Festivals and events

Nebuta Matsuri (Aomori) is is one of the most popular and spectacular festivals in Japan. See August for more details. (© KU)

There are so many festivals (matsuri) and traditional events in Japan that it is unlikely anyone visiting Japan would not come across one! It is though worth planning your itinerary so that you are sure you will experience at least one. The list below is more comprehensive than in Japan by Rail, but it still only includes a fraction of the many that are held. Note that for many of these festivals or events it is worth booking accommodation early.

The dates for religious festivals, which are based on the lunar calendar, and some events vary every year so only a general reference is given but some festivals are held on the same dates every year, irrespective of the day of the week.

The list also includes national holidays; these are shown in red text.

The regional abbreviations used in the current (4th) edition of Japan by Rail are used here: (Tyo) Tokyo, (ATyo) Around Tokyo,  (Osa) Osaka, (CH) Central Honshu, (Kan) Kansai, (WH) Western Honshu, (Toh) Tohoku, (Hok) Hokkaido, (Kyu) Kyushu, (Shi) Shikoku. Page references also refer to the pages in the 4th edition.

If you attend a festival, or event, that is not listed here please let us know so we can add it.

 

January

1st Shogatsu (New Year’s Day)  Traditionally people visit a shrine or temple; many women dress up in a kimono.

6th   Dezome-shiki, Tokyo Big Sight, Odaiba (Tyo)   Firemen dressed in Edo-period costumes perform acrobatic stunts on top of bamboo ladders.

15th   Yaya Festival, Yawata Jinja, Amarume (Toh)  Men put on straw skirts and sandals and have buckets of water thrown over them and then they walk around town.

mid Jan   Nabe Festival, Takaoka (CH)  A seafood stew big enough to feel 3000 people is cooked.

mid to late Jan   Hatsubasho, the first sumo tournament of the year (Tyo) (p61, p120 & p130).

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Second Monday in January Seijin no hi (Coming of Age Day)  Girls who have reached the age of majority (20) wear a kimono and visit their local shrine.

13th-16th   Toh-Shiya Kyudo (Archery) Festival, Kyoto (Kan)  Archers from all over the country compete against each other in a 120-metre long wooden structure at Sanjusangen-do Temple on the Sunday closest to Jan 15th). The event is the first archery competition in the New Year and is also a celebration for young people (including women) entering adulthood ie becoming 20. Entry to the temple is free that day.

15th   Nozawa-onsen Dosojin Matsuri, Nozawa-onsen (Toh)  One of Japan’s top three fire festivals – male villagers who are either 42 years old, or 25, take on special roles. A massive tower is put up as a symbol for the health and growth of first-born sons. At night, villagers rush at the tower with torches. The 25-year-olds fight them off at the base and the 42-year-olds protect the top. The climax of the event is that the tower is burnt. It is a 20 minute bus ride from Togari Nozawa Onsen station (JR Iiyama Line), or a 75-minute express bus ride from Nagano Station (JR Nagano Shinkansen)

late Jan   Wakakusa Yamayaki, Wakakusayama, Nara and at temples in Nara Park (Kan)  A fire ceremony (the grass on Mr Wakakusayama is burned) with a procession and fireworks.

late Jan to mid Feb   Nagasaki Lantern Festival, Shinchi Chinatown, Nagasaki (Kyu)  The dates change a bit every year but the festival is generally held over 15 days around Chinese New Year. Is held around Chinatown and central Nagasaki.

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February

Throughout the month:   Ume matsuri (Plum blossom festival)  Events are held in places all over Japan where there are plum trees; Drift Ice Festival, Abashiri (Hok)  View blocks of drift ice as well as hand-crafted snow and ice sculptures (p379)

Feb-Mar   Shikayose, around Kasuga Taisha, Nara (Kan)  Deer are called by a horn and are rewarded with lots of acorns (p268).

3rd   Setsubun (Bean-throwing Festival), throughout Japan   Officially this is the last day of winter and many Japanese go to temples to participate in the traditional ceremony of throwing roasted beans to drive away imaginary demons/bad influences and bring in happiness and good luck. Whilst throwing the beans they shout: oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi (out with demons, in with good luck).

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early Feb:   Kasuga Taisha Lantern Festival, Nara (Kan) The lanterns, of which there are hundreds, are lit; also Hirosaki Yuki Matsuri, Hirosaki Castle Park, Hirosaki (Toh)  Snow lanterns are lit and snow statues created; a smaller version of the better-known ice festivals in Sapporo and Asahikawa; Hadaka Matsuri, Zentsu-ji (Shi)  Hundreds of young men in loincloths fight to get good-luck sticks. The date for this ‘naked man’ festival varies so check with Takamatsu Tourist Information Centre.

6th-12th  Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival), Sapporo (Hok)   Incredible ice sculptures are displayed in the central area of the city (p404).

