of timepieces by artisans working in the Owari Domain. Tsuda Sukezaemon, who invented Japan’s first mechanical clock in 1605, was a native of Owari. Meanwhile, Japanese puppet show techniques were refined by theater groups like Osaka’s Takedaza, and midway through the Edo period (1603–1868), when the place of performance moved from the stage to the festival float, the tradition of dashi karakuri was born.
Many Aichi communities still have festivals featuring floats. One is the Akiba Matsuri festival in Komaki City, in which four floats wend their way through the streets from Shinmeisha Shrine, built by the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534–82). The festivities start on the third Saturday of August, when the floats are decorated with lanterns and paraded around town in the evening. The main event takes place on Sunday, with the four floats appearing together in the grounds of Shinmeisha Shrine for performances by the puppets. Even today the sight is one that people long ago characterized as “so astonishing you forget to close your eyes.”
(Tsutomu Higashida; photo by Masatoshi Sakamoto)

Aichi Prefecture is located roughly in the middle of the Japanese archipelago and is the nation's top industrial prefecture, being the home of Toyota Motor Corp. and other leading-edge manufacturers. It also has a rich history and cultural tradition that continue to enrich the lives of residents today. A number of large-scale projects are planned to lead the prefecture into the twenty-first century, including the 2005 World Exposition and a new international airport.

AICHI VOICE is a colorful English-language publication issued by the Aichi International Association, a nonprofit organization established by the Aichi Prefectural Government, to introduce Aichi's proud traditions and latest trends to a worldwide audience.

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To be updated in November 2004
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