The original image of Japanese people seen in Ainu people

From ancient times, Japanese people have always expressed their gratitude and awe to nature and their ancestors. Japanese festivals are rituals to thank nature and their ancestors for life and health. In Japan, over 600,000 festivals are held throughout the year; half of them are related to customs and enshrinement and half of them are simply festivals held as an event. Japan has an overwhelming number of festivals rich in content.

Enshrinement in a hut
The image of the enshrinement in the hut, which is not disclosed to the public.

Marimo Festival was started by the Ainu people in 1950, who were concerned about the destruction of the nature. They thank the god of the lake for the blessing of Mother Nature through Marimo, a ball-shaped green algae. The Ainu people have established their lifestyle with strong respect to the nature as their friend, and consider that a god resides in everything in nature, which is common to the religious view of ancient Egypt and Japanese Shintoism.

Dance and the return of Marimo
Ainu’s ancient dance (left) Returning Marimo to Lake Akan (right)

They pick Marimo from Lake Akan, carry it to a straw-thatched hut, leave it there overnight and hold enshrinement on the next day. They dedicate Marimo with salmon and rice cake in the hut. They pour Tonoto in a bowl, the Ainu’s traditional alcohol, in the order from the elders, dip their sword in it and sprinkle it onto everything in the hut. Then everyone holds their bowl with both hands, slowly sway it sideways in a soft hums and drink it quietly. The enshrinement finishes after they sprinkle the rest of the drink on the four corners of the irori fireplace and offerings. The drink tastes a little sour, and contains rice-like grains. Next morning, they return Marimo to the bottom of Lake Akan on a log canoe after marching through the town with Marimo. Marimo Festival is a rare festival where you can feel the humanity of Ainu people.

Written by: Hideo Nigata

Marimo Festival

Dates: Oct 8-10 every year

Venue: Akanko Onsen, Kushiro City, Hokkaido

Phone: 0154-67-3200(NPO Akan Tourism Association)

Access: Take a local bus from Kushiro Airport or Memanbetsu Airport and get off at “Akanko Onsen” bus stop. About 1 hour and 30 min ride.