6th-12th  Otaru Yuki Akari-no-Michi (Snow Light Path Festival), Otaru, (Hok)  The town, particularly the canal area, is decorated with lights and snow sculptures (p374).

8th-12th   Fuyu Matsuri (Winter Festival), Asahikawa (Hok)  Not as well known as the Sapporo Festival but still with some incredible ice sculptures (pp409-10).

8th-12th   Hari Kuyo, Shoju-In Temple, Shinjuku, and Awashima-do Hall in Senso-ji, Asakusa (Tyo)  An unusual event which is held to celebrate the service sewing needles provide! Sewing was incredibly important in the old days so on this day people take their sewing needles to this temple. The needles are put in something soft such as tofu so that they can have a day’s rest and at the temple their owner thanks for their service and prays for better sewing skills. The event is also a memorial service for any needles that have been broken.

11th  Kenkoku Kinenbi (National Foundation Day)  Commemoration of the legendary enthronement of Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu.

11th  All Japan Noodle Eating Contest, Hanamaki (Toh) (p335).

mid Feb  Miyajima Oyster Festival, Miyajima Pier Square, Miyajima (WH)  A great chance to eat oysters!

15th-17th  Hachinhoe Enburi, Hachinohe (Toh)  Dancers, musicians and singers parade through the streets praying for a good harvest.

17th-20th  Tokamachi Yuki Matsuri, Tokamachi, Niigata (CH)  A festival where the goal is to celebrate snow, rather than it being an enemy. The last day culminates in a firework display.

late Feb  Tokyo International Marathon (Tyo)

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March

Feb-Mar  Shikayose, around Kasuga Taisha, Nara (Kan)  Deer are called by a horn and are rewarded with lots of acorns (p268)

throughout the month   No-yaki, Mt Aso area (Kyu) A variety of fire-based events in the towns and villages around Mt Aso as well as on Mt Aso.

3rd  Hinamatsuri or Doll Festival, throughout Japan  Unless you visit a Japanese family or department store you may not be aware of this festival. This is the day to pray for young girls’ growth and happiness. About a week or so before this day families with girls will put a ‘hina-ningyo’ somewhere in their home. Dolls are arranged on a five- or seven-tiered stand with the Emperor and Empress at the top. The dolls are fragile and are not to be played with. Instead people pray that girls will be happy and healthy.

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1st to 14th  Omizutori (Shunie), Todai-ji, Nara (Kan)  This started over a thousand years ago and is thus one of the oldest Buddhist events in Japan. Different events happen during this period but most are fire based and are held in the evenings.

8th to 17th   Higashiyama Hanatoro, Kyoto (Kan)  Approximately 2500 lanterns are lit to illuminate the footpaths to this mountain. There are also displays of ikebana, and geisha perform dances.

11th   Anniversary of Great East Japan Earthquake

13th  Kasuga Taisha Matsuri, Nara (Kan) (p268)

17th  Asakusa Kannon Jigen-e, Senso-ji, Asakusa (Tyo) An event that celebrates the founding, in 628, of Senso-ji (the temple of the Asakusa Kannon), the oldest temple in Tokyo. The story behind this is the statue of the bodhisattva Kannon was found in the Sumida River by two brothers fishing there. They gave it to the headman of the village, Asakusa, and he realised it was important and turned his home into a temple, hence the founding of the temple and now the event held in March to celebrate this. The name Senso-ji derives from Kinryuzan (Golden Dragon Mountain) and for this reason the Kinryu no Mai dance is performed in the temple grounds as part of the ritual.

20th Shunbun no hi (Vernal Equinox Day)  Families visit the graves of relatives in the week around this day.

mid Mar   Tokyo Fashion Week, Tokyo Midtown, Shibuya (Tyo)

mid to late Mar   Grand Sumo Tournament (Osa) (p61)

late Mar   Tokyo International Anime Fair, Tokyo Big Sight, Odaiba (Tyo)  An annual fair in which anime-related companies meet is held at Tokyo Big Sight, Tokyo. On some days the fair is open to the public, and various events with anime themed songs, voice actors and costumed performers are scheduled.

Mar-May Cherry blossom season  This is eagerly anticipated and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has a web page dedicated to reporting when the blossoms are forecast to flower; each year is different as the weather has a major impact on when the blossoms develop. However, the season generally starts in Kyushu in mid to late March and progresses northwards throughout the country. Hokkaido is the last region and the blossom may not appear here till May. Wherever there is a cherry tree you are likely to see Japanese celebrating with a hanami party. Families, friends, colleagues gather to celebrate the fleeting appearance of the blossom and sit on plastic mats under the trees drinking and eating. Popular spots include: Ueno Park and Shinjuku-gyoen (Tyo); Kamakura (Around Tokyo); Philosopher’s Path, Heian Jingu and Maruyama-koen in Kyoto (Kan); Yoshinoyama (Mt Yoshino) in Nara (Kan); Nagoya Castle and Yamakazi river area (CH); Kakunodate (Toh); and Hirosaki (Toh).

