Japan is a wonderful country to visit, filled with a range of experiences. Aside from stunning historic sites and awe-inspiring natural beauty, the festivals that take place in Japan are a delight to witness. Through these unique festivals, visitors get a glimpse of Japanese culture and all that it has to offer. Called Matsuri in Japanese, these festivals are usually sponsored by a temple or a shrine and are put together by the locals. Tourists can expect to see dancing, singing and elaborate parades. Here’s a list of some of the best Japanese festivals you must experience at least once!
One of the most famous festivals in Tokyo, Kanda Masturi is sponsored by the Kanda Myojin Shrine. It best represents Tokyo’s culture. The shrine itself honours three deities- Daikokuten (one of the Gods of fortune), Ebisu (God of luck) and Taira no Masakodo (A feudal lord that was worshipped). Portable shrines are carried around the city followed by thousands of people. Dancers and musicians join the procession adding to the fun. The shrine travels through Kanda to Akihabara and then returns to the shrine by the end of the day.
2Shogatsu (Japanese New Year)
While the rest of the world welcomes the New Year with much fan-fare and revelry the Japanese do things a little differently. Their celebrations for the New Year stretch out days before and after and are amongst the biggest celebrations in the country. Shogatsu is observed with people enjoying many traditional foods that vary between regions in Japan.
Many Japanese citizens begin the new year by eating soba (buckwheat) noodles at midnight for good health. At midnight, Buddhist temples ring bells 108 times. 108 is the estimated number of worldly sins’ desires according to Japanese tradition.
3Hanami (Cherry Blossom Festival)
In ancient Japanese tradition, the words Hanami means ‘flower viewing.’ During the festival of Hanami, the people of Japan do just this. Thousands of people gather during the spring for the Cherry Blossom festival. Families, friends, and coworkers rush to find the perfect spots in busy parks to enjoy picnics and parties in the season. Events take place throughout the day and in the night as well. The cherry blossoms are celebrated for their transience. Japan is a sight to behold during this time as the ever-popular cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Gion Matsuri takes place during the month of July and is sponsored by the Yasaka Shrine. The festival first began as a means to do away with the plague that had descended upon Japan in 898. Today, the highlight of the festival is the ‘Yamaboko Junko’ which is when the procession of floats takes place on the 17th and 24th. These massive floats are attached to wheels nearly as big as humans. The entire festival gets people in the mood to celebrate because of how colourful and lively it is.
Obon is a three-day festival that celebrates the spirits of the ancestors that come home to rest. People visit temples, shrines and family graves during Obon. People light fires in front of their homes and light lanterns to help guide the spirits. Shrines are usually busier around this time as Obon is mainly about keeping spirits happy in the afterlife.
The pole lantern festival of Japan is a treat to witness. People balance long bamboo poles with their lanterns attached to the end of the poles. The poles come in different sizes and the lanterns are lit up with actual candles. Performers dance to music and chant along the way as they hoist poles on heads, hands or their backs. The night parade is especially a great time to watch the performers flaunt their skills!
7Awa Dance Festival
The dancing festival of Japan, Awa Odori is one of the most lively events guaranteed to lift your spirits. In Tokushima Prefecture, street dancers called ‘Ren’ perform beautiful dances. They continue their performance throughout the town with instruments and songs played just for them. Tourists flock to Tokushima to be a part of this fun extravaganza!
An Autumn Festival, Karatsu Kunchi is dedicated to the Karatsu Jinja Shrine. 7 different types of floats are created with layers of washi paper, wood, and linen. They are decorated beautifully for viewing. The floats, with gold or silver leaf, are paraded throughout the city, catching the attention of hundreds of people. They are pushed around on the 3rd of November accompanied by musicians.
Have you visited any of these Japanese festivals? If so, do share your experiences in the comments below.