Japan plays host to over 300,000 traditional “matsuri,” the Japanese word for festival, which are very diverse from one area to the next. In most cases, the matsuri is sponsored and organized by a local shrine and community. During the festivals, people wear typical matsuri costumes while carrying a Mikoshi (a portable shrine) around the city streets hoping to bless the town and its people.
Japanese festivals offer visitors a chance to revel in the unity of the locals, street eats and weird characters traveling on carts. The festivals are full of color and controlled chaos. As you plan to tour Japan for your vacation, here are five must-visit festivals, in no particular order.
Kyoto – Gion Matsuri
Kyoto’s biggest and most popular annual festival in Japan is Gion Matsuri. The festival was first held to dispel epidemics and plagues, and today celebrates the diverse, fast-changing culture of the city. The festival takes place for an entire month – in July!
However, the main festivities occur around July 17th and 24th with processions marked by majestic floats called Yamaboko Junko. The three nights before the parades take place are known as Yoi-yama evenings. During these evenings, you can dress up in a light cotton kimono (yukata) as you take in the festivities in Kyoto’s streets.
Tokushima – Awa Odori
One of the most famous multitudinous dance festivals in Japan is the Awa Odori. The festival takes place in mid-August and everyone gets to wear traditional costumes and dance through the streets of Tokushima. The main attraction is a dance that involves both veterans and amateurs as they perform in downtown Tokushima.
Asakusa – Sanja Matsuri
Sanja Matsuri is a loud, ebullient festival that takes place every third weekend in May at Tokyo’s Asakusa Shrine. The festival is a jubilant celebration of three Sensoji temple founders who are enshrined in the temple next to Asakusa Shrine. All through the festival, expect to see up to 100 Shinto deities parading through the crowded streets as they bring with them good prosperity.
The highlight occurs on Sundays when three large mikoshis, each holding a founder’s spirit, is carried through the bustling streets. It is believed that the louder the people are, the greater their blessings will be!
Aomori – Nebuta Matsuri
The Tohoku region is famous for one of the most visually spectacular and stunning festivals – the Nebuta Matsuri. The event takes place between August 2nd and 7th, and Aomori’s streets come alive with countless intricately decorated luminous lantern floats. The floats are created from Japanese paper, washi, wound over wireframes and with illustrations of celebrities, animals, and gods.
The parade takes place every day in the evening, apart from on the last day when it starts in the afternoon. In the parade, you will see taiko drummers, musicians, and chanting dancers.
Kishiwada – Danjiri Matsuri
During the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri, locals get together to pray for a good harvest. In addition, this festival is also considered as the wildest, most thrilling festival in Osaka. It takes place in mid-September and involves locals pulling large 3-ton floats at fast speeds as leaders hop and dance at the top. The festival is the epitome of high-octane and exhilarating fun, a sight you shouldn’t miss!
Japan is a destination for all seasons, and it’s not all about autumnal and cherry blossom leaves. The festivals taking place throughout the year might be one of the reasons why more than 2.5 million overseas tourists visited the country in February 2018 alone. The festivals offer you a unique chance of taking part of the unique cultural heritage that makes Japan the great nation it is today.