Cultural Diplomacy:
Heritage Conservation and the Festivals of Ogaki, Japan

Hari Srinivas
Case Study Series E-184. December 2022.

Festivals are an important part of a local community or a city, bringing in visitors that will support the economy of the city. Besides their economic impacts, festivals are also capable of displaying and honouring cultural traditions and heritage of a local area. The successes of festicals are dependent collaboration with local communities and collaboraton, sustaining jobs of vendors, providing revenue to local tourism-related businesses, and inducing spending by residents and visitors.

Festivals are infact integrating events in which tangible and particularly intangible heritage assets, making them a part of a city's indelible heritage. A festival reflects the perceptions of a community in its activities and rituals related to its culture and history.

Festivals contribute to the preservation of intangible cultural assets such as living cultural knowledge, identity, meaning, and community values - a live open-air museum!

Context of Festivals in Ogaki, Japan

With rapid urbanization processes, and high economic growth that Japan always faces, it is commonly observed that one of the first casualties is the feeling or sense of a "community". Community networks dissolve, and individualism and isolation sets in. This is particularly the case when the young population moves out, and other new households move in. Most Japanese cities face this problem, bringing to the fore, a need to reverse this trend.

Google Maps - location of Ogaki, Japan
Location of Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture, Japan
The City of Ogaki, with a population of 150,000, is located in the eastern Kansai region, northwest of Nagoya. The culturally-rich areas surrounding Ogaki are famous for a number of festivals (or 'matsuri'). The 360 year old Ogaki festivals celebrate the arrival of early summer to Ogaki. The matsuri features the eleven traditional floats of Ogaki making their way on a tour of the city.

These festivals were associated with the many temples in the area, and were usually a community-wide event, organized by different voluntary groups composed of local residents. There is also a wide range of foods and vendors who show up for the festivals.

Intangible Heritage The Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs proposed to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that the yama, hoko, and yatai float festivals of Japan, including the Ogaki festival float parade, be added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

On December 1st, 2016, at the UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee held in Ethiopia, this proposal was accepted, and these events were registered as Intangible Cultural Heritage. This is the first Intangible Cultural Heritage in Ogaki to be registered.

2015 Designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property by the Japanese government
2016 Registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

One of the ways in which Ogaki has attempted to solve the problem of community disintegration was to use these traditional festivals to unite the community. This was done by linking voluntary groups to operate the festivals in sequence.

"Cultural Diplomacy" of the Ogaki Festivals

In 1972, the Mayor of Ogaki took the leadership to bring all the festival groups together to form the Ogaki Youth Association. More than 12 groups joined the Association, with a total of 1,500 members. The groups were wide-ranging in composition: children and youth groups, women's groups, circles within private firms, cultural groups, voluntary groups for handicapped and elderly etc. The Ogaki Youth Association enabled the groups to cooperate in activities that would have been very difficult and expensive for them to be organized separately.

The main purpose of the association was to reevaluate the traditional festivals and regain the energy and enthusiasm which was lost due to industrialization and urbanization. An appreciation of the culture and tradition was also enabled as a result.

The 360 year old Ogaki festival celebrates the arrival of early summer to Ogaki

The Ogaki festival yama (or float) parade has been handed down as a castle-district festival event which has come to represent the Mino region. At this festival, the Ogaki feudal lord's yama and the yama of the townspeople were displayed together, a very rare case in Japan.

The Ogaki festival is a product of the interaction and exchange of festival culture between the eastern and western regions of Japan. The dashi (festival car) events of the Chukyo area have influenced the karakuri dolls in Ogaki, just as the dashi events in the Kinki region have influenced the performances on the yama. This interaction is considered to be very important in understanding the dissemination and changes in Japan's yama, hoko, and yatai events.

Source: Official website of the Ogaki Festival

Some of the floats of the Ogaki Festival

Some of the traditional festivals that were held include:

  1. A procession of floats (portable shrines) from the Hashiman Shrine, many of which are more than 1,300 years old. These pallequins are carried by men dressed in traditional wear or are mounted on wheels and pulled by groups of people.
  2. Floating of paper lanterns on the Suimon river that surrounds the Ogaki Castle. Classes on how to make the lanterns are also offered.
  3. Portable shrines from the Jouyou temple are carried (more than 19 shrines) on the main street of Ogaki from the station.

These traditional events are coupled with more modern events such as:

  1. Festival of art, where children and their parents meet in the castle surroundings and participate in painting competitions on various green/nature themes.
  2. Holding of the Sannō festival, a pre-cursor to the exposition of the future in Gifu city. More than 22 cities and towns in the Seino region (where Ogaki is located) jointly organize the Sannō festival.

Ogaki has effectively used these festivals to bring together not only its own citizens, but also those from neighbouring cities and towns to celebrate festivals together. It has also managed, as a result, to rekindle interest in traditional aspects of Japanese lifestyle. The festivals have become famous, attracting a number of visitors to Ogaki for the festivals.

[1] Official website of the Ogaki Festival (Ogaki Tourism Association):
[2] Parts of this document is based on the JAPA Prize entry document submitted by the Ogaki City Givernment to the competition. Field visits and interviews with city officials and local residents were also used to develop this document.

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