Top 10 Festivals Celebrated in Japan

Within one year, there are thousands of festivals celebrated in Japan, which attract tourists from home and abroad. There are various festivals taking place for you to see during your Japan tour, from the chic Cherry Blossom Festival welcoming the warmth of spring, to the chilly Snow Festival full of the gifts of winter; from the bustle of the Obon Festival, which ends with the great bonfire of Gozan no Okuribi, to the exciting summer night Matsuri, which begins with a dazzling fireworks display, there is always a unique and fascinating charm to each festival. Check out the list of Japan's top festivals and be part of the big celebrations!

Yosakoi is a traditional dance form full of energy. It's the third largest festival among those held around Japan in October. During the festival, over 150 teams and 5,000 dancers from all over Japan gather in Sendai to perform in unique, long, flowing Japanese costumes. The dance performance fills with joy as it expresses passion and energy for the Yosakoi spirit. Dancers leap, spin, and twirl flags with dramatic dance steps. Kotodai Park and Jozenji Avenue are full of dancers and noise. The music ranges from folk to rock. This is a large-scale event that involves participants from throughout Japan. These lively festivals which unite music and dance can provide visitors with an active atmosphere and a chance to enjoy the dance.

Location: Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Date: 8-9 October

The Takayama Festival in Gifu is set in the Japanese Alps, and respectively consists of two festivals, the Sanno Festival in the spring and the Hachiman Festival in the fall. The springtime Sanno Festival offers a great time to view cherry blossoms in full bloom. Locals pray for a good harvest at the Hie Shrine, which is also called Sanno-sama. Likewise, the autumn Hachiman Festival at the Hachiman Shrine is about a thanksgiving ceremony. It is known for the Yatai-hikimawashi event, in which four large floats illuminated by 100 lanterns parade through the Edo-era streets of Gifu. There is also a Karakuri doll (mechanized puppet) performance to entertain visitors. A portable shrine (mikoshi) carrying the shrine's kami (Shinto deity) parades around the town for the respective two festivals. As well as enjoying these performances, visitors can wander around the historic districts of Takayama, which is a well-preserved old town.

Location: Takayama, Gifu
Date: 14-15 April and 9-10 October

It is a magnificent festival that lasts for almost one week, attracting worshippers from all over Japan. Izumo used to be one of the most important cities in Japan, with a rich history of myth and religion. The main attractions of Izumo Taisha assemble lots of visitors to the land of the gods. The 10th lunar month in the Japanese calendar is called Kannazuki (神無月), a month without gods. While in Izumo, the same month is called Kamiari-zuki (神有月), which means the month of the gods, when eight million gods gather in Izumo for their festival. The festival begins with the welcoming of the gods at the Inasa-no-hama beach, about 1 km from the shrine, which is called "Shingeisai" or "Kamimukaesai". When the gods are escorted to the shrine, the ceremony begins. Over the following seven days, several rituals are held to entertain the gods, with kagura dances taking place throughout the week. During this period, the streets and residents would keep quiet. It's a good idea to get to the beach before 7 pm, where a fire is lit on the first night. 

Location: Izumo Oyashiro
Date: the 11th to the 17th of the 10th lunar month (change in every each)

August in Japan signals Obon, the tradition of praying for ancestors and loved ones who have passed away, so the path to the sacred Okunoin Temple on Mount Koya is illuminated by 100,000 candles, guiding ancestral spirits back home. This is the Koyasan Candle Festival, which commemorates all who rest at this ancient religious site. Koyasan is the home of the Shingon Esoteric Sect of Buddhism, founded by Kobo Daishi Kukai. Visitors can spend the night in a Buddhist temple for a unique experience. On the way to Okunoin, there are 200,000 tombstones and memorials, including those of famous samurai, underneath the cedar grove, where your mind and heart can be purified by the sacred and solemn atmosphere.

Location: Koya Town, Wakayama
Date: 13 August

Hatsumode is one of the traditions on the first day of the Japanese New Year, when the family gathers at a nearby shrine to pray for an auspicious start to the new year. The most famous place for the first visit would be the Ise Grand Shrine, regarded as the most essential Shinto shrine, also known as the Ise Jingu. It is a huge shrine covering 5,500 square meters, and has been the home to the ancestral deity of the Imperial Family for nearly 2,000 years. On New Year's Day, the shrine and the surrounding streets are decorated with festival staples such as hot dogs, yakitori, and yakisoba, characterized by a festival atmosphere. Millions of visitors come here to get the first chance of being introduced to the deity in residence. A visit to the Ise Shrine usually starts from the outer sanctum (Geiku) to the inner (Naiku), beginning with ritual purification by washing your hands at the purification trough, which means purifying your body before presenting yourself to the deity.

