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Home - Travel - Sightseeing Guide
Festivals (Matsuri)

Awa Odori

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.

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

February 15 and 16
Yokote Kamakura Festival
(more details)
Yokote, Akita Prefecture
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.

March 1-14
Omizutori
(more details)
Nara
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.

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

May 15
Aoi Matsuri
(more details)
Kyoto
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.

Weekend closest to May 15 in odd numberd years
Kanda Matsuri
(more details)
Tokyo
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.

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

July 1-15
Hakata Gion Yamakasa
(more details)
Fukuoka
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.

July
Gion Matsuri
(more details)
Kyoto
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.

July 25
Tenjin Matsuri
(more details)
Osaka
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.

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

August 3-6
Kanto Matsuri
(more details)
Akita City, Akita Prefecture
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.

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

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

October 22
Jidai Matsuri
(more details)
Kyoto
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.

December 2-3
Chichibu Yomatsuri
(more details)
Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture
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.

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Event Calendar

Sapporo Snow Festival
Yokote Kamakura Festival
Omizutori
Takayama Festival
Sanja Festival
Aoi Festival
Kanda Festival
Sanno Festival
Hakata Gion Yamakasa
Kyoto Gion Festival
Osaka Tenjin Festival
Nebuta Festival
Kanto Festival
Sendai Tanabata
Awa Odori
Nagasaki Kunchi
Jidai Festival
Chichibu Night Festival

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