A Great Time to Visit! Top 10 Summer Festivals in Japan [2018 Edition]
Traditional matsuri (festival) is held everywhere in Japan during the summer. Each of these festivals has its own distinct flair that allow you to experience the unique culture that is rooted in the area where the matsuri is held. Below are 10 of the most recommended summer matsuri in the country.
- 1. Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (Aomori)
- 2. Akita Kanto Matsuri (Akita)
- 3. Fukagawa Matsuri (Tokyo)
- 4. Abare Festival (Ishikawa)
- 5. Chochin Matsuri (Mie)
- 6. Gion Matsuri Festival (Kyoto)
- 7. Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka)
- 8. Nachi no Ogi Matsuri (Wakayama)
- 9. Awa Odori (Tokushima)
- 10. Hakata Gion Yamakasa (Fukuoka)
1. Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (Aomori)
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is a festival that is held in Aomori City from August 2nd to 7th every year. The term "nebuta" refers to a kind of gigantic lantern, and during the period of this matsuri, 20 nebuta floats parade along the route in the heart of the city every day and night. Surrounding the nebuta floats are dancers called "haneto" who would dance wildly while shouting in energetic voices. If you wear the official costume that you can purchase (around 10,000 JPY) or rent (around 4,000 JPY) in the area surrounding the venue, you can join the festival as a haneto dancer. On the final day, the matsuri is concluded with a finale of fireworks lighting up the night sky in huge flower-like designs, and the nebuta floats being ferried along the water.
Event schedule: August 2 (Thurs.) - August 7, 2018 (Tues.)
2. Akita Kanto Matsuri (Akita)
Akita Kanto Matsuri is held every August, from 3rd to 6th. This is a festival in which people pray for good harvest by marching on the streets while skillfully maneuvering the "kanto" (long bamboo pole) that incorporates bale-shaped lanterns to make it look like a massive ear of rice. The kanto poles lining the main street, which is filled with the sounds of the accompanying music of the festival, are massive structures that are 12m tall and weigh 50kg. Spectators at this festival will get to witness the impressive skills of performers as they move the kanto poles to their heads, shoulders, hands and waists while shouting "dokkoisho". There is time set aside for visitors to take photos and try the kanto.
Event schedule: August 3 (Fri.) - August 6, 2018 (Mon.)
3. Fukagawa Matsuri (Tokyo)
Held around August 15th each year, the Fukagawa Matsuri is one of the three greatest Edo festivals, and is held at the Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine in Tokyo. This festival, which boasts a history of around 370 years, had its Honmatsuri (main festival that takes place every three years) in 2017, featuring more than 50 mikoshi (portable shrine) from various shrine parishioner councils. For 2018, which is the year following the Honmatsuri, the festival will be called the Gohonsha Matsuri (main shrine festival) and it will have the Ninomiya Mikoshi - the portable shrine of Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine. It is also called the Mizukake Matsuri (water festival) since spectators on the roads pour purified water on the people carrying the portable shrines while shouting.
Event schedule: August 11 (Sat.) - August 15, 2018 (Wed.) (to be confirmed)
*The "mikoshi togyo" (procession of portable shrines) is scheduled for August 12th (Sun.)
4. Abare Festival (Ishikawa)
Ishikawa's Noto region is home to various Noto Kiriko Matsuri festivals, where giant lanterns called "kiriko" are carried and paraded on the streets. The first of the kiriko festivals to be held in Noto is the Abare Matsuri at the Yasaka Shrine in the Ushitsu area. Held on the first Friday and Saturday of July, this festival is known for being the most splendid of all kiriko festivals in the region. The highlight on the first day of the festival is Yoi Matsuri, when more than 40 kiriko lanterns are gathered in front of the Noto Town Hall and then danced around 7m-high torches. On the second day, the portable shrines, accompanied by kiriko, head to the shrine. With the rousing shouts of spectators, the portable shrines are thrown into the sea or river, and into the fire, creating a rampage.
Event schedule: July 6 (Fri.) – July 7, 2018 (Sat.)
5. Chochin Matsuri (Mie)
Chochin Matsuri is a festival held at Tado Taisha shrine in Kuwana, Mie every August 11th to 12th. At night, spectators get to witness a magical sight of thousands of chochin (lanterns) floating in the shrine grounds. This festival is held to pray for the hot summer season to pass without any incidents and for the granting of wishes entrusted to the lanterns. On both days of the festival, various events are held at the shrine, including shows featuring characters that are popular with children and bingo games with luxurious prizes in store.
Event schedule: August 11 (Sat.) – August 12, 2018 (Sun.)
