The Japanese word for festival or holiday is matsuri. Festivals in Japan are typically sponsored by a local shrine or temple, but they can also be secular.
There are no set matsuri days in Japan; dates vary from region to region, and even within a region, however, festival days tend to cluster around traditional festivals like Awa Odori. In late summer/early fall, almost every location hosts at least one matsuri, which is frequently associated with the paddy harvest.
Processions, which may include elaborate floats, are common during notable matsuri. The preparation for these processions is normally done at the machi (neighborhood) level. The local kami may be ritually put in mikoshi and paraded around the streets prior to these.
The many deities of Japan have been worshiped and gratified through traditional Japanese “matsuri” festivals since ancient times. Each matsuri celebration has its own intriguing history and unique appeal, including dance, music, costumes, cuisine, and more.
Read More: 10 Interesting Facts About Holi Celebration
Table of Contents
We’ve chosen 5 amazing matsuri festivities in Japan:
1. Awa Odori
Awa Odori, Japan’s greatest traditional dance festival, is held in Tokushima City, in the remote prefecture of Tokushima on Shikoku Island. The Awa Odori, which takes place over many days in mid-August and has a 400-year history, is one of Japan’s Three Great Bon Odori events, which are all large-scale traditional dances held during the midsummer holiday of Obon.
Awa Odori incorporates coordinated dance ensembles called “ren.” There are a variety of ren of all sizes, including amateur ren made up of locals, highly trained professional ren, and ren made up of kids or firm personnel.
Each ren has a men’s and women’s dance, with men wearing a “happi” and socks and women wearing a yukata and traditional “amigasa” straw hat with “geta” wooden clogs. Men’s dance is intense and dynamic, but women’s dance is polished and exquisite.
Awa Odori is also known for its unique duple-time music, which is performed by a group known as a “narimono,” which includes bells, flutes, shamisen, and taiko drums.
2. Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, one of northern Tohoku’s most notable events, is centered on massive, dramatic “nebuta” paper lantern floats created in the figures of deities, legendary animals, kabuki actors, and more.
During early August, the Nebuta Matsuri is held simultaneously in practically every region of Aomori Prefecture, with Aomori City, Hirosaki, and Goshogawara being popular destinations. “Haneto” dancers surround the floats, doing an energetic performance timed to accompanying music while dressed flamboyantly.
The origins of this custom can be traced back to the Nara Period’s Tanabata/Obon celebrations as a ritual to send off the souls of the deceased (710-794).
While most of these celebrations feature little lanterns drifting down rivers, those in Aomori have grown into huge sculpture-like nebuta lanterns that may reach up to 5 meters tall and 9 meters wide. It is one of Japan’s largest events and one of Tohoku‘s Three Great Festivals, with over two million people expected to attend.
Read More: 9 Unknown Amazing Places In The World
3. Sendai Tanabata Matsuri
Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, is a major seasonal Japanese festival that begins on July 7 and lasts until mid-August (depending on the area and region).
People will write their wishes on strips of rectangular “tanzaku” paper and hang them on bamboo leaves while praying to the stars during this time. Colorful streamers and bamboo leaves will be used to decorate streets, shopping arcades, residences, and stores, creating a lively, magical ambiance.
The mythology of Orihime and Hikoboshi, star-crossed lovers represented by the stars Vega and Altair who are separated by the Milky Way, was based on the Chinese Qixi Festival.
They are only allowed to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, according to the lunisolar calendar, which marks the start of Tanabata. The light from Vega and Altair is thought to be at its brightest around this period, leading to the notion that the two deities were finally united.
While much of Japan now celebrates Tanabata on July 7, Sendai, home of Japan’s largest Tanabata festival, does so a month later, on August 6-8, in accordance with Japan’s ancient lunisolar calendar.
The Sendai Tanabata Matsuri was founded by legendary samurai founder Date Masamune and is still one of Japan’s most flamboyant celebrations today.
4. Hakata Dontaku Matsuri
Hakata Dontaku Matsuri, held annually on May 3-4 in Fukuoka, Kyushu, is one of Japan’s most prominent Golden Week (holiday period in late April/early May) festivities.
Beautifully costumed dancers, many carrying the festival’s signature wooden “shamoji” spoon, and brilliantly painted “hana jidosha” floats take over the streets during the celebration.
The word “dontaku” is thought to come from the Dutch word “zondag,” which means “Sunday” or “holiday.” During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the name was first used in Japan to refer to the first and sixth days of each month, which were designated official holidays between 1868 and 1876.
The Hakata Dontaku Matsuri began as a “Matsubayashi” celebration to commemorate the Lunar New Year in 1179.
Although the government briefly prohibited it in 1872, it was revived in 1879 on a new date under the new name of Dontaku. Following the war, it took on its current shape in 1962, with a two-day sequence of processions and dances by residents, including young and old men and women. There are currently around 650 Dontaku groups with over 30,000 performers and up to 2 million spectators.
5. Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival, which aims to make the terrible cold of Hokkaido‘s mid-winter bright and enjoyable, showcases hundreds of gigantic and exquisitely crafted ice and snow sculptures embellishing the city of Sapporo.
The festival’s primary location is Odori Park, but the surrounding Susukino area and the Tsu Dome in Higashi Ward both have a beautiful range worth seeing.
The Sapporo Snow Festival has a brief and humble history when compared to many of the other festivals on this list. It began when a group of local high school students began creating sculptures out of snow that had been plowed and discarded in Odori Park.
Annually, more professional and enthusiastic sculptors would arrive to compete with one another, rapidly expanding the event’s scope.
Read More: Finland: 10 Most Amazing Places To Be
The ice and snow sculptures that line the frozen streets are becoming more ambitious and magnificent every year, drawing nearly 2.5 million people from Japan and overseas.
Beautiful illuminations, projection mapping, ice skating, food booths, snow slides, and other attractions add to the festival’s appeal, making it well worth battling the cold for.