Want to visit a festival in Japan? Here are 15 Japanese Festivals that are worth visiting for a good time and memorable experience.
Matsuri is the Japanese word for Festival, and throughout the year, there is a wide range of celebrations in Japan that are worth visiting as a foreigner. Many of the Japanese festivals dates back several hundred years ago, and many of them are celebrating the culture and heritage.
Aoi Matsuri takes place every year May 15 and the main attraction is a large parade where more than 500 people are dressed up in clothes dating back to the Heian Period.
They walk between the Imperial Palace in Kyoto to the Kamo Shrines. The Aoi Matsuri is an ancient festival in Kyoto with origins dating back to the 7th century.
Chichibu Night Festival
Chichibu Night Festival is a popular festival held on 2-3 December every year. It’s the festival of Chichibu Shrine, which is located about 90 minutes from the central parts of Tokyo.
It’s especially famous for its floats which are ornately decorated with lanterns accompanied by flute music and drums.
Gion Matsuri is a festival of the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, and it’s often considered as the most famous Japanese festival. It takes place every year in July and turns Kyoto into a big party with celebrations going on for the whole month.
The grand procession of floats is happening on July 17 and is one of the main attractions of Gion Matsuri.
Cherry Blossom Festivals
If you’re traveling to Japan for Cherry blossom at the end of March/early April, you can attend various Cherry blossom festivals around the country who celebrates the beauty of the Sakura flowers.
Yokote Kamakura Festival
How about attending a Japanese Festival of lit-up snow igloos? The Yokote Kamakura Festival is held on 15 and 16 February every year, and all of Yokote City truly transforms into a winter wonderland.
Location: Yokote City, Akita Prefecture.
Kanamara Matsuri, also known as the Festival of the Steel Phallus is certainly a weird Japanese festival from a foreigner’s perspective. It’s a festival that celebrates fertility and everything has the theme of a male phallus.
Kanamara Matsuri takes place every year on the first Sunday of April at the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, which is located about 40 minutes away from Tokyo station by metro.
In recent years it has gained international attention and become somewhat of a tourist attraction, and much of the money raised goes to HIV research.
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
The Nebuta Matsuri is a summer festival in the Aomori prefecture, with the biggest celebration in Aomori City. It takes place between 2 and 7 August every year, and the main attraction is a big parade with giant lantern floats accompanied by dancers, drums, and musicians.
Sapporo Snow Festival
The Snow Festival in Sapporo has quickly become one of the most popular Japanese festivals with more than 2.7 million visitors last year. It’s an incredible celebration to snow and ice where all kinds of sculptures are created for visitors to admire.
It will be held this year from 31 January until 11 February 2020.
Location: Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture.
This is another Japanese festival which seems very odd from a foreign perspective. The Hadaka Matsuri is basically a festival where thousands of almost naked men come to the Saidaiji Temple in Okayama.
While they aren’t completely naked, they’re only wearing a Japanese loincloth, known locally as a fundoshi.
They come here to purify their body with cold water and battle the other participants to try grab the sacred sticks which are thrown out in the crowd. The one who catches a sacred stick, also known as “shingi” is said to get blessed with a year of happiness and good luck.
There are other similar festivals taking place in various locations in Japan, but the biggest is the one at Saidaiji Temple.
Kochi Yosakoi Matsuri
Yosakoi is a specific Japanese dance which is often performed at events and festivals. The biggest Yosakoi Festival takes place in Kochi, which is the capital of the prefecture with the same name.
The Yosakoi Matsuri in Kochi takes place between 9 and 12 August, and it’s a popular event attracting many Japanese visitors.
Tenjin Matsuri is another popular Japanese Festival, and it’s the festival of Tenmangu Shrine in Osaka. It takes place every year between 24-25 July and consists of two parts.
During the daytime, you can see thousands of dancers, drummers, and performers in the streets. Later at night, the celebration continues at the Okawa River with boat rides and firework display.
Awa Dance Festival
The Awa Odori is the largest dance festival in Japan with more than 1.3 million tourists annually. It takes place in the Tokushima Prefecture as a part of the Obon festival between 12 and 15 August.
Kanda Matsuri is one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo, and it’s always held on a Saturday or Sunday nearest the date of 15 May.
It takes place at Kanda Myojin Shrine in Chiyoda, and if you’re visiting during this period I can highly recommend this for a cultural experience in Japan.
Takayama Matsuri is generally referred to as one of the most beautiful festivals of Japan, and it attracts a large number of visitors. It’s also one of the few famous festivals which take place twice a year, one time in the spring, and another time in autumn.
Both of them take place in the old town of Takayama, and the spring festival is held 14-15 April, and the Autumn Festival on 9-10 October.
Karatsu Kunchi is a Japanese Festival in Karatsu City in the Saga Prefecture. It’s famous for its massive floats in the form of dragons, samurai helmets, sea bream, and all kinds of cool creatures.
It’s not very famous among foreigners, but if you’re traveling to Japan between 2-4 November, it’s definitely worth visiting.
Kanto Matsuri is famous for its long bamboo poles with lanterns, and there are usually more than 200 bamboo poles in the air at the same time. It’s one of the main festivals of the Tohuku Region and it takes place every year from 3-6 August in Akita City.
Autumn Leaves Festival
If you’re traveling to Japan in October and November, you can attend various Autumn leaves festivals in places known for its Koyo (Autumn leaves):
The ones below are some of the most notable festivals in Japan for viewing autumn leaves. However, Koyo can be seen all over the country in different periods during the autumn months.
- Mt. Miyaji “Momiji” Maple Festival
- The Korankei “Momiji” Maple Festival
- Iwayado Park Autumn Leaves Festival
- Jokoji Temple Autumn Leaves Festival
- Mt. Horaiji Maple Festival
More about Japanese Festivals
Almost every shrine will have a yearly celebration which means there are almost an endless amount of festivals in Japan. Even if you wanted to, there is no way that you have time to visit them all.
The procession where the Shrine’s Kami is transported in the mikoshi across the town is an important element of Shinto festivals. It’s the only time of the year when the Kami (Shinto deity) leaves its shrine.
Some Japanese festivals are held over several days, where Gion Matsuri is one of the longest festivals, spanning across the whole month of July. As a foreigner, you will always have a good time at local festivals as long as you respect the rules and customs of Japan.
The Japanese people usually appreciate when foreigners show curiosity for their culture, and they’re happy to share the experience with you. No matter the time of year you’re traveling to Japan, there will be a Matsuri (祭り) going on somewhere in the country.
All of them have a main feature or event that will happen during the celebration, and you’ll find plenty of Japanese food at these festivals as well.
Other Festivals in Japan
As already mentioned, there are about 200,000 Japanese festivals, so if you don’t have the possibility of visiting the ones mentioned above, here are some other Festivals in Japan that are worth visiting.
- Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai City (6-8 August)
- Hakata Dontaku Matsuri in Fukuoka (3-4 May)
- Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri in Osaka (14-15 September)
- Nada no Kenka Matsuri (14-15 October)
- Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa (Third full weekend in mid May)
- Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto (October 22)
Frequently Asked Questions about Japanese Festivals
There is no exact number of festivals in Japan, but it’s estimated that there are at least 200,000 Japanese festivals annually. Every shrine holds at least one festival per year, and there are about 190,000 shrines in the whole country.
Gion Matsuri is the most famous Japanese Festival and it’s even listed as a Cultural World Heritage event by UNESCO.
The Gion Matsuri was originally held to pray for the deliverance of Plague. However, since then it has evolved into not only the largest Matsuri in Kyoto, but one of the largest celebrations in all of Japan.
The Festivals of Japan are usually a combination of rituals and joyful celebrations, and every Japanese festival has its own meaning and history.
But in general, the Japanese celebrate festivals to honor the Shinto gods, socialize and celebrate their culture and heritage.
Want more tips on Japanese Festivals that you can visit? Leave a comment below!