Festivals are deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, with approximately 300,000 held annually throughout the country. Each festival, or matsuri, features artwork, food, entertainment, and much more to provide attendees with a memorable experience. Read below to learn more about some of Japan’s most celebrated events and festivals and let us know which you’ve been to and what’s your favourite!
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Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival began in 1950 and has grown to become one of Japan’s largest and most popular snow festivals. In late January or early February, more than two million people converge in Sapporo’s Odori Park for a winter wonderland. The festival features a wide variety of winter activities, but it is known specifically for the beautiful snow and ice sculptures. There is no shortage of traditional Japanese street food at this festival, but the speciality is the crab nabe hot pot. We had amazing crab at our ryokan experience in Kinosaki – which you can read about here.
Gion Matsuri is Kyoto’s largest festival and one of if not the most famous festivals in all of Japan. Beginning as a religious ceremony in 869, this festival quickly became an annual tradition. It features many different events spanning the entire month of July, but it is highlighted by two parades of ornately decorated and massive floats. The grand procession takes place on July 17th. The second parade on July 24th was re-added in 2014 after a hiatus of about half a century, and it features fewer and smaller floats than the first one.
Yoiyama, another focal point of the festival, spans the three evenings before the main procession. Surrounding streets are closed off to traffic and fill with an abundance of food, drink, and art stands. The top-notch cuisine and entertainment provide festival-goers with an unforgettable summertime experience.
Don’t forget that the best way to travel around Japan is by using the JR Pass – read more about that here.
Over a million people converge in the usually quaint Tokushima City from August 12th to 15th for Awa Odori, which is one of Japan’s most famous dance festivals. Awa comes from the former name of Tokushima Prefecture, while Odori means dance. This 400-year-old festival is a staple of the Obon season and is highlighted by traditional folk dancing. At night, groups of lavishly dressed dancers called ren perform in the streets for the viewing pleasure of all festival attendees.
Awa Odori is not just dancing. There are also other festival staples, such as Japanese street food, art, games, and more. Tokushima City is located on the coast, so its delicious seafood such as takoyaki is always incorporated into the festival. Read more about some of the incredible snacks to try in Japan
Tenjin Matsuri is another one of Japan’s most celebrated festivals. This festival began in the 10th century as a way to honour a Japanese deity of learning and scholarship. In fact, Tenjin Matsuri translates to “festival of the gods.” It takes place annually on July 24th and 25th in Osaka.
The two-day festival features food, art, and dancing throughout the streets of Osaka, but the main attraction is a parade on the second day. The procession features ornately decorated floats and miniature shrines (mikoshi) that traverse both the historic neighbourhood streets and the Okawa River. The festival culminates with a grand fireworks finale that leaves spectators eagerly anticipating next year’s event. If you’re in Osaka, you’ll want to make sure you check out the castles, one of seven incredible Japanese castles to visit!
Chichibu Night Festival
The Chichibu Night Festival began around 300 years ago during the Edo Period and is widely regarded as one of Japan’s most distinguished winter festivals. Chichibu is located approximately 90 minutes from Tokyo, making it easily accessible for travellers. The festival takes place annually on December 2nd and 3rd, but the main events and parade are on the 3rd.
The festival is highlighted by six gigantic and ornately decorated floats. There are four yatai floats to represent each of the local communities and two kasaboko floats that are more traditional Japanese parasol style. There is also dancing, music, food, and other entertainment throughout the two-day period. Like the Tenjin Matsuri, this festival is capped off with a beautiful firework display.
The best way to travel around Japan is by train – and you can save a fortune by buying the JR Pass BEFORE you get to Japan. Get your JR Pass here.
Sendai Tanabata Matsuri
Tanabata matsuri or “star festivals” occur on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year. According to Chinese folklore, this is when the journey of stars Altair and Vega intersected. This could be in July or August due to differences between the solar and lunar calendars. However, the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri is always on August 6th through 8th, regardless of the calendar differences.
For three days, downtown Sendai is overcome with festive activities such as dancing, food, and fireworks. This particular festival is known for its ornate and colourful decorations. The community handcrafts colourful streamers from washi paper and bamboo to be hung throughout the city. There are also other paper decorations, each with a different cultural meaning. The vibrant colours and decorations create a wonderful atmosphere for this joyous occasion!
Furusato Matsuri is perfect for festival-goers who want to experience a little bit of everything. This week-long festival occurs in January and takes place in the famed Tokyo Dome. It is a newer festival by Japanese standards, as it is 11 years old. However, it saw 340,000 attendees in 2018 and will continue to grow in the coming years!
Furusato Matsuri showcases festival elements from all throughout Japan. People from all corners of the country bring their own region’s artwork, entertainment, and more to Tokyo and create a wonderful experience for all. This festival is specifically known for its wide selection of food from all different regions. There are even food-tasting competitions!
Now that you’ve read all about some of Japan’s most celebrated festivals, it’s time to pick one and start planning a trip! However, this can be logistically complicated and expensive, so it will take some long-term planning. In the meantime, you can have Japanese festivals delivered straight to your doorstep! Japanese subscription snack boxes allow you to try out the various foods of Japanese festivals in an affordable and convenient way! It’s a great way to prepare for your festival experience!
Travel Tips for Exploring Japan
- Read about Japan in these incredible books
- Get insurance for your Japan Trip with WorldNomads
- Buy your Japan Rail Pass before you arrive in Japan
- Book the best tours and guides in Japan on Civitatis, GetYourGuideand Klook
- Book fabulous Japanese foodie experiences with locals through Eatwith
- Learn to cook Japanese food in Chef’s kitchens in Japan
- Save money in Japan with a Wise debit card
- Find the right accommodation for you via Booking.com
- Book an incredible ryokan experience in Japan
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