6. Gion Matsuri Festival (Kyoto)
Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, also has a major festival in the form of Gion Matsuri, which is one of three biggest festivals in Japan. This festival is more than a thousand years old, and is held for the whole month of July every year. Its main event is the Saki Matsuri that takes place from July 14th to 17th. On these days, multiple yamaboko (a type of float) adorned in lavish decorations line the streets in the center of the city, and spectators can freely observe and appreciate them. The festival crowd is the largest during the Yamaboko Junko (procession of floats) that takes place on July 17th. A lot of people from various parts of the country come and join this festival in a bid to catch a glimpse of the elegant appearance of the floats as they slowly move to the sound of their creaking tires.
Event schedule: July 1 (Sun.) - July 31, 2018 (Tues.)
7. Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka)
Held on July 24th to 25th, this festival is characterized by the rows of stalls lining the approach to the shrine and the nearby Okawa River. It is one of the three biggest festivals of Japan. Its biggest highlights are the Rikutogyo, wherein around 3,000 people in flamboyant costumes would parade with the portable lanterns, and the Funatogyo, where about 100 ships, including boats carrying the deity and Dondoko boats with beating drums and gongs, glide along the river. Both events take place on July 25th, with the festival concluding with the launch of about 3,000 fireworks that paint the night sky.
Event schedule: July 24 (Tues.) – July 25, 2018 (Wed.)
8. Nachi no Ogi Matsuri (Wakayama)
Nachi no Ogi Matsuri is a festival held every July 14th at Kumano Nachi Shrine in Wakayama's Nachikatsuura Town. This festival represents the yearly return of the deity of the waterfall, that is enshrined in Kumano Nachi Shrine, to Hiro Shrine, located in front of Nachi Waterfall. The deities are paraded on the ogi-mikoshi (fan-shaped portable shrine) that resemble the waterfall. Inside the shrine grounds, a dance that is registered as an intangible cultural property is offered to the deities. The climax of this festival is the Ontakimoto Shinji (lighting of big torches), when the deities are welcomed by massive torches weighing 50kg to 60kg. The sight of the flames of the torches dancing in the shrine approach in front of the waterfall truly packs a punch. This festival is listed as one of the three biggest fire festivals in Japan.
Event schedule: July 14, 2018 (Sat.)
9. Awa Odori (Tokushima)
Tokushima's Awa Odori is a traditional performing art with a history of about 400 years. It is characterized by its unique rhythm and tone, and the performers chanting "Odoru aho ni, miru aho, onaji aho nara, odoranya son son" ("The dancers are fools, those who watch are fools. Both are fools, so why not dance?"). This festival is held in various spots in Tokushima Prefecture, but the biggest one is the Awa Odori in Tokushima City, which is held every August 12th to 15th. The festival is fun during the day and at night, but its most exciting part is the theater at night. The large number of dancers that form groups called "Ren" put their heart and soul into their dance. There is also a Niwaka-ren in which any of the spectators can jump in and join, so you can actually experience the dance.
Event schedule: August 12 (Sun.) - August 15, 2018 (Wed.)
10. Hakata Gion Yamakasa (Fukuoka)
Hakata Gion Yamakasa has become a summer tradition in Fukuoka's Hakata area. It is a thrilling festival that is filled with the fervor of the men racing through the streets carrying a portable shrine called "yamakasa". Every July 1st, kazari-yamakasa (decorated yamakasa) around 15m high are set up in 14 spots in the city and people can view these portable shrines all throughout the course of the festival. The highlight of the festival is the oi-yamakasa (yamakasa race) that begins before the sun has fully risen. Signaled by the beating of the massive drums, the men carrying kaki-yamakasa* would burst into a run around the city.
*This is the yamakasa that is decorated with dolls according to the theme that changes each year. They used to carry kazari-yamakasa, but they now use the kaki-yamakasa with a controlled height.
Event schedule: July 1 (Sun.) – July 15, 2018 (Thurs.)
Seats and other things may be reserved in advance, depending on the festival, so please check them out beforehand.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
- #Akita Kanto Festival
- #Aomori Nebuta Festival
- #Awa Odori (Awa Dance)
- #Hakata Gion Yamakasa
- #Kumano Nachi Taisha
- #Visit Akita
- #Visit Aomori
- #Visit Fukuoka
- #Visit Ishikawa
- #Visit Kyoto
- #Visit Mie
- #Visit Osaka
- #Visit the Hokuriku region
- #Visit the Kansai region
- #Visit the Kanto region
- #Visit the Kyusyu region
- #Visit the Shikoku region
- #Visit the Tohoku region
- #Visit the Tokai region
- #Visit Tokushima
- #Visit Tokyo
- #Visit Wakayama
- #What to Do During Summer in Japan
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