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April

Hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties) are held all over Japan in during the cherry blossom season (© Japan by Rail)

Throughout the month   Miyako Odori (Dance of the Capital), Kyoto (Kan)  Geisha and maiko perform cherry dances in theatres in Kyoto in April. This tradition began in 1872; also Cherry blossom season – for details see March.

8th   Hana Matsuri (Flower Festival)  This is celebrated in all Buddhist temples in commemoration of Kan-butsu-e. (Buddha’s birthday). Statues of a young Buddha are decorated and displayed in temples – they are often paraded around the area as well. People come to pay their respects to the statue.

13th-17th   Yayoi festival, Futarasan Shrine, Sannai, Nikko (Toh)  This festival celebrates the arrival of spring and features a parade of floats (p325).

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14th-15th  Sanno Matsuri, Takayama (CH) (p220)  One of Japan’s top three festivals featuring floats – others being Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and also Chichibu Yomatsuri.

15th   Hi-watarishiki, Daisho-in Temple, Miyajima (WH)  A fire-walking ceremony that is a religious rite that starts with a purification ceremony and ends with Buddhist monks walking barefoot over the ashes from a fire of cypress wood (p309)

Yabusame at Tsuwano

Yabusame at Washibara-Hachimangu shrine, Tsuwano; the event is always held on the second Sunday in April. (© KU)

16th-18th   Toukasai Ceremony, Itsukushima, Miyajima (WH)  Performances of Noh on the floating Noh stage in the sea

second Sunday Tsuwano Yabusame (Horseback Archery) Festival, Washibari-Hachimangu Shrine, Tsuwano (WH)  (p285).

second to third Sunday   Kamakura Matsuri, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura (ATyo)  Is held at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and includes a parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) as well as dances and music but the main highlight is the yabusame (horseback archery) and also a dance, called shizuka no mai, is performed on the dance stage. Shizuka was a tragic heroine from the 12th century – the dance is about her love for Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune, a warlord, but she was captured by Minatomo-no-Yoritomo. (See p138).

19th April to 6th May   Gokayama Haru Matsuri, Shirakawa-go (CH)  Events are held in every village in the Gokayama area. The festival includes performances of a lion dance in Ainokura village on April 20th and in Suganuma village on May 3rd and 4th.

19th-20th   Hida-Furukawa Matsuri, Hida-Furukawa (CH)  Parade of floats and a big okoshi daiko drum carried by men dressed in white loincloths (pp191-2).

29th Showa no hi (the late Emperor Hirohito’s birthday)  The first of three national holidays held in what is traditionally called Golden Week.

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May

19th April to 6th May   Gokayama Haru Matsuri, Shirakawa-go (CH)  For details see April.

early to mid May   Cherry blossom season – for details see March.

1st-5th   Fujiwara Spring Festival, Motsu-ji, Hiraizumi (Toh)   A festival that features children dressed in period costume. The main parade (on the 3rd) recreates the arrival of Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his supporters in Hiraizumi; they were fleeing from his older brother Yoritomo. The parade goes from Motsu-ji to Chuson-ji. Other events include Ennen no Mai (some dances celebrating longevity). See p335; also see Fujiwara Fall Festival (November).

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3rd  Kenpo Kinenbi   (Constitution Day)

4th  Midori no hi (Greenery Day)   The former Emperor’s (Emperor Hirohito) love of plants and nature is celebrated.

Koi-no-bori are seen all over Japan, especially near rivers, in the weeks leading up to Children’s Day on 5th May

3rd-4th   Hakata Dontaku Festival, Fukuoka (Kyu)  The main event is a parade with people dressed in a variety of costumes as well as decorated floats. The parade starts from Fogukumachi intersection on Meiji-dori and goes to Fukuoka City Hall. Reserved seating is possible. There are also performance stages on Hakataekimae-dori. One of the most popular of the many festivals that happen in Golden Week.

3rd-5th   Hamamatsu Kite Festival, Hamamatsu (CH)  Competition between teams with giant kites.

4th-5th May Johana Hikiyama Festival, Johana (CH) A float festival which is now included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

5th  Kodomo no hi (Children’s Day)  Kite-flying events are held all over the country. In the period leading up to Children’s Day you will see koi-no-bori (fish-shaped streamers), which represent koi (carp) swimming upstream and thus in effect overcoming life’s challenges, outside homes, in fields, at temples etc.

9th to 15th Kanda Matsuri (Tyo)  This festival is one of the three big festivals in Japan. It is held annually but is much bigger in odd-numbered years. The celebrations centre around Kanda Myojoin Shrine, Chiyoda-ku, but there is also a parade on the Saturday and Sunday through Kanda, Nihombashi, Otemachi and Marunouchi (p130).

