Festive group in Hanamaki, Japan

The group above must have participated in a festival or celebration of some kind.  The people in the group are wearing a variety of different outfits.  The photo came from an estate in Texas, with no information about where it was taken or when.  The back is blank.  [Note: this post has been updated with location information provided by a reader.  See the end of the post for details.]

At the center of the group is a young child.  In the back, a man and woman are wearing medical masks!  I’d guess the masks were part of their costumes, since no one else is wearing them:

Japanese group in costumes 5

I’ve divided the photo into two parts, which you can see below and in higher resolution in the image gallery which follows:

Japanese group in costumes 3

Japanese group in costumes 4

To see an image from the gallery below in high resolution, click on the image and then select “View full size” in the lower right of your screen:

 

Update #1: Fellow blogger Shayne Davidson asked her son Adam, who lives in Japan, if he could read the writing on the lapels of the women at the front of the group.  He very kindly did!  He wrote, in part:

The coats have “Hanamaki” written on them, and the little girl’s coat has a river name written on it that appears to be an actual river in Hanamaki in Iwate [Prefecture]. […] 

It looks like a festival, but I don’t see any clear indication of which one exactly. Looking at the photos again, several of the adults have “fire brigade” or “civil defense brigade” written on their lapels. When I lived in Ninohe [also in Iwate], the local volunteer fire brigade always marched in the summer festival, so this looks to me like a group posing before or after such a parade. […]  It’s particularly interesting that the fire brigade and civil defense brigade people are all women.

(You can read his other comments here.)

A big thank-you to Shayne and Adam for this very helpful information!

 

Update #2: Please see this next message from Adam for more information!

 

55 thoughts on “Festive group in Hanamaki, Japan

Add yours

    1. I hadn’t thought about the weather or the season, because it’s impossible to tell much from the background, but you may be right! Otherwise the headscarves would be very strange. Some of the outfits seem rather formal, while others seem humorous. I just had an epiphany: maybe the group is all women, even the ones who are dressed as men?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Makes me wonder about the current frequency that Japanese wear masks, and when did they start? 1918 flu epidemic? Pollution, flu, colds should probably be enough incentive for anyone to wear a mask if only for personal satisfaction. COVID and future pandemics should be getting us all in the mask wearing camp!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many Americans wore masks during the 1918 pandemic, so I assume the Japanese wore them as well. I think this photo was taken years later, but I don’t really know. The presence of the masks raises interesting questions, for sure. I honestly don’t understand the opposition to wearing them now. It seems selfish and vain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A very intriguing photo. The western-style hats, the medical masks and costumes made me think it might be a troupe of performers. I wonder if the ribbons with writing on them would give some clues. Or the interlocked diamond shapes in a circle on the child’s costume. The dog appears to be concentrating on the person with the drum. Another mystery! Happy Halloween!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They could certainly be a troupe. I hope someone will read the writing on the ribbons for us! I love it when animals are included in group portraits. I didn’t notice the dog until I scanned the photo! This morning I had an epiphany, that the group might be all women, including the ones dressed as men. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This has to be one of the strangest photos you’ve posted. I don’t even know where to begin. I do wonder about the symbolism here and there, such as on the dress of the young child front and center. There’s plenty that recalls Japan, but that looks more Native American to me. It’s just odd!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I noticed that many of the people have a white scarf wrapped around their heads and tied under their chins. Reminds me of the old cartoons of people with toothaches, but with the knots on top. Might be related to the mask-wearing somehow. You know how nursery rhymes commemorate plague and such. Though these people don’t seem grim, perhaps they are commemorating a similar event.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Brad,

    My son lives in Japan and is fluent in Japanese. I asked him to look at your photo. Here’s what he thinks:

    That picture appears to have been taken in Iwate! The coats have “Hanamaki” written on them, and the little girl’s coat has a river name written on it that appears to be an actual river in Hanamaki in Iwate. One of the kids in the picture from this article is wearing a very similar costume as the girl in the pic you sent: https://hana-isan.com/Search/single_page/3/4149

