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Festivals

Soul stirring, graceful, gorgeous - every region in Japan celebrates its own festivals and events in response to the transition of the four seasons. Called matsuri, festivals can be found almost everyday somewhere in Japan. Many festivals have their origin in Shinto and Buddhism, while other events, such as snow festivals and fireworks displays, are wonderfully staged for the local populace and visitors alike.

Since ancient times, the Japanese have found sacred and spiritual powers centered in the many aspects of nature and worshiped them as kami (deities). This is believed to be the origin of Shinto. Shinto-based matsuri are celebrated to worship and communicate with the kami, praying for a rich harvest, for business prosperity as well as for a happy and prosperous community and quality for its inhabitants.

Note : Dates and functions are subject to change without notice.

January

1st
New Year's Day is the festival of the festivals for the Japanese and is celebrated throughout the country. People in traditional Kimono costume pay homage at nearby shrines, offering visitors a good shutter chance. It is primarily an occasion for family reunions just like Christmas in Western countries.

6th
Dezomeshiki or the New Year's Parade of Firemen in Tokyo is a dazzling spectacle of agile firemen in traditional uniforms performing acrobatic stunts on top of tall bamboo ladders.

7th
Usokae, the Bullfinch Exchange Festival of Dazaifu Temmangu Shrine, Dazaifu, Fukuoka Pref.

9th - 11th
Toka Ebisu Festival of Imamiya Ebisu Shrine, Osaka. People pray for a successful New Year’s business; Ebisu is the patron deity of business and good fortune. The festival features a procession of women in colorful kimono, carried in palanquins, through the main streets.

Day before Coming-of-Age Day
Grass Fire Ceremony on Mt. Wakakusayama in Nara.

17th
Bonten Matsuri Festival of Miyoshi Shrine, Akita.

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February

3rd or 4th
Setsubun or Bean-Throwing Festival is observed at leading temples across the country.

3rd
Mantoro, Lantern Festival of Kasuga Shrine, Nara. This is known for the fantastic scene created by 3,000-lighted lanterns.

Early February for 7 days
Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Huge, elaborate snow and ice sculptures are erected on the Odori-Koen Promenade.

3rd Saturday
Eyo or Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival) at Saidaiji Temple, Saidaiji, Okayama. A multitude of partially clad young male devotees elbow and shoulder one another for a pair of sacred wands thrown to them in the darkness in and around the temple.

15th - 16th
Kamakura in Yokote, Akita Pref., is a unique snow country event. Snow houses, enshrining the God of Water, are erected, and children enjoy indoor parties in these snow houses.

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March

1st - 14th
Omizutori or Water-Drawing Festival of Todaiji Temple, Nara, is solemnly observed at 2 a.m. on the 13th day to the accompaniment of ancient Japanese music. For many Japanese, Omizutori ritual signals the advent of a long-awaited spring.

3rd
Hinamatsuri or Doll Festival is celebrated throughout the country. A set of Hina-Ningyo dolls and miniature household articles, arranged on a tier of shelves, is displayed in a living room of practically every home blessed with young daughters.

13th
Kasuga Festival of Kasuga Shrine in Nara features a staging of a 1,100-year-old classic dance.

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April

8th
Hana Matsuri or Buddha's Birthday is celebrated at all Buddhist temples in commemoration of Buddha's birthday. In the temples, a small image of Buddha is displayed before the public and sweet tea called Amacha is poured over the image as an expression of devotion.

14th - 15th
Takayama Matsuri Festival of Hie Shrine in Takayama, Gifu Pref., is known for its gala procession of gorgeously decorated floats.

13th - 17th
Yayoi Matsuri Festival of Futarasan Shrine, Nikko, is featured by a parade of gaily-decorated floats.

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May

3rd - 4th
Hakata Dontaku Festival in Fukuoka features a parade of citizens in fancy attire, escorting masqueraders of legendary gods on horseback.

May 11th - October 15th
Nagaragawa Ukai & Seki-no-Oze-no Ukai (Cormorant Fishing) on the Nagara River, Gifu. This ancient method of catching Ayu, a trout-like fish, with trained cormorants takes place nightly under the light of blazing torches.
Mid-May
Kanda Matsuri Festival of Kanda Myojin Shrine, Tokyo (held every odd-year). Dozens of Mikoshi portable shrines are paraded in the neighboring area of the shrine. A gala tea ceremony is also offered.

3rd Sun. & previous Fri. & Sat.
Sanja Matsuri Festival of Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo. Citizens carrying colorful portable shrines on their shoulders parade the streets.

15th
Aoi Matsuri or Hollyhock Festival of Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines in Kyoto features a magnificent pageant reproducing the colorful Imperial Procession that paid homage to the shrines in ancient days.

17th - l8th
Grand Festival of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko. Its highlight is a spectacular procession of over 1,000 armor-clad men, escorting three sacred portable shrines through the streets.

3rd Sunday
Mifune Matsuri Festival on the Oi River, Kyoto, reproduces a graceful ancient boat festival.

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June

14th
Otaue-Shinji, Rice-Planting Festival of Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka. Young girls in traditional farmers' costumes ceremoniously transplant rice seedlings in the shrine’s paddies in prayer for a good harvest.

2nd Saturday
Chagu-Chagu Umakko or Horse Festival in Morioka. A number of colorfully decorated horses parade through the streets to Hachimangu Shrine.

Around 10th-l6th
Sanno Festival of Hie Shrine in Tokyo features a procession of portable shrines through the busy streets around the Akasaka district.

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July

1st - 15th
Hakata Gion Yamagasa Festival in Fukuoka reaches its climax on the 15th with a fleet of giant floats topped by elaborate decorations that are paraded through the streets.

