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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.

Mikoshi
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

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).

Omizutori

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

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.

Kanda Matsuri

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

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.

Gion Matsuri

July
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

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

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

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

August 12-15
This is the most famous of many traditional dancing festivals held across Japan during the obon season in mid August.

Chichibu Yomatsuri

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.
Page last updated: February 3, 2016