    It looks like a festival, but I don’t see any clear indication of which one exactly. Looking at the photos again, several of the adults have “fire brigade” or “civil defense brigade” written on their lapels. When I lived in Ninohe [also in Iwate], the local volunteer fire brigade always marched in the summer festival, so this looks to me like a group posing before or after such a parade. I don’t know what’s up with the odd-looking bespectacled people in the back row though. It’s particularly interesting that the fire brigade and civil defense brigade people are all women.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Shayne, this is so helpful! Please thank your son for me! What a coincidence that the photo was taken in Iwate, near where he lived. I’ll edit the post to include the new information. As he said, it’s very interesting that the brigade members are all women. I’m thinking that the “men” in the group are actually women in costume, but I have no idea what that might mean. A women’s club? The men are somewhere else? In any case, we have a lot more information now, thanks to your son!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That could be! Especially because they lived through the pandemic of 1918-20. Another possibility is that this group had performed a play which was set during a pandemic. In the comments above yours, Shayne Davidson wrote that the women in the front are wearing ribbons that say “fire brigade” and “civil defense brigade.” Maybe they were playing the roles of “first responders” in the play.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I think most of the people here are women. There are a couple who could be men, but I’d say the rest are women.

    Also: Shayne Davidson had some really interesting information. A person really learns a lot from your posts – and from your readers’ comments, too!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It’s a wonderful photo! I think it must be very windy as the flag is blowing so much that you can’t tell what’s on it. The parasol looks like a work of art. In the front on either side of the small child there is an adult who is holding an oar/bat type of object. I wonder what those could be. A perfect mysterious treat for late October. Thank you, Brad! 🍂🎃🍁

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wondered about those bats! They certainly do look like bats of some kind. The parasol looks like an accessory to the elaborate outfit of the woman holding it. Her outfit doesn’t go with any of the others. Very mysterious! Thank you for your kind words, Suzanne!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I think your post is unintentionally timely! My quick research shows that apparently Japan has a tradition of costume play going back at least to the early 19th century. But like you I haven’t found why or when they donned costumes. The Japanese have recently embraced Halloween and seemingly merged it with their older custom. The result is what they call “mundane costume” depicting everyday people doing everyday activities. It’s called jimi halloween. So creative!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Actually he sent your blog link to “Hanamaki monogatari jiten” website, along with a message asking if they could provide any more information about your photo. So it’s become an international quest! He’ll translate any response and I’ll post it here.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Brad,

    My son Adam got more information on your photo. Below is the message I got from him.

    Here’s my quick translation of the email that I got from a Mr./Mrs. Miura (gender unspecified… we can say Miura-san) from the Hanamaki Story Dictionary website:

    Certainly, given that several people in the front row have “Hanamaki town” written on their hanten [type of Japanese coat], I think this is a photo connected to Hanamaki. The name keibōdan* [civil defense unit] that is also written on some of the hanten was used between April of 1939 and May of 1947, so I think this photo was probably taken sometime around then. Also, “9th branch” and “8th branch” are written [on the hanten], and these numbers indicate that these hanten are from the modern Yokkamachi area of Hanamaki city.
    Also, it appears that the people pictured are wearing costumes, and Showa-era Hanamaki evidently had a wide range of festivals and events in which costume parades and costume contests were carried out. Because of this, we can assume that these were costumes for one of those events or festivals from that time. Additionally, upon showing this photo to some other Hanamaki folks and asking their opinions, several people said that this may be a photo from the himatsuri (hibusematsuri). The himatsuri is a festival praying for there to be no fires or fire disasters. In the record of a himatsuri from a different part of the city, it was written that costumed locals assembled at the local shrine, and among these were women wearing fire brigade hanten.
    At the present moment, this is what I’ve been able to conjecture about the photo, and there are still some uncertainties in this reply, but I’m continuing to ask for information from people knowledgeable about Hanamaki’s past. I think it may take a little time, but if I get some more details I will contact you again.

    * “keibōdan” is kind of an old-school word/title for this type of group

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: