Chagu Chagu Umako Festival: a Grand Horse Parade

One of the more unique festivals in Japan is the Chagu Chagu Umako festival in Iwate Prefecture.

Chagu Chagu parade | Yisris

It’s a parade of about a hundred horses in colorful harnesses, many of which are almost entirely draped with various intricate decorations and little bells that sweetly chime.

The name Chagu Chagu is taken from the sounds of the bells as the horses move. In 1996, the Chagu-Chagu bell sounds was chosen by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, to be protected and continued for future generations. ‘Umako’ is derived from ‘uma’, which means “horse.”

Many of those on horseback are children whose legs are tied to the horses to prevent them from falling off. They are guided by adults on foot.

Horse in festival attire | Yisris

Both riders and those on foot sport black outfits, some with flowery white designs, some with white bandanas and hats. Hundreds of people, including visitors, attend the parade passing through the streets, all the while listening to the ringing of the bells.

The celebration was conceived 200 years ago to honor the horses that helped in planting rice. This is not surprising, since the people of the Iwate district are known for their love of horses. Some people even have horses as housemates.

The festival is held in Takizawa village, Iwate Prefecture, and occurs on the second Saturday of June. It starts at 9:30 am at Onikoshi-Sozen-jinja Shrine (dedicated to the deity of horses). The parade ends at around 2 pm at Hachimangu Shrine in Morioka, some 15 kilometres away.

The Chagu Chagu Umako festival is a prime example of Japanese culture and tradition, showing the deep bond between man and horse.

This video by asanuma0200886  gives us a great glimpse of the horse parade: