Tokyo’s Whale Celebration – Akishima Citizen Whale Festival

Akishima is a city in the west of the greater Tokyo metropolis. Every year, the Akishima Citizen Whale Festival celebrates one of their local symbols, the Akishima whale. But what does a city 50km from the coast have to do with whales?

The Akishima Whale Fossil

In 1961, a prehistoric whale fossil was discovered by a local father and son in a riverbed in Akishima. Curious about the find, it was sent for study first to the National Museum of Nature and Science, and then the Gunma Museum of Natural History. The incomplete, 12 metre long skeleton was found to be 1.77 – 1.95 million years old, an ancient relative of the modern day gray whale.

The whale quickly became a fascination for the city, even appearing on the city’s manhole covers. The whale was made one of Akishima’s official mascots in 2019.

Akishima manhole cover, showing the Akishima whale

The Akishima Citizen Whale Festival

The whale has been celebrated ever since it’s discovery, with a 2-day festival held in August. There is entertainment, fireworks, and a parade featuring a huge inflatable whale.

The fireworks are known as Yume Hanabi (dream fireworks), and take place on the first night. It is a popular event for locals to get dressed in their yukata and enjoy the summer night.

The whale parade begins at Akishima Station, and makes its way to the festival at the Showa Park Athletics Stadium. The centrepiece of the parade is the gigantic whale, with a wide grinning mouth.

About Akishima City

Akishima City is part of the greater Tokyo metropolis. The city has tap water that is fed from natural springs deep underground, which is pure enough to drink directly. Akishima is also well known for its beautiful parks and green spaces.

Cute whale cartoons Japanese mascots for Akishima named Akky and Shima
Akky and Shima, Akishima’s whale mascots

Haijima Daishi Temple

Visitors usually check out Haijima Daishi Temple, a 16th century temple that features pagodas and gardens on its grounds. Haijima Daishi is also known for its daruma dolls, a round, hollow doll of a bearded figure that are associated with luck. During New Year’s, the temple holds a daruma market, where over 600 daruma sellers sell their wares.

Hyoshi Shrine and Haijima Park

There notable sights in Akishima are the Hyoshi Shrine and Dainichi Temple, which also date to the 16th century. The shrine hosts a sakaki festival in September. These sights are located in Haijima Park, known for its impressive wisteria plants, and itself designated as a National Monument of Tokyo.

Kaguno Museum

One of the more memorable museums in Akishima is the Kaguno Museum, which houses over 1800 pieces of European and Japanese furniture from the 20th century.

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For a city miles from any body of water, discovering that Akishima holds an annual festival for a prehistoric whale seems like an unusual thing. But if you happen to be in Akishima (or the Tokyo area) in August, it’s well worth joining in the celebrations!


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