14th   Rei Tai Sai, Izumo Taisha, Izumo-shi (WH)  This is the main annual festival at Izumo Taisha with a variety of rituals performed including archery, to drive away the evil spirits, and dances. A particular feature of this festival is that official messengers from the Emperor bring offerings to the shrine; this is because there has been a close connection between this shrine and the Imperial Family for many years but even more so now since Princess Noriko married the son of the head monk in October 2014.

Rice-planting festival, Shirakawa-go

Rice-planting festival held in May in Shirakawa-go (© Japan by Rail)

15th  Aoi Matsuri, Kyoto (Kan)  One of Kyoto’s best-known festivals with a parade of people dressed in Heian-period costumes. Get there early or pay to have a seat. (p260)

mid to late May   Grand Sumo Tournament (Tyo)  (p61, p120 & p130); also Kobe Matsuri, Kobe (WH)  A variety of events culminating in a parade and a fireworks display (p294); also rice-planting festival in Shirakawa-go (CH) (p225).

17th-18th   Toshogu (Shunki Reitaisai) Grand Spring Festival, Sannai, Nikko (Toh)  Events include yabusame on the 17th and a gala procession from Otabisho shrine, near Shinkyo Bridge, to Futarasan shrine on the 18th. The procession, which includes about 1000 men dressed as samurai warriors, may be cancelled if the weather is very bad (p325).

Sanjya Matsuri, Senso-ji, Asakusa

Sanjya Matsuri, Senso-ji, Asakusa, (held over the third weekend in May (© KU)

third weekend   Sanjya Matsuri, Asakusa (Tyo)  as well as musicians and dancers in Edo-period costume. One of the largest festivals featuring mikoshi and one of the three main festivals in the old area of Tokyo, originally called Edo (The other two are Sanno Matsuri at Hie Shrine and Kanda Matsuri at Kanda Myojin Shrine). Held over three days. Includes a parade of around 100 mikoshi (portable shrines) which are mostly carried by men, but some are carried by women and children. The mikoshi are brought to Senso-ji and then paraded through the streets. It is thought to be good to jostle them as that is meant to increase the power of the deities. On the Friday afternoon priests, musicians, dancers etc parade from Yanagi-dori to Senso-ji and Asakusa shrine – this is the big official procession. On the Saturday mikoshi representing about 40 local areas – are paraded by local people. And on the Sunday three large mikoshi from the main shrine are paraded. (p130).

Sat & Sun around 20th May   Tokyo Minato Matsuri (Tyo)  The festival commemorates the opening of Harumi Passenger Ship Terminal on May 20th 1941. Various events and a bazaar are open and possibly some of the ships in port. Also shows with fireboats and fire helicopters.

third Sunday   Tea-picking festival, Korakuen, Okayama (WH)  The new tea leaves are picked and dances are performed (p300).

4th Sunday in May Motsuji Gokusui no En, Motsu-ji, Hiraizumi (Toh)  A poetry-writing festival where the participants dress in traditional costumes (p335).

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June

first Thursday-Sunday   Shirone Kite Fighting Festival, Niigata (Toh)  A dramatic (and dangerous) tradition

second Sat in June   Chagu Chagu Umakko (Toh)  About 100 horses wear decorative harnesses and parade from Onikoshi Sozen shrine in Takizawa to Morioka Hachimangu in Morioka, about 15 kilometres. Chagu Chagu is an onomatopoeic expression for the bells and the sound is considered one of the 100 best sonic scenes of Japan.

first Saturday  Hyakumangoku Festival, Kanazawa (CH)  The main festival in Kanazawa is held over three days around the first Saturday. As with many festivals the main features are parades, dancers and bonfires (p230).

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6th-17th   Sanno Matsuri, Tokyo (Tyo)  One of Japan’s most colourful and also one of the three most famous festivals in Tokyo. One particular historical feature is that during the Edo period, along with Kanda Matsuri, participants could enter the grounds of Edo Castle. Jinkosai (the main procession) is held every other year (even-numbered years). There are about 300 participants and they dress in ancient costumes, some are on horseback, some carry mikoshi and walk from Hie-jinja through central Tokyo including going past Tokyo station. Hie-jinja is a three-minute walk from Exit No 5 of Tameike-Sanno station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza or Namboku lines. Lots of other events are held during the festival period.

mid June   Yosakoi Soran Festival, Sapporo (Hok)  A spectacular team-based dance competition (p404).

