Considering the fact that amount of festivals in Japan exceeds 300,000, it comes naturally that Japanese people’s hearts beat faster in anticipation of matsuri, as festivals are called. From urbanistic landscapes of Tokyo to peaceful mountains of Shimane, visitors can discover many authentic popular celebrations that differ from area to area featuring stunning costumes and ancient traditions. Some festivals even go back several hundred years! While celebrating, people can get a feeling of the sacred that is likely to be forgotten in the quick pacing of modern society. If you happen to experience a couple of matsuri held in Japan, you will certainly get an unforgettable memories.
Generally, festivals are organized by a local community and devoted to praying for a good harvest, luck and happiness. They feature a lot of participants wearing costumes and carrying a heavy portable shrine called mikoshi in order to make it bless the area and its inhabitants. Every festival has its own peculiarities worth to witness by your eyes! Well, Japanese matsuri are a fun, exciting way to experience a local culture and learn interesting details about the traditions that make the country so special and attractive for sightseers. In order to prove it, I picked up the most colorful and stunning festivals in Japan definitely recommended to visit.
Author: Jardim Secreto
Where: Aomori City, Aomori prefecture
When: 2-7th of August
A mountainous Aomori prefecture at the northern tip of Honshu is famous for its annual Nebuta Matsuri that reveals every bright color remains hidden in Japan. During the festival, more than 20 paper floats of enormous sizes are paraded through the city’s streets depicting various human figures. The floats called ‘nebuta’ are originated from a Japanese national and regional folklore and lit up with lights to create a fantastic effect. Finally, the participants place them onto the bay while fireworks illuminate the evening skies.
Author: 陳 ポーハン
When: 25th of July
Tenjin Matsuri is believed to be one of the three biggest festivals held in Japan. It features thousands of excited participants dressed in the traditional costumes proceeding on streets. Visitors are overwhelmed with sound of drums, bells and chants that create a festive atmosphere. When the sun goes down, the parade is shifted to the boats that sail down the river stream for several hours. The stunning fireworks in the evening find everybody wearing yukata and enjoying bunraku theater performances, puppet shows and Osaka dances.
Author: Nestor Lacle
When: the end of July
Gion Matsuri is a spectacular festivities running through the whole July for the amusement of sightseers. If you happen to visit Kyoto, get ready to catch a bell sound ‘kon-chiki-chin’ than means one of the largest festivals in Japan has begun. The highlights of the celebrations are the famous floats of yama and hoko type. Yama floats illustrates the scenes from the history and mythology while hoko represent a combination of museum and music hall. Try to get a glimpse of a parade star called chigo, a local boy who has to undergo weeks of purification before riding the main yama float.
Author: Hansel and Regrettal
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri
Where: Sapporo, Hokkaido
When: 5-11th of February
One of the most celebrated winter festivities in Japan, Sapporo Yuki Matsuri attracts a great number of international and domestic visitors. Started as a student exhibition, it has evolved into an impressive festival featuring stunning ice and snow sculptures. During the week of activities, huge glittering masterpieces crafted by international sculptures teams transform the city of Sapporo into a magical ice kingdom.
One of the three greatest festival originated from Edo period, Sanno Matsuri takes place in even-numbered years only. In the old times, shogun himself attended the festivities and did a favor by opening the gates of Edo Castel to the ordinary gawkers. Nowadays it features around 300 participants dressed in imperial court costumes that entertain the audience by playing drums, carrying portable shrines, riding horses and floats. The main task of the festival is to ask deities to protect the Imperial palace located in the former land of Edo Castle.
Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri
Where: Yamagata City, Tohoku.
When: 5-7th of August
If you wish to experience the most cheerful festival in Japan, consider visiting a famous Yamagata Hanagasa Festival generally held in August. Excited cries of ‘yassho, makasho’, booming sound of the traditional drums and fantastically crafted floats with thousands of dancers will make you literally float on a cloud. Variety of dance performances and range of beautifully adorned garments, including conical flower hats called hanagasa, easily captivate the spectators.
When: 13-17th of July.
Every year Tokyo’s famous Yasukuni Shrine celebrates the praying for the souls of the departed soldiers who had sacrificed their life for the peace of Japan. The first of many summer festive events in the capital, it resembles rather gigantic summer party than mourning ceremony. The illuminated lanterns installed for the occasion create a special atmosphere as visitors dressed in yukata enjoy the traditional dancing, koto shows and theater performances.
Author: Yamashita Yohei
Where: around Japan
When: 7th of the July and 7th of August in some regions of Japan
There is not a single person in the world who has not heard about Tanabata Matsuri sometimes called ‘Star Festival’. Tanabata is a famous Japanese custom to write the wishes on colorful strips of papers and hang them on a specially erected bamboo tree paying them to become true. Tanabata Matsuri is widely celebrated all over Japan with colorful displays set along the main streets. Many people also decorate bamboo branches and put them outside their homes in order to get luck.
Where: Karatsu, Saga Prefecture
When: 2-4th of November
Karatsu Kunchi boasts 400-years history of a spectacular festivities annually taken place in small city of Karatsu. The main highlight of the event is a large procession of floats accompanied with sound of flutes, drums and shouting a traditional prompting. Each float called ‘hikiyama’ and shaped as warrior helmets, dragons and other folklore creatures weighs up to 3 tons. Typically made of wood and covered with some golden leaves, massive floats are pulled through the city to the sandy beach.
Author: Skil Fibber
Where: Todaiji Temple, Nara
When: 1-14th of March
Omizutori Matsuri is one of the oldest Buddhist ceremonies in Japan famous for the stunning collection of repentance rituals. Every night the participants lit up a giant torches installed outside a wooden Nigatsudo Hall. The burning embers that create a showering fire display are believed to bring luck and safety to those who view it. The peak of the events comes after midnight when Buddhist priests descend repeatedly to draw water from the temple well.