Location: Ujitachicho, Ise, Mie Prefecture
Date: 29 December-1 January

It is quite an ornamental bonfire festival in Kyoto, with five send-off fires (okuribi) lit mountain by mountain, spelling out huge Japanese characters such as Daimonji, Funagata or Toriigata, with each burning for about 30 minutes. The most well-known "Daimonji" character, which means "large", consists of three "strokes" of the bonfire: 160, 120, and 80 meters long. It is a part of the famous Obon festival in Japan, which means a farewell to the dead, who have come back to visit their living relatives for the Obon period will depart for the spiritual world again. When the fire is lit, the gomagi, sticks on which prayers have been written are burned for sending off the spirits of ancestors away and praying for a healthy long life. There are many spots overlooking the send-off fires throughout Kyoto city. The hotels and rooftops around Kyoto Station are nice choices.

Location: Kyoto Station, Higashishiokoji
Date: 16 August

The Nebuta Matsuri is one of the most famous summer festivals in Tohoku, which attracts plenty of visitors for the splendid view of the vibrant warrior-shaped lantern floats (Nebuta), which are made of painted washi paper over a wire frame, depicting historical Japanese characters from popular TV series, or mythical figures and gods from Japanese or Chinese culture. The lantern of Nebuta can be up to nine meters wide and five meters tall, but as its popularity grows, the floats become larger and take around 300 people and 3 months to build. It is a 6-day festival with a 5-day parade to make the Nebuta pass through the city, with large taiko drums, musicians, and dancers can be seen during the daily parade. There are about 15 children's Nebuta and 20 large Nebuta parades, chanting "Rassera!" to invite visitors to join the hundreds of dancers, wearing the Haneto costume with floral triangular straw hats, dancing to the rhythmic songs. At the end of celebration days, stunning fireworks illuminate the evening sky, after which the lanterns were originally released into rivers or the ocean as a way to wash away sins and to pray for a healthy life during this festival. 

Location: Area around JR Aomori Station, Yanakawa, Aomori
Date: 2-7 August

The Chichibu Yomatsuri (night festival) is a grand festival for Chichibu Shrine, which set up the silk markets during the Edo period. A kabuki performance in the Shrine and a splendid firework display at night can be viewed during this festival, with the rich-color paper lanterns, which sway on the floats against a backdrop of fireworks in the sky, and kabuki is performed inside the floats. There are four gorgeous Yatai floats and two Yasaboko floats, decorated with elaborate gold ornaments full of distinct carvings, which parade around the city to the rhythm of taiko drums, bells, and flutes. Festival food is also sold on both sides of the street. Due to the popularity of this festival, it's a good idea to get to the plaza in front of the city hall early for a good view.

Location: Chichibu Shrine, 1-3 Banbamachi
Date: 2-3 December

Danjiri Matsuri brings groups from Kishiwada's 34 neighborhoods together to compete by manually pulling a 4-ton danjiri (wooden cart) through the streets, which the residents prepare the floats for about one year. Daiku-gata (carpenters) are the stars of the festival who dance on the cart. One representative is chosen to dance with fans, a traditional dance in Japan, while standing on the roof of the danjiri. Most of all, they have to keep balance while crossing negotiating sharp corners and narrow intersections. Rhythmic drumming and the melody of a flute mix with the chanting of the cart pullers and the buzz of the crowds in the streets. attracting visitors from Japan and abroad. One of the most popular spots is directly in front of the Kispa La Park department store. You can join in the crowds, celebrate in excitement, enjoy the local food, and pick up souvenirs from the stalls in front of Kispa.

Location: Kishiwada, Osaka
Date: First in late September and again in mid-October

It is the last summer festival of the beautiful Okinawa islands, where you can enjoy the dance performance and appreciate the beaches and landscapes there. Eisa, a traditional dance used to honor ancestors, is also one of the traditions that take place during the Bon Festival, which lasts three days in Okinawa City. On the first day, a dancing parade around the whole city can be seen. The youth from each community dance and parade through the whole town, combining with the unique character of each community, which has been passed down through generations. Some combine Karate forms with massive taiko drums, while others are full of gentle and elegant power performed by women. And on the latter two days, the Eisa performances start at the athletic field in the Okinawa City Koza Athletic Park, and the fireworks show offers a stunning view. 

Location: Koza Sports Park, Moromizato, Okinawa
Date: 8-9 October

Festivals in Japan are focusing on the theme of games, parades, dance, food, and all-around entertainment. Places vary from temples, and shrines to parks and shops. There is never a lack of parties taking place in this vibrant country. If you're planning to travel to Japan and want to experience the local culture with festivals, please don't hesitate to contact us, just simply tell us your interests and needs, and one of our travel experts will create a tailor-made itinerary for you within 24hrs.

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