7th
Tanabata or Star Festival is celebrated nationwide. Legend has it that the stars Vega and Altair, the separated lovers, can meet each other across the Milky Way once a year on this day. Children set up bamboo branches hanging colorful paper strips on which poems are written.

13th-16th (August in some areas)
Bon Festival. Religious rites in memory of the dead who, according to Buddhist belief, revisit this world during this period are observed throughout the country. A Bon dance party is nightly held in practically every community, and visitors are encouraged to join this easy-to-learn folk dance.

14th
Nachi Himatsuri or Fire Festival of Nachi Shrine, Nachi-Katsuura, Wakayama is featured by the lighting of 12 giant torches carried by white-robed priests.

July or August
Kangensai Music Festival of Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima. Classical court music and dances are performed on the brightly decorated boats.

16th - 17th
Gion Matsuri, the biggest festival in Kyoto, dates back to the 9th century when people tried to seek the protection of the gods against a pestilence that was then ravaging the city. Gorgeous floats parade through the main streets on the 17th.

23rd - 25th
Soma-no-maoi or Horse-Chasing Festival in Haramachi, Fukushima Pref. is a dynamic horse riding contest of a thousand horse riders in ancient Samurai armor vying for three sacred flags.

24th - 25th
Tenjin Matsuri Festival of Temmangu Shrine in Osaka. A fleet of boats bearing portable shrines sail down the Dojima River.

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August

1st - 7th
Nebuta Matsuri Festival in Aomori from the 2nd to 7th noon, and Nebuta Matsuri Festival in Hirosaki from the 1st to 7th are spectacular summer festivals televised nationwide. Enormous, illuminated papier-mache dummies set on floats parade the streets in the evening.

Early August
Waraku Odori, Nikko, Tochigi, is one of the most popular folk dances performed in Japan during the Bon season. Thousands of people dance to the accompaniment of gay music.

3rd - 6th
Kanto Matsuri Festival in Akita features a parade of men vying in their skills at balancing Kanto or long bamboo poles, hung with many lighted lanterns, on their shoulders, foreheads, chins or hips.

6th - 8th
Tanabata or Star Festival in Sendai is the largest and brightest of its kind. The main streets are decorated with numerous colored paper streamers and banners.

6th - 9th
Hanagasa Festival in Yamagata Pref. features a dance parade through the streets by more than 10,000 townspeople wearing Hanagasa, a low, round straw-hat, adorned with brightly colored artificial flowers.

12th - 15th
Awa Odori Folk Dance Festival in Tokushima. The entire city resounds with singing and dancing, day and night, and visitors are encouraged to join this joyful dancing parade.

16th
Daimonji Bonfire on Mt. Nyoigatake in Kyoto. A spectacular bonfire in the shape of the Chinese ideograph meaning big can be viewed from downtown Kyoto.

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September

16th
Yabusame or Horseback Archery takes place at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura and always draws a very large crowd. indoor parties in these snow houses.

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October

7th - 9th
Kunchi Festival of Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki features a dragon dance of Chinese origin and floats with umbrella-shaped decorations.

9th - 10th
Takayama Matsuri Festival of Hachimangu Shrine in Takayama is noted for its gala procession of ornate floats.


11th - 13th
Oeshiki Festival of Hommonji Temple, Tokyo is celebrated in commemoration of the Buddhist leader, Nichiren (1222-1282). People march toward the temple carrying large lanterns decorated with paper flowers.

14th - 15th
Kenka Matsuri Festival of Matsubara Shrine in Himeji reaches its climax on the 15th when portable shrines, shouldered by half naked youths, jostle each other and the bearers vie to show their skill in balancing the shrines.

17th
Autumn Festival of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko features a colorful procession of armor-clad parishioners escorting a sacred portable shrine.

22nd
Jidai Matsuri or Festival of Eras of Heian Shrine in Kyoto is one of the three grandest festivals of Kyoto. Its highlight is a procession of citizens in colorful costumes representing various eras of Kyoto's 1,200-year-old history.

22nd
Fire Festival of Yuki Shrine, Kurama, in Kyoto, features long rows of torches, imbedded along the approach to the shrine that are set on fire, and children with burning torches march to the shrine.

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November

3rd
Daimyo Gyoretsu in Hakone is a faithful reproduction of a feudal lord's procession that was once a familiar scene along the old Tokaido Road.

2nd - 4th
Okunchi Festival of Kara-tsu Shrine in Karatsu is known for its parade of huge, colorful floats.

Mid-November
Tori-no-ichi or Rake Fair of Otori Shrine in Tokyo. Dozens of makeshift stalls selling Kumade or ornate bamboo rakes are set up in the shrines' precincts.

15th
Shichi-go-san is the shrine-visiting day for children aged 3, 5 and 7 in appreciation of the good health given them by the guardian gods. Good shutter chances abound for those interested in photographing Kimono-clad children.

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December

15th - 18th
On-Matsuri Festival of Kasuga Shrine in Nara features a procession of people masquerading as courtiers, retainers and wrestlers of ancient times.

17th - 19th
Hagoita-Ichi (Toshi-no-ichi) or Battledore Fair of Asakusa Kannon Temple in Tokyo is the year-end mart where ornate battledores and various New Year decorations are sold.

31st
Namahage in Oga Peninsula, Akita Pref. is a unique annual event when groups of grotesquely masked men, disguised as devils, make door-to-door calls to houses with children, growling in Japanese, Is any good-for-nothing kid hereabout?

31st
Okera Mairi Ceremony of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. Here a sacred fire is kindled in the shrine's precincts, which is believed to bring happiness to those cooking their first meal with the embers of the fire, and visitors are encouraged to take some of the embers of the sacred fire, made available, to their homes.

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  Information provided by Japan National Tourist Organization.

 

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