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1001 Japan Matsuri – The Best Traditional Festivals in Japan

Japan Matsuri, or Japanese festivals, are often beautiful, bursting with color, excitement, and tradition. Japan has more unique festivals than any other nation, and joining a matsuri is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

A high-energy matsuri is the place to be if you want to experience Japan at its most vibrant! The festivities themselves vary depending on the occasion, but they nearly always include energetic processions of people singing, dancing, and carrying enormous, artistically adorned mikoshi (portable shrines) or floats.

Japanese festivals are also one of the greatest venues to try a wide range of distinctive, informal, and seasonal Japanese dishes. Many people are surprised to learn that street food is not extremely common in Japan (unlike in many other parts of Asia). However, during matsuri, the streets are lined with yatai (food stalls) after yatai (food stall), each providing a unique choice of healthy (and not-so-healthy) festival goodies.

The last time this page was updated was in October of 2022.

Japan Matsuri

The Best Japanese Festivals: Our Favorite Matsuri

There are far too many excellent matsuri in Japan to mention in a single list, and some of the most pleasant are unsung events hosted in little towns around the country. We present an introduction to what we think to be some of the greatest and most intriguing Japanese festivals in our festival guide below, which includes:

  • Gion Matsuri is a traditional Japanese festival held in Kyoto.
  • Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka
  • Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori
  • Tokushima’s Awa Odori event
  • And there are many more!

The following is a list of upcoming Japanese Matsuri (Festivals)

Whether you’re planning a vacation to Japan and want to see if your travel dates coincide with any noteworthy festivals, here’s an up-to-date list of important matsuri taking place around the country (we update this list frequently).

Festivals take occur all year, with a few of the most popular taking place in the summer. Summer in Japan is hot and humid (learn more about Japan’s seasons and weather), and the humid weather complements the rowdy mood at many matsuri.

Upcoming Festivals (Matsuri) in Japan in 2023

  • February 4-11: Sapporo Yuki Matsuri Snow Festival (Sapporo)
  • April 14-15: Takayama Spring Festival (Takayama)
  • May 15: Aoi Matsuri (Kyoto)
  • May 20-22: Sanja Matsuri (Tokyo)
  • Month of July: Gion Matsuri (Kyoto) (Main parades, evenings of July 17th and 24th)
  • July 22-23: Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka)
  • July 29: Katsushika Noryo Fireworks Festival (Tokyo)
  • July 30: Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (Tokyo)
  • August 2-7: Nebuta Matsuri (Aomori)
  • August 5:  Edogawa Fireworks Festival (Tokyo)
  • August 6:  Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival (Osaka)
  • August 12-15: Awa Odori (Shikoku)
  • August TBD: Hokkai Bon Odori (Sapporo) (15th day of the 7th lunar month; lasts for three days)
  • August 16: Kyoto Gozan Okuribi, aka Daimonji Festival (Kyoto)
  • October 9-10: Takayama Fall Festival (Takayama)
  • October 22: Kurama Fire Festival (Kyoto)
  • October 22: Jidai Matsuri (Kyoto)
  • November 4, 16, 28: Asakusa Torinoichi Fair (Tokyo) (Held on Days of the Rooster in November; Days of the Rooster occur every 12 days throughout the month)
  • December 2-3: Chichibu Yomatsuri (Saitama)

Note: The dates for some festivals in 2023 may be subject to change, so it’s best to check for updates closer to the event dates.

Japan Matsuri – The Best Festivals in Tokyo

We’ll start with a list of the greatest events in Tokyo.

Kanda Matsuri is a traditional Japanese festival (Kanda Myojin Shrine, Tokyo)

Kanda was an important central neighborhood in Edo (and still is in modern-day Tokyo), and Kanda Matsuri is one of Tokyo’s three major festivals.

It happens only in odd-numbered years (alternating with the Sanno Matsuri) and lasts a whole week, while the major parade takes place on the Saturday closest to May 15th, when over 300 people march through the streets of downtown Tokyo, carrying 100 mikoshi.

This shinto festival originated as a commemoration of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory at the Battle of Sekigahara and evolved into a show of prosperity for the new Edo period shogunate.

The event has come to symbolize wealth for the locals, and it’s quite a sight to see as a procession of portable shrines, singers, priests on horseback, and dancers march through the streets, blessing passers-by. At Kanda Myojin Shrine, the procession comes to a close.

Kanda Matsuri

Sanja Matsuri is a character in the film Sanja Matsuri (Asakusa Shrine, Tokyo)

Sanja Matsuri is a rowdy shinto event celebrated in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa area on the third Sunday of May (and previous Friday and Saturday).

The Sanja Matsuri celebrates the three founders of Senso-ji Temple, who are enshrined in the Asakusa Shrine next door. It attracts over 2 million attendees over three days and is considered Tokyo’s biggest shinto celebration.

According to legend, the three founders became Buddhist after finding a tiny statue of the Boddhisatva Kannon while fishing in Tokyo’s Sumida River one morning in the 7th century. While the event may have existed in some form before that time, the shