Essential Guide To Japanese Festivals Throughout The Year

Hey there, fellow festival-goers!

As someone who loves to experience new cultures and traditions, I can confidently say that attending a Japanese festival or matsuri is an absolute must-do.

With over 200,000 festivals taking place annually, Japan is a country that knows how to celebrate.

From the lively drumming and dancing of the Awa Odori festival to the serene lantern-lit paths of the Setsubun Mantoro festival, there’s something for everyone.

But with so many festivals to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which ones to attend and how to prepare.

That’s where this essential guide comes in.

I’ve researched and compiled all the information you need to know about Japanese festivals throughout the year, including popular events like Gion Matsuri and Tenjin Matsuri and some lesser-known festivals worth exploring.

So, whether you’re a first-time visitor to Japan or a seasoned traveler, immerse yourself in the country’s unique culture and traditions with this ultimate guide to Japanese festivals.

Winter Festivals (December-February)

Winter Festivals (December-February)

1) Sapporo Snow Festival

You’ll love the Sapporo Snow Festival – it’s like stepping into a winter wonderland with towering ice sculptures and a lively atmosphere.

Held annually in February, the festival attracts millions of visitors from around the world who come to admire the stunning snow art and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Here are three things you can’t miss when attending the Sapporo Snow Festival:

  1. Stroll through Odori Park, the festival’s leading site, and marvel at the impressive snow sculptures above you. The sculptures are created by teams of artists and designers who use various techniques to carve intricate designs into the snow.
  2. Indulge in festival food at one of the many food stalls that line the streets. From steaming hot bowls of ramen to grilled seafood and sweet treats, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
  3. Join the fun and try at the snow and ice sculpture-making competitions. There are also snow slides and other fun activities for visitors of all ages.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is a must-see for anyone who loves winter and wants to experience the magic of a winter wonderland.

With international visitors flocking to the festival each year, meeting people worldwide and sharing the season’s joy is an excellent opportunity.

2) Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival

The Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival, held annually on January 15th, is a captivating spectacle of flames and tradition that should not be missed.

The festival, also known as the Dosojin Matsuri, has been celebrated for over 400 years and is a testament to the community spirit of the small village of Nozawa Onsen in Nagano Prefecture.

During the festival, locals create towering snow sculptures and construct a large wooden shrine set ablaze with fire torches.

The festival is meant to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity to the community. As a spectator, you can feel the heat of the flames and hear the crackling of the burning wood while witnessing one of Japan’s most unique and awe-inspiring events.

Witness an ancient traditionCrowded, with limited viewing areas
Experience the community spirit of Nozawa OnsenCold temperatures and snow
See towering snow sculpturesDifficulty finding accommodations
Feel the heat of the flamesLimited food and drink options
Little food and drink optionsLimited transportation options

Spring Festivals (March-May)

Spring Festivals (March-May)

3) Hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing) Festivals

Nothing beats the pure joy and beauty of experiencing the Hanami festivals in Japan, where the entire country feels like it’s been transformed into a pink paradise.

From late March to early May, Japan is awash in beautiful pale pink cherry blossoms, and locals and tourists gather under the trees to celebrate the arrival of spring.

The Hanami festival is a time of joy, relaxation, and celebration. There’s no better way to experience it than by taking part in a Hanami picnic with friends and family.

To make the most of your Hanami experience, it’s crucial to have a few tips up your sleeve.

  1. Plan and choose the best cherry blossom spots in your area. Some popular locations include Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo and Maruyama Park in Kyoto.
  2. Pack a picnic basket with Hanami food ideas, such as onigiri rice balls, sakura mochi, and bento boxes.
  3. Don’t forget to bring some cherry blossom crafts, such as origami paper flowers or handmade headbands.
  4. For stunning cherry blossom photography tips, try using a wide-angle lens and shooting during the golden hours of sunrise or sunset for the most beautiful lighting.

4) Hakata Dontaku Port Festival

This festival celebrates Fukuoka’s rich cultural history and is held annually on May 3rd and 4th. The Hakata Dontaku Port Festival boasts traditional dances, parade floats, local delicacies, and a festive atmosphere.

This festival has historical significance as it dates back to the Edo period when it was first celebrated as a New Year’s celebration.

The name ‘Dontaku‘ derives from the Dutch word ‘Zondag,’ which means Sunday, as the festival used to be scheduled on Sundays.

Today, it is a two-day event that attracts over two million people from all over Japan and beyond.

Summer Festivals (June-August)

Summer Festivals (June-August)

5) Gion Matsuri

You’ll be fascinated by the grand floats procession and the enormous floats in the Gion Matsuri, a festival celebrated in Kyoto. This festival is one of Japan’s most iconic and oldest, dating back to the ninth century.

It attracts millions of people from all over the world every year. The festival lasts a month, but its main event is the grand parade on July 17th.

You’ll see enormous floats decorated with intricate carvings and colorful fabrics during this parade. The floats are pulled by dozens of men dressed in traditional costumes and accompanied by musicians playing taiko drums and flutes.

The aristocratic costumes worn by the participants are a sight to behold. They’re adorned with elaborate embroidery and bright colors representing different regions of Japan.

The parade’s highlight is the appearance of the divine messenger, believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the city. The messenger is carried on a palanquin and is surrounded by a procession of horse racers.

The Gion Matsuri is not just a festival but a celebration of Japanese history and culture that you won’t want to miss.

6) Sumida River Fireworks Festival

If you’re looking for a dazzling and breathtaking spectacle, the Sumida River Fireworks Festival is like watching a starry sky come to life with bursts of vibrant colors and sounds that’ll awaken you.

Known as one of Tokyo’s largest and most famous fireworks events, the Sumida River Fireworks Spectacular is a must-see for locals and tourists alike.

The festival celebrates Tokyo’s rich cultural traditions and history in late July and has been held annually for over 300 years.

The Sumida River Fireworks Festival is not just about fireworks but also the cultural significance and traditions surrounding the event.

The festival is a chance to indulge in traditional Japanese food and drink and to experience the vibrant atmosphere of Tokyo’s summer celebrations.

Visitors can enjoy various activities, from trying on traditional yukata and enjoying festival games to watching live performances and soaking in the festive atmosphere.

For the best viewing spots, head to the banks of the Sumida River or take a boat cruise to get an even better view of the fireworks display.

Autumn Festivals (September-November)

Autumn Festivals (September-November)

7) Takayama Autumn Festival

Don’t miss the Takayama Autumn Festival, one of Japan’s most famous festivals. Held annually in the beautiful mountain town of Takayama, the festival showcases a stunning display of traditional Japanese culture.

Festival floats adorned with intricate Takayama crafts are the main attraction, along with karakuri ningyo, a mechanical puppet that performs traditional dances.

In addition to the floats, you can also witness autumn processions, where locals dressed in traditional clothing parade through the streets to the sound of traditional music.

As the sun sets, the festival comes alive with evening illuminations that add a magical touch to the already enchanting atmosphere.

The Takayama Autumn Festival is a must-see for anyone looking to experience the rich cultural heritage of Japan.

8) Kanto Festival (Akita)

The Kanto Festival in Akita is a thrilling celebration of strength and skill.

Performers balance long bamboo poles with lanterns on their palms, foreheads, and shoulders to create a mesmerizing display of light and movement.

It’s a sight to behold as hundreds of performers, called Santos, carry these poles through the streets, showcasing their balance and agility.

The festival has been held for over 270 years and is a testament to the Japanese people’s love for traditional parades and unique floats.

The Kanto Festival features stunning fireworks displays and religious rituals that captivate spectators.

And let’s not forget about the local cuisine! The festival offers an array of delicious food stalls, serving everything from traditional Japanese dishes to modern street food delicacies.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable Japanese festival experience, the Kanto Festival in Akita should be on your list.

Lesser-Known Festivals Worth Exploring

Lesser-Known Festivals Worth Exploring

9) Nebuta Festival (Aomori)

You’ll be mesmerized by the stunning Nebuta parades, haneto costumes, and fireworks show at the Nebuta Festival in Aomori.

This festival is one of the most iconic in Japan and draws visitors from all over the world.

Here are four things you won’t want to miss at this incredible event:

  • Elaborate floats: The festival’s highlight is the massive, illuminated floats called nebula. Teams of artisans painstakingly craft these floats, and can take up to a year to complete. Each float depicts a scene from Japanese folklore or history, accompanied by traditional Japanese music.
  • Haneto costumes: The haneto are dancers who wear colorful, festive clothing and wooden shoes. They dance through the streets alongside the nebula floats, waving naruko castanets and chanting ‘Rassera! Rassera!’ It’s a joyous, energetic spectacle that you won’t soon forget.
  • Fireworks show: The festival culminates in a spectacular fireworks display over Aomori Bay. The colorful explosions light up the night sky, creating a magical atmosphere that’s the perfect way to end the festivities.
  • Traditional Japanese dancing: Throughout the festival, you’ll have the opportunity to see traditional Japanese dancing performed by groups of locals. It’s a beautiful, graceful art form that’s an integral part of Japanese culture. Don’t miss your chance to witness it firsthand!

10) Chichibu Night Festival

Get ready to experience the Chichibu Night Festival, a spectacular event that draws over 1 million visitors annually to its elaborate festival floats and fireworks display.

Held annually on December 2nd and 3rd in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, the festival is known for its nighttime revelry, traditional costumes, and religious processions.

The festival is over 300 years old and is considered one of Japan’s most significant cultural events.

Walking through the festival, you will see dazzling festival floats illuminated by hundreds of lanterns.

Each float is adorned with intricate designs and is accompanied by traditional music and dance performances.

The festival also features a breathtaking fireworks display that lights up the night sky. To give you an idea of the festival’s grandeur, here’s a table that showcases the scale of the Chichibu Night Festival:

Festival FloatsNumber
Large floats6
Medium floats6
Small floats80
Total float length70m

The Chichibu Night Festival is an unmissable event that will leave you in awe. So if you’re looking for a unique experience and a chance to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, add this festival to your bucket list.

11) Nagasaki Kunchi

If you’re in Nagasaki in early October, don’t miss out on experiencing the vibrant Nagasaki Kunchi festival.

This annual festival has a rich historical significance and cultural impact in the region, as it celebrates the city’s diverse cultural heritage. The festival dates back to the 17th century and was initially held to celebrate the bountiful harvests.

The Nagasaki Kunchi festival has lively parade traditions, festive music, and colorful costumes.

During the festival, you can indulge in local delicacies such as the famous castella cake, a sponge cake made from flour, eggs, sugar, and starch syrup.

You can also try Nagasaki’s famous champon noodles, a delicious fusion of Chinese and Japanese cuisine.

The festival is a truly immersive experience that celebrates the unique cultural identity of Nagasaki and its people.

Tips for Attending Japanese Festivals

As you join the festivities, treat the mikoshi respectfully and be mindful of the intricate cultural threads that weave together to create the vibrant tapestry of Japan’s festival scene.

One important aspect of attending Japanese festivals is understanding and respecting local etiquette.

For example, removing your shoes before entering a shrine or temple is essential, and avoiding wearing revealing clothing or showing too much skin. It’s also vital to respect holy sites and not interrupt proceedings.

Festivals are an excellent opportunity to snap some memorable photos. Some of the best photo spots include elaborate floats, mikoshi parades, and colorful costumes festival-goers wear.

Consider organizing the fun and dressing up in a Yukata or other costume ideas for your festival photoshoot.

Remember to have fun and enjoy the lively parades, music, games, and food of shrine festivals while being mindful of their cultural significance.


So there you have it, my guide to Japanese festivals throughout the year.

From the chilly winter festivals to the lively summer celebrations, Japan has a plethora of festivals to offer.

Each festival offers a unique opportunity to experience the country’s rich culture and traditions. But, as with any cultural event, it’s crucial to approach it with respect and mindfulness.

Remember to research and plan well in advance, be aware of festival etiquette, and, most importantly, have fun!

Attending a Japanese festival is like diving into a cultural treasure trove filled with vibrant colors, flavorful food, and festive music.

It’s an experience that will leave you with lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for Japan’s unique cultural identity.

So, go forth and explore the festivals of Japan, and immerse yourself in the magic of matsuri.

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