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July

Throughout the month   Gion Matsuri, Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto (Kan)  A huge variety of events take place in the Gion area of Kyoto as well as west along Shijo-dori to Kawaramachi. Two types of float (Hoko and Yama Tate) are the main feature of this festival and the main event is the parade of floats on the 17th (p255 & p260); Yama floats depict scenes from Japanese and Chinese history/mythology and the Hoko ones are two-storey and are pulled by teams of men. Events are then held almost daily until 31st July. This is one of Japan’s top three festivals featuring floats – the others are Takayama Matsuri and Chichibu Yomatsuri. Also Kami Furano Lavender and fireworks festival, Kami Furano (Hok) (p390).

most of the month   Pacific Music Festival, Sapporo (Hok), Sendai (Toh) and Tokyo (Tyo)  Most concerts (classical music) are held in Sapporo, but there are also some in Sendai and Tokyo (p404).

1st-15th   Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, Kushida-jinja, Kami Kawabata-cho, Fukuoka (Kyu)  The highlight of this festival features men in loincloths racing through the streets carrying floats (yamakasa) that weigh about one ton. The height of the floats is much lower than it used to be because of the many cables now crossing the streets; the original floats are displayed at Kushida-jinja and on the streets around the festival area in the days leading up to this race. Events are also held around the Hachiman shrines: Hakozaki-gu and Kushida. (p438).

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7th   Tanabata (all over Japan)  The (Chinese) legend behind this event is that a king of the heavens separated his daughter from her lover (on either side of the Milky Way) because their love was preventing them from carrying out their official duties. This is the only day in the year when they can meet but sometimes events celebrating this have to be put off it is raining! In some areas Tanabata is celebrated on 7th August but in others, such as Tokyo, it is celebrated on 7th July.

14th   Nachi-no-Hi Matsuri, Nachi, Wakayama (Kan)  One of the three largest fire festivals in Japan (p243). Twelve deities are believed to live in the Kumano area. One burning ‘torch’, made of pine (wood) and weighing about 50kg, for each of the 12 mikoshi is waved around in order to purify them. The mikoshi are also taken from the shrine to the waterfall where another ceremony is held.

mid July   Nagoya Port Festival (CH)  Includes a large firework display. (p203). Also Hamaori Matsuri, Nishihama Beach, Chigasaki (CH)  From about 5am 40 mikoshi (portable shrines) are taken from local shrines to the beach and then the participants dance out into the see and perform a purification ritual.

20th   Zenigata Festival, Kotohiki Park, Kanon-ji (Shi)  Fireworks and a dance contest (p478).

23rd-25th  Soma-Nomaoi, Minami-Soma (Toh)  A spectacular horse-based event (a wild horse chase) that has been held for over a thousand years.

24th-25th  Tenjin Matsuri (Osa)  This festival has been held for over a thousand years and is one of the best boat festivals in Japan but also with a number of land-based events (including fireworks). Events are focused on Tenman Shrine (p153) but the celebrations start by Hokonagashi bridge and then mikoshi (portable shrines) are paraded around the area, there is a lion dance and highlight is the fireworks and torch-lit boats on the river.

mid to late July  Grand Sumo Tournament, Nagoya (CH)  (p61)

Third Monday in July  Umi no hi (Ocean Day)

27th-28th   Manazuru Kibune Matsuri, Manazuru (CH)  One of the three biggest boat festivals in Japan and a ‘designated cultural asset of Japan’. Has been celebrated for over 350 years and is largely to wish for good fishing, and stability and safety. Manazuru is a stop on the JR Tokaido Line from Odawara. The boats are decorated with ‘white crane forests’ and mikoshi are put on the boat and taken to villages in the area.

late July  Fuji Rocks Festival, Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata (Toh) Actually nowhere near Mt Fuji but still in a scenic setting. The line up includes international groups. A free bus operates from JR Echigo-Yuzawa, a stop on the Joetsu shinkansen. Also Samba Festa, Harborland, Kobe (WH), Western Honshu (p294); and Natsu Matsuri, Kagoshima (Kyu)  The main feature of this festival is the fireworks display (p457).

fourth Sat & Sun in July   Tsushima Tenno Matsuri, Tsushima, near Nagoya (CH)  One of three major river festivals in Japan and designated a National Intangible Folk Cultural Asset. Events include singing and dancing, as well as fireworks, in front of large decorated Makiwara boats lit with lanterns, on the Tenno River. On the second day the boats are decorated and an additional one added and the festivities continue. Take the Meitetsu Line from MeitetsuNagoya and change at Sukaguchi on to Meitetsu Tsushima/Bisai Line for Tsushima

last Thur to Sun in July   Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival, Ichinomiya (CH)  One of the three largest Tanabata festivals, the other two being in Sendai and Hiratsuka in Kanagawa. The festival is focused on the Honmachi Shotengai shopping arcade near Owari-Ichinomiya station and the area around Masumida Shrine. Ichinomiya is between Nagoya and Gifu.

last Sat & Sun in July   Taiko Drum Festival, Matsumoto Castle (CH) (p216).

31st   Kosui Matsuri (Lake Festival), Moto-Hakone (CH)   A festival to celebrate the Dragon God of nine heads with parades on land and on the water as well as fireworks

late July/Aug   Fireworks (hanabi) festivals  If you are in Japan in late July/August it is likely you will be able to see a fireworks festival as they are held all over the country. Often these are in effect a competition between rival pyrotechnic groups so you can expect to see an incredible number and variety of fireworks – not just in different colours and patterns, but complicated shapes such as cats, or other animals, as well as characters from Japanese animation or kanji. The largest fireworks display in Tokyo is the Sumida River Fireworks Display (p130) at the end of July; the Tokyo Bay Fireworks Festival are at the end of August. Hanabi festivals are also held in Okayama (Momotaro Festival); Miyajima (Water Fireworks); Hakone (Ahino-ko Kosui Matsuri); and Osaka (see above). The All Japan Fireworks Competition is held in Omagari, Akita at the end of August. Also Suigo-sai Festival, Matsue (WH)  Fireworks display over Lake Shinji (p315).

31st July to 3rd Aug Sansha Taisai Festival, Hachinohe (Toh)  See August for details.

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August

Festivals are held all over Japan in the summmer months but the place to be in August is Tohoku as that is the site for some of the best-known festivals in Japan: Aomori, Akita and Sendai let alone Morioka, Hirosaki and Hachinohe.

late July and Aug   Hanabi (firework) festivals  See July for details.

late July and Aug   Suigo-sai Festival, Matsue (WH)  Fireworks display over Lake Shinji (p264).

31st July to 3rd Aug    Sansha Taisai Festival, Hachinohe (Toh)   A 300-year-old festival with a parade of 27 floats, one from each district in the town (p341).

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1st-5th   Hakodate Port Festival, Hakodate (Hok)  The largest summer event in Hakodate (p397).

early Aug   Momotaro Matsuri, Okayama (WH)  Fireworks over the Asahigawa River and traditional dances by people dressed in costumes to make them look like the devil (p300).

first weekend   Takasaki Matsuri, Takasaki (CH)  Consists of a parade through the streets (from the west exit of the station) with floats and portable shrines including Daruma Mikoshi.(p177).

first two weeks of Aug    Lotus Festival, Takada Castle, Takada (WH)  Tea-ceremony parties and haiku poetry gatherings near the moats which are filled with lotus leaves (p145).

1st-4th   Sansa-odori Dancing festival in Morioka (Toh)  (p336).

Nebuta float

Float at Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri (© KU)

1st-7th   Nebuta Matsuri, Aomori (Toh)  Festival dedicated to the God of sleep, floats are illuminated and paraded through the streets surrounded by lots of dancers (p364). Some parades are held at night and some during the day. There is also a fireworks display. Seats (approx ¥2500) can be reserved about a month in advance from either Ticket Pia or convenience stores. The floats assemble near the ASPAM building; the parade route goes around central Aomori through the area surrounded by National Route 4, Shinmachi-dori, Kencho-dori and Heiwa-koen.

1st-7th   Neputa Matsuri, Hirosaki (Toh)  About 80 floats are paraded through the streets in the evening (p345).

3rd/4th-6th/7th   Kanto Matsuri, Akita (Toh)  One of the more physically challenging festivals as performers balance bamboo poles with lanterns on their forehead and parade through the streets accompanied by musicians (p347).

4th   Itsukushima Kangen Festival, Miyajima, Hiroshima (WH)  One of Japan’s three major boat ceremonies with a parade of lanterns arriving by boat.

4th   Minato Kobe Fireworks Festival, Kobe (WH)  (p294).

5th-7th   Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri, Yamagata (Toh)  Around 10,000 dancers holding hanagasa (hats decorated with artificial flowers) dance along with floats from Tokamachi Corner to in front of Bunshokan Hall; this is about a 10-minute walk from Yamagata station

6th   Peace Ceremony, Hiroshima (WH)  (p306)

6th World Cosplay Summit, Nagoya (CH)

6th-8th Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival), Sendai (Toh)  The legend is that a king of the heavens separated his daughter from her husband because their love was preventing them from carrying out their official duties. This is the only day in the year when they can meet but even this has to be put off it is raining. All kinds of paper decorations are displayed around the city (p357).

7th-9th Niigata Matsuri, Niigata (Toh)  Procession, folk dancing and fireworks (p360)

8th   Outdoor performance of Noh (theatre), Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto  (CH)(p216)

9th   Peace Ceremony, Nagasaki (Kyu) (p446)

9th-12th Yosakoi Festival, Kochi (Shi)  People in a variety of costumes dance through the streets in the city centre (p472).

11th August  Yama no hi (Mountain Day)  A national holiday, that started in 2016, celebrating the country’s many mountains.

11th   Miyajima Floating Fireworks Festival, Miyajima (WH)  Offshore from the Otori gate. Possibly Japan’s best floating fireworks display (p309).

