About Yamaga Tourou

Home の中のAbout Yamaga Tourou

For two days every summer, the quiet town of Yamaga is enveloped in a lively atmosphere. During Yamaga Tourou (Lantern Festival), the city is lit up with thousands of lanterns. Watching the girls wearing “yukata” (summer gowns) dance gracefully to the “yoheho” tunes, you catch a glimpse of Japan's beautiful, bygone era.
Event Schedule
Hono Lantern Dance
Lantern Dance
Ancient Emperor Welcoming Ceremony
Taimatsu Traditional Parade
Thousand-Lantern Dance
Agari Lantern
The Origin of Yamaga Tourou (Lantern Festival)

When Emperor Keiko visited the city in the ancient time, the countrymen of Yamaga raise torches to help light his way, as his party was hindered by a very thick fog around the Kikuchi River.
After that, people started offering torches every year to commemorate the emperor's visit.

It is said that people started using paper lanterns instead of torches during the Muromachi Era.

"Washi" (Japanese Paper) Art : The Yamaga Lantern

From the Muromachi Era on, Yamaga Lanterns have taken various forms (including for "kintoro" (the original gold lantern), shrine, home, and castle use), but there are some strict principles for making them.

Principles on making Yamaga Lantern

1. No wood or metals may be used to make a Yamaga Lantern. Only "washi" (Japanese paper) and a little glue are allowed.
2. The frames must be hollow.
3. The lanterns are not just miniatures of real objects; the artist has to contribute to the vertical and horizontal scales themselves in pursuit of artistic quality.

Yamaga Lantern Master

One can't talk about Yamaga Lanterns without mentioning the Yamaga Lantern Master. These masters are called "Toroshi" in Yamaga. The master needs to be highly trained and technically advanced, requiring more than ten years to achieve the status. Presently, about thirty lanterns are dedicated during the Lantern Festival August. Lantern masters undergo a purification ceremony at the production commencement ceremony at Omiya Shrine in April, when they start making lanterns. In the past, lantern masters got their production orders from enterprise owners and pit their craftsmanship against each other. Their knowledge and skill have been passed down exclusively to their apprentices for generations, resulting in the superb paper art we know today.

There was a time when women were not allowed to make Yamaga lanterns, but now, with the appearance of female lantern masters, lantern-making is becoming more intricate. The beautiful lanterns can be seen at Yamaga Lantern Art Museum and the Lantern Den at Omiya Shrine.

Yoheho Tune

Omowa Yamagano Honenashi Toro
Yoheho Yoheho
Honemo Nakeredo Nikumo Nashi
Yoheho Yoheho

Today's "Yoheho Tune" is a mix of Japanese folk music tunes and shamisen tunes (they have been very popular in Yamaga since the Meiji Era), with the lyrics rewritten by Ujo Noguchi in 1933.

The original lyrics were about couples' meeting and calling each other affectionately, but it is thought to have been sung at taverns during the Meiji and Taisho Eras, after which it came to be sung by people while making sake.

The meaning of "yoheho" in the lyrics is still unknown.
Some consider "yohe" to mean "to get drunk", while "ho" is an interjection to catch people's attention in the Higo dialect.

In a nutshell, the literal meaning is then for the people watching the Yoheho dance to "go get drunk as a skunk, mate!" If you think about it this way, it's the perfect song to sing in a bar or sake factory!

  • 1989
  • 2004
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  • 2009
  • 2010
Ichiro Tsuruta
Illustrator: Ichiro Tsuruta
Occupation: Illustrator, Painter. Born in Amakusa, Kumamoto in 1950.
After graduating from Tama Art University, Tsuruta debuted pieces at home and abroad. His self-styled “bijinga” (pictures of beautiful women) have been used in cosmetic advertisements and title backgrounds of TV drama. He started drawing Yamaga Tourou Posters in 1989.
  • 2000
  • 2002
Ichiro Tsuruta