There are countless local festivals (matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine's deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festival are held over several days.

An important element of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine's kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town.


Festival Floats

Many festivals also feature decorated floats (dashi), which are pulled through the town, accompanied by drum and flute music by the people sitting on the floats. Every festival has its own characteristics. While some festivals are calm and meditative, many are energetic and noisy.

Below follows an incomplete list of some of Japan's most famous festivals and celebrations. Exact dates are available on the event calendar.

Sapporo Snow Festival (more details)
One week in early February
Large snow and ice sculptures are built in the city's centrally located Odori Park during the Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri).

Akita Prefecture
Yokote Kamakura Festival (more details)
February 15 and 16
Many igloo-like snow houses, called kamakura, and hundreds of mini kamakura are built at various locations across the city during this Yokote Kamakura Festival in one of Japan's snow-richest regions.

Omizutori (more details)
March 1-14
Omizutori is a Buddhist religious service rather than a festival, held every year at the Nigatsudo Hall of Todaiji Temple. The most spectacular among its many ceremonies, is the nightly burning of torches on the balcony of the wooden temple hall.

Takayama Matsuri (more details)
April 14-15 and October 9-10
Large and elaborately decorated floats are pulled through the old town of Takayama. Held in spring and autumn.

Aoi Matsuri (more details)
May 15
The Aoi Masturi's main attraction is a large parade of over 500 people dressed in the aristocratic style of the Heian Period (794-1185) that leads from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines, the festival's host shrines.

Kanda Matsuri (more details)
Weekend closest to May 15 in odd numbered years
The Kanda Masturi in Tokyo consists of numerous events held over an entire week, but the main action happens over the weekend closest to May 15. Highlights of the festival are a daylong procession through central Tokyo on Saturday, and parades of portable shrines (mikoshi) by the various local neighborhoods on Sunday.

Sanja Matsuri (more details)
Third full weekend in mid May
The festival of Asakusa Shrine, the Sanja Matsuri is one of Tokyo's three big festivals. Mikoshi are carried through the streets of Asakusa.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa (more details)
July 1-15
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa in Fukuoka's Hakata district takes place from July 1 to 15 and climaxes with a spectacular time trial race of festival floats in the early morning hours of July 15.

Gion Matsuri (more details)
The festival of Yasaka Shrine, Gion Matsuri is ranked as one of Japan's three best festivals, featuring over 20 meter tall festival floats. The highlight of the festival is the parade of floats on July 17, and the festivities in the evenings before the parade.

Tenjin Matsuri (more details)
July 25
The festival of Osaka's Tenmangu Shrine, the Tenjin Matsuri is ranked as one of Japan's three greatest festivals, featuring a lavish procession not only through the streets of Osaka, but also on boats on the river that is accompanied by a firework display.

Nebuta Matsuri (more details)
August 2-7
The Nebuta Matsuri features festival floats with huge lanterns, some measuring more than 10 meters. The festival attracts several million visitors every year.

Kanto Matsuri (more details)
August 3-6
Over two hundred long bamboo poles with up to 46 lanterns attached to each are balanced by the members of this popular festival's nightly parades.

Awa Odori (more details)
August 12-15
This is the most famous of many traditional dancing festivals held across Japan during the obon season in mid August.

Nagasaki Kunchi (more details)
October 7-9
The festival of Nagasaki's Suwa Shrine, the Nagasaki Kunchi features Chinese style dragons and floats shaped like ships.

Jidai Matsuri (more details)
October 22
A spectacular historical parade which covers the over 1000 years during which Kyoto served as Japan's capital. The procession leads from Kyoto Imperial Palace to Heian Shrine.

Saitama Prefecture
Chichibu Yomatsuri (more details)
December 2-3
The Chichibu Night Festival is considered one of Japan's three best festivals featuring large festival floats (yatai). The festival's highlight takes place in the evening of December 3.

Questions? Ask in our forum.
Anything we can improve?  Let us know
We strive to keep Japan Guide up-to-date and accurate, and we're always looking for ways to improve. If you have any updates, suggestions, corrections or opinions, please let us know:
Thank you for your feedback.
Page last updated: February 3, 2016