11th-13th   Hi-no-Kuni/summer festival, Izumi Shrine and around Kumamoto (Kyu)  Firelit performances of Noh theatre as well as fireworks and folk dancing (see p452).

11th-13th   Matsuyama Festival, Matsuyama (CH)  Fireworks and a night-time parade of samba dancing (p492).

12th-14th   Takamatsu Festival, Takamatsu (Shi)  Dancing in the streets and fireworks (p482).

12th-15th   Awa Odori folk dance festival, Tokushima (Shi)  One of the three great Obon dance festivals with thousands of people dancing through the streets (p488).

13th   Mandokuyo-e (candle festival), Koya san (Kan)  From 6pm candles are lit between Ichinohashi and the Lantern hall in Okunoin where the Mandokuyo-e ritual is held at 8pm.

13th-16th   Obon (Festival of the souls)  If possible Japanese return to their home town to celebrate being with their family and remembering their ancestors. Symbolic food and drink will be taken to the family grave and left there. Folk dances (Bon-odori) are often performed in public areas.

mid Aug   Kasuga Taisha Lantern Festival, Nara (Kan)  The lanterns, of which there are hundreds, are lit (p268).

10th-11th   Summer Sonic (rock festival) held in both Tokyo (Marine Field and Makuhari Messe, Chiba (Toh)  The closest station is JR Kaihin-Makuhari station on the JR Keiyo line) and Osaka (Maishima Sports Island; 35 minutes by bus from JR Nishi-kujo).

16th   Daimon-ji Gozan Okuribi (Daimon-ji bonfire), Kyoto (Kan)  Bonfire ceremony on mountains around Kyoto signalling the end of summer. There are several viewing spots but it is not possible to see all the fires from any particular spot.

16th   Hiraizumi Daimon-ji A 200m-high ‘dai’ character is lit on Mt Tabashineyama just outside Hiraizumi.

last weekend of Aug   Noboribetsu Jigoku Matsuri, Noboribetsu-onsen (Hok) A large float depicting Enma Daio (King of Hell) is paraded through the streets.

late Aug   Harajuku Omotesando Genki-sai Matsuri (Tyo)  Yosakoi dance in Tokyo – over 5000 dancers in about a hundred teams dance in the Harajuku/Omotesando/Yoyogi areas of Tokyo.

late Aug/early Sep   Asaskusa Samba Carnival, Senso-ji, Asakusa (Tyo) A parade as well as a samba dance competition (p129).

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September

14th-16th  Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine Annual Ritual, Kamakura (ATyo)  Various events are held on the three days but the best-known is the yabusame (horseback archery) on the 16th.

second weekend  Hanamaki Matsuri, Hanamaki (Toh)  Large floats are portable shrines are carried through the streets (p335).

mid Sep  Kamakura Matsuri, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, Kamakura (ATyo)  The main feature of this festival is the yabusame (horseback archery) (p138).

mid Sep   Niigata Soh-Odori, Niigata (CH)  Traditional and modern dances (p360).

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mid to late Sep  Grand Sumo Tournament (Tyo)  (p61, p120 & p130).

mid to late Sep  Tokyo Game Show (Tyo), Makuhari Messe (closest station is JR Kaihin-Makuhari station on the JR Keiyo line), Tokyo.

third Monday  Keiro no hi (Respect-for-the-Aged Day)

around September 23rd Shubun no hi (Autumnal Equinox Day)

22nd-24th   Aizu Aki Matsuri, Aizu-Wakamatsu (Toh)  A three-day festival which culminates in a parade of about 500 people in traditional costumes through the town to the castle.

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October

first two weeks   Aki no Kumamoto Oshiro Matsuri (Kumamoto Autumn Festival) (Kyu)  A variety of events held in and around the castle including yabusame (horseback archery) and martial arts (p452).

7th-9th  Soba Festival, Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto (CH)  A great chance to try lots of varieties of soba (p216).

7th-9th  Kunchi Festival, Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki (Kyu) (p446).

7th-9th  Kakunodate Yama Buttsuke, Kakunodate (Toh)  A festival that is over 350 years old and which has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. People dressed in samurai costumes pull samurai-themed floats around town visiting the various shrines; on the second day when groups with a float meet they try to crash/collide into the other float to push it out of the way. (pp338-40).

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9th-10th  Takayama Autumn Festival (Hachiman Festival) (CH)  Generally thought of as one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan. The main event is the procession of 11 yatai floats (p220).

early Oct F1 Grand Prix The location varies but is usually in Suzuka (p237), Wakayama (Kan)

second Monday in October  Taiiku no hi (Health and Sports Day)  Commemorates the opening day of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Events including a variety of traditional sports such as tsuna-hiki (tugs of war) are held all over the country.

14th  Tetsudo no hi (Railway Day)  Around this date events are held at JR railway stations all over the country.

14th-17th   Iyo-Saijo Autumn Festival, Saijo, Shikoku  Giant portable shrines are paraded through Saijo city to the shrine (p478).

