Toukasan (とうかさん) is not only the biggest festival in Hiroshima, but also one of the oldest of the summer festivals in the whole of Japan. Dating back some 400 years, the three-day festival is the event the highlights the fact that summer has officially begun.
Held every June on the first weekend, the event revolves around yukata, the less-formal kind of kimono that is worn in the warmer months. The main street of Hondori is full of young men and women dressed in yukata enjoying the weather before rainy season begins. Yukata for men are fairly simple and straightforward, but the young girls and women really go all out and often plan their outfits as far back as March.
The streets are full of the usual matsuri or festival food stalls called yatai and although it is tradition to dress up, many people simply stop in after work dressed in their usual business or casual gear.
Yukata are much cheaper than kimono and new, full sets (complete with shoes) are as cheap as 3000-4000 yen. If you’re looking for something cheaper, check out places like Book-Off or other second-hand clothing shops where you can often find a really good deal. You can also get your yukata fitted at many of the shops in Hondori for as little as 500 yen if you really have no clue how to put it on. Then again, I’m sure any of your Japanese friends would also be more than willing to help!
To be honest, although people of any age do go, it’s predominantly a young people’s festival. If you don’t like crowds but still want to see what it’s all about, my advice is to go during the day. The stalls open around 12pm and you can spend all afternoon walking and eating before the students and workers arrive after work. The number of people increases greatly after dark and you will find yourself almost unable to do anything but shuffle along.
The actual meaning behind the festival centres on the kanji, ‘Touka’, which is another reading for the Shinto god Inari, the god of prosperity. Many people visit Enryuji, sometimes simply referred to as, ‘Toukasan,’ the temple located on Chuo-dori just across from the 7-Eleven. Then again, many people don’t and simply enjoy the food and festivities.
Whatever your idea of fun, whether food, worship or just people watching, Toukasan has something for you. Dress up or don’t dress up, just make sure you stop in at some point on the first weekend in June to enjoy the start of summer.