Japan Travel Guide

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Festivals in Japan

Festivals in Japan are hugely popular.  There are more than 300,000 festivals in Japan!  Some festivals are very traditional that started from hundreds, if not a thousands of years ago while others have started just recently.  The Japanese are always finding a reason to create a festival whether it be a peformance festival, a food festival or a an international exchange festival.  Japanese festivals are held throughout the year and throughout Japan.  Some festivals last only a day while others last for many days... the date and nature of each festival are different from community to community.  Japanese festivals are exciting, energetic and just plain fun!  Of course anybody is able to watch a festival in Japan and for many you can even participate!

The word for "Festival" in Japanese is "Matsuri",  a good word to learn (Ma - tsu - ri).  A traditional Shrine or Temple Matsuri will typically include traditionally clad women dancing in a parade and men in traditional garb carrying and bouncing a portable shrine (a "Mikoshi" in Japanese) while drinking sake.  This "Portable Shrine (Mikoshi)" is carried around the area to promote good will, please the god(s), bless the town and for a variety of other reasons determined by the festival.  These types of traditional Japanese festivals are typically sponsored by the local Shrine or Temple and organized by the local community.  Traditional Japanese festivals are usually the type of festival that tourists to Japan are interested in.  However, there are many other modern festivals/events in Japan that also offer very interesting experiences (please see our Japan Event Calendar for upcoming events and festivals).

Of course everone has a preference for different type of things but here is a list of some of the most popular / most well known festivals in Japan.

Gion Festival - in Kyoto

Japan Festival Gion in Kyoto

The Gion Festival in Kyoto is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. Kyoto itself is a major tourist destination for over-seas visitors and Japanese so this makes the Gion Festival a very busy event during July. The full festival runs the full month of July but the highlight of the festival is around the 17th - 24th (depending on the year) when a grand procession of Yamaboko Junko (floats) are pushed through the streets. It will most likely be quite hot and crowded for the Gion Festival so be prepared with a water bottle and give yourself plenty of time to get around. More details here...

Awa Odori - in Tokushima

Awa Odori

The Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima claims to be the largest traditional dance festival in Japan. The festival traditionally runs from from the 12th to the 15th of August and men, women and children dance on streets throughout Tokushima City. Nearly a million people are out for the festival, most of them wearing Yukatas (summer Kimonos) and some in straw hats. This is one of those festivals where there are opportunities for onlookers to participate (at certain times). More details here...

Kanda Matsuri - in Tokyo

Kanda Matsuri

The Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo is one of the most famous festivals in Tokyo. It is a Japanese festival that takes place at and around the Kanda Myojin Shrine. This festival occurs for many days during mid-May when groups of people carry Mikoshi (Portable Shrines) around the city and drink sake. Each Mikoshi is handled by hundreds of people as it is carried and bounced throughout it's route from Kanda Myojin Shrine, through the Kanda district, Nihonbashi and Akihabara and finally returning to the shrine in the evening. More details here...

Snow Festival - in Sapporo

Snow Festival in Sapporo

The Snow Festival in Sapporo is a relatively new festival (started by high school students in 1950) compared to many on this list but is a very popular winter festival in Sapporo (the largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido). The Snow Festival in Sapporo takes place in February and is now well known throughout the world and holds an international contest of gigantic snow sculptures. More details here...

Nebuta - in Aomori

Nebuta in Aomori

The Nebuta Festival in Aomori is a really cool festival that runs from the 2nd to the 7th of August. "Nebuta" are large if not huge colourful lantern floats that are pushed through the streets by thousands of chanting dancers. The activities start when it gets dark and continue on until late at night. More details here...

Danjiri Festival - in Osaka

Danjiri Festival in Osaka

The Danjiri Festival in Osaka occurs during the middle of September. Danjiri are huge, heavy, wooden floats that men in traditional outfits push as fast as they can around the streets in Kishiwada City (Osaka). It always looks as if an accident is going to happen (and many have), as the the floats speed around the streets at crazy speeds and men jump and dance on top of them! The Danjiri festival is know to be one of the most thrilling festivals in Japan.

Tenjin Festival - in Osaka

Tenjin Festival in Osaka

The Tenjin Festival in Osaka is a festival held for the Tenmangu Shrine in Osaka. The festival is held near the end of July and the highlights of the festival are on the second day which include a river procession which is followed by a large display of fireworks. More details here...

Yosakoi Festival - in Kochi

Yosakoi Festival in Kochi

The Yosakoi Festival in Kochi is another "Dance" festival started in 1954. Some locals created a dance called the "Yosakoi Naruko Dance" (based on an old regional folk song called "Yosakoi Bushi") and since then the festival has become very popular. Various groups of dancers dance to up-tempo music and carry Naruko clappers and clap them as they dance. Recently, other than the traditional styles, a variety of costumed groups and dance styles have also joined the festival.

Tanabata Festival - in Sendai

Tanabata Festival in Sendai

The Tanabata Festival in Sendai takes place near the beginning of August. Other cities/town partake in Tanabata but Sendai is the most well known for the festival. The Tanabata festival is based on a Chinese legend and you will see hundreds of huge colourful paper decorations hanging in the streets. There is no real parade or activities taking place, more like just a decoration of the city. More details here...

Dontaku Festival - in Hakata (Fukuoka)

The Dontaku Festival in in Hakata (Fukuoka)

The Dontaku Festival in in Hakata (Fukuoka) takes place in early May. This festival is also focused on dancers in a parade with hundreds of different groups of dancers participating. The traditional dance the Dontaku Matsuri is famous for is a dance where people hold Shamoji (rice spoons). More details here...

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