There are bags of different festivals in Japan, and big or small – the Japanese love a celebration or two! You’ll always find an event happening somewhere, or so they say in Japan. Festivals in Japan are based on one main celebration theme at a time and are complete with food, games and all-around entertainment. They can be found all over the shop, from parks with fireworks or temples and shrines.
We’ve put together a list of our favourite festivals in Japan, so if you’re there – why not visit?!
Yuki Matsuri – January/February:
Yuki Matsuri, also known as “Sapporo snow festival”, is held for about a week in Hokkaido. This festivity is one of Japan’s most popular winter events, starting out in 1950 when a group of high-school students built snow statues in the local park. It has since developed into a huge, cultural event featuring snow and ice sculptures which people compete in by making their own, it attracts more than two million visitors from Japan and across the world every year.
Omizutori – March:
The Omizutori festival, also known as the “sacred water-drawing” festival, takes place over 2 weeks in March, in the city of Nara. The Buddhist festival is a ceremony to cleanse people of their sins and bring spring to the new year; once the festival is over the cherry blossom season blooms. There are many different events that happen during this festival – but the most famous is Otaminatsu. During the Otaminsatsu, giant fire torches that are up to 8 meters long are walked to the top of a balcony and shower down to the crowd, which is thought to bestow people with a safe, healthy and happy year. Who knew fire could be a blessing of safety?!
Kanamara Matsuri – April:
This is a bit of a strange one… Japan’s infamous *cough* “penis festival”. Japan is a unique country, and they like to do things differently, and Kanamara Matsuri – set in Kawasaki, Tokyo – is no different! This festival has gained international recognition, with wide coverage on all sorts of social platforms and news worldwide. The festival takes place annually on the first Sunday of April and has a few different stories about where this festival originated from. One tale involves a woman who had a demon living in her… *ahem* vagina, who bit off the penises of her newlywed husbands (that’s right, she did it twice!). After a visit to the blacksmith, she was made a steel penis which the demon broke its teeth on, letting her return to live a normal, demon-free, life. Another tale is about a goddess giving birth to a fire god, leaving her suffering with injuries on the lower half of her body. Two kind gods helped heal her from the injuries, leading to people today seeking help with venereal diseases, fertility and safe childbirth praying to these gods for their blessing, who knew?! With a visit to this festival, you’ll see a parade of giant penises in the streets, and vendors/stores selling phallic-shaped sweets and goods – oh, and lots of fun and booze (hurrah!)!
Gion Matsuri – July:
Arguably, this is known as the mother of all Japanese celebrations. This festival began as part of a purification ritual to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes… Eeps. The event itself is so popular, that it gets celebrated for the whole month of July with something different happening nearly every day. It’s a huge event in Kyoto culture and loved by locals and tourists alike, with the favourite events held on 17th and 24th July. For visitors, the most enjoyable part of the festival is the “Yoi-yama” events held on the three evenings preceding the main float processions. This is when Kyoto really lets loose! If you can lay your hands on a yukata, why not get dressed up and enjoy the fun?
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri – August:
Japan’s most colourful festival takes place in August, featuring stunning floats shaped as mythological creatures and famous Japanese characters. Nebuta refers to the float of a brave warrior-figure which gets carried through the centre of the city. The festival uses these creature-inspired floats that replicate armies in the 800’s to scare away the enemy. The floats are normally made from cotton, cloth and bamboo. The highlight of the festival is the daily parade of enormous lantern floats, surrounded by large drums, musicians and dancers. As a tourist, you can enjoy the food, soak up the live music, cultural dances and the mesmerising light-up floats.
Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri – September:
The Danjiri Matsuri is essentially a harvest festival to pray for a good autumn bounty! It takes place in Kishiwada, South Osaka, is a fun, powerful celebration and the most famous danjiri matsuri in Japan. A danjiri is a traditional Japanese wooden float decorated with carvings and lots of ornaments. The wooden floats are made in the shape of a shrine or temple and are pulled through the streets on festival days. Today, the festival is considered to be Osaka’s wildest party, that’s celebrated in mid-September. The majority of the floats weigh over 3000 kg and are pulled by an enthusiastic team of up to 1,000 people. All the floats represent a different district of the city with each districts pride being at stake as each team is competing for the victory.