16th-17th Shuki Taisai Toshogu Grand Autumn Festival, Toshogu Shrine, Sannai, Nikko  The main attraction is the parade of men in samurai costumes. Yabusame (horseback archery) is held on the 16th (p325).

Niihama Drum Festival (Shi)   Huge drums are paraded through the streets (p478).

mid Oct Nagoya Festival, Hisaya Odori Park, Sakae, Nagoya (CH)  The major event is a parade with people dressed in costumes honoring the heroes of Nagoya (p203).

third weekend of Oct   Kawagoe Matsuri, Kawagoe (ATyo)  Huge, colourful floats are paraded through the town (p323).

around 22nd but weather dependent  Jidai Matsuri, Heian Shrine, Kyoto (Kan) (p260).

20th-28th Tokyo International Film Festival (Tyo)  Most events are held in the Roppongi area.

late Oct to early Nov Saga International Balloon Fiesta, Saga (Kyu) A hot-air balloon festival (p417); Baseball – The Japan Series (all over Japan); Tokyo Design Week, Shinjuku (Tyo)

Oct to Dec Autumn leaves’ viewing – unlike for cherry blossom viewing the autumn colour starts in Hokkaido and moves down through the islands. Well-known places for autumn leaves’ viewing are Daisetsuzan, Hokkaido; Sannai, Nikko; Hakone/Lake Ashi area; Miyajima; Arashiyama and Philosopher’s Walk (Kyoto).

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November

Oct to Dec Autumn leaves’ viewing see October for details.

late Oct to early Nov   Saga International Balloon Fiesta, Saga (Kyu) (p417)

1st-3rd   Fujiwara Autumn Festival, Motsu-ji, Hiraizumi (Toh)  Traditional sacred dances and performances of Ennen no Mai (longevity rites); also held to celebrate the autumn foliage (p335).

2nd-3rd   Ohara Matsuri, Kagoshima (Kyu)  Parade of traditional dancing through the city centre (p457).

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2nd-3rd    Fudo Myo-o (Walking over fire) Festival, Daigan-ji, Itsukushima,  Miyajima (WH).

2nd-3rd    Matsue Drum Festival, Matsue (WH)  p315).

2nd-3rd   Matsumoto Castle Festival, Matsumoto (CH)  Features a samurai parade and puppet shows (p216).

3rd   Bunka no hi (Culture Day)

15th   Hi-watari, Daishoin Temple, Miyajima (WH)   A fire-walking ceremony (p310).

Shichi-go-san (literally Seven-Five-Three)  All over Japan girls who are aged seven and three and boys aged five and three are dressed in kimono or smart suits/dresses and taken to a local shrine where thanks are given for their health and happiness.

mid to late Nov  Grand Sumo Tournament, Fukuoka Center, Fukuoka (Kyu)  (p61 & p438)

23rd  Kinro kansha no hi (Labour Thanksgiving Day)

last Sunday in Nov   Japan Cup (horse race) (Tyo)  Japan’s most prestigious horse race

late Nov   Osaka Marathon (Osa)

late Nov to early Dec  Tokyo Motor Show, Tokyo Big Sight, Odaiba (Tyo)

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December

Oct to Dec Autumn leaves’ viewing see October for details.

late Nov to early Dec   Tokyo Motor Show, Tokyo Big Sight, Odaiba (Tyo)

throughout Dec  Spring-cleaning at Higashi Hongan-ji and Nishi Hongan-ji, Kyoto (Kan)  The cleaning is in preparation for the New Year.

throughout Dec   Kobe Luminarie (WH)  Held ever since the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995. The decorative lights were donated by the Italian government (p294).

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2nd-3rd Chichibu Yomatsuri (CH)  One of Japan’s top three festivals featuring floats – others being Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and also Takayama Matsuri. In addition to the floats there is a firework display (over two hours) To get there by JR take a local train or shinkansen to Kumagaya from Ueno and then transfer to Chichibu Railways (private line) for Chichibu (60 mins, ¥840). A more direct way is on the Seibu line from Ikebukuro to Seibu Chichibu. This festival is very popular so get there early.

15th-18th Kasuga (Taisha Grand Shrine) Wakamiya’s On-matsuri, Nara (Kan) (Toh)  Features traditional Japanese performing arts as well as music. Another highlight is the Jidai Gyroetsu (Procession of the eras) where people dress in costumes from the Heian to the Edo periods (p268).

23rd Tenno no tanjobi (The Emperor’s Birthday)

31st New Year’s Eve, celebrated nationwide  At midnight priests at temples ring a huge bell 108 times (each ring symbolises a human failing/sin) to signal the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Families visit temples and shrines to pray for good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, is one of the best-known places for people to go.

31st Namahage Festival, Oga  Men wearing demon costumes invade the town.

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