Japanese Festivals You Must Experience

Japan has approximately 190,000 temples and shrines and an estimated 200,000 festivals. Think about it, 200,000 events — that averages out to almost 550 festivals a day!

The great thing about these festivals is the variety. There’s the religious, fire, dance, snow, music, performance and the outrageously strange festivals.

Below is my list of the best festivals you must try if you’re ever in Japan.

 

Nebuta Matsuri Festival (Amori)

The Nebuta is a Summer festival that takes place from the 2nd to the 7th of August in Aomori City. This is an amazing event whose highlight is the nightly parade of enormous lantern floats, flanked by large taiko drums, musicians and dancers.

Hanami (Cherry Blossom) Festival 

The cherry blossom festival is a world famous event that announces the arrival of Spring in Japan. Cherry trees spread across the country burst with vibrant colors from bright reds to deep pinks and pale whites. It's an absolutely magical sight to behold. 

Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo) Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival, held one week every February, is Japan's most popular winter festival. Started in 1950, when high school students built a few snow statues, it has since evolved into a large spectacular show. Featuring massive snow and ice sculptures, this festival attracts more than two million visitors from Japan and across the world.

Gion Matsuri (Kyoto)

Gion Matsuri is one of the oldest festivals in Japan and one of the greatest. Originally held to pray for deliverance from plague, the festival has evolved into a huge summer block party. Locals and visitors gather to promenade in colorful yukata robes and gorge themselves on street food and beer. The main events are two processions of traditional parade floats which are held on 17 July and 24 July.

Kanda Matsuri (Tokyo) 

Held in May, this Tokyo festival is dedicated for the Kanda Myojin Shrine. The portable shrines, called Mikoshi, are accompanied by about a thousand people, and after they leave the Kanda Myojin Shrine in the morning, the  parade continues through the Kanda district, Nihonbashi and Akihabara and returns to the shrine in the evening.

Hadaka Matsuri (Okayama)

This definitely one of the most eccentric festivals of Japan. Thousands of men, wearing only loincloths, struggle fiercely with one another over a pair of lucky sacred sticks (shingi) that are thrown into the crowd by a priest from a window 4 meters up. Anyone who gets hold of the shingi and thrusts it into a wooden box known as Masu is called the lucky man, and is blessed with a year of happiness. The other lucky items are bundles of willow strips, and although 100 of these are thrown into the crowd, it is not an easy task to catch them.

Kanamara Matsuri (Kawasaki)

This is another alternative festival, which is known as the Penis Festival. Most countries hide their naughty bits, but in Japan they worship them! Held in Kawasaki this festival is a celebration of fertility, long marriages and healthy births. 

Sumida River Fireworks Festival (Tokyo)

The history of the Sumida River Fireworks Festival dates far back to 1733.  Although suspended on several occasions through the passage of time, it has been held every year since 1978 and is today one of the largest and most famous fireworks festivals of Tokyo.

Obon Festival

Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one's ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors' spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors' spirits, obon dances (bon odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at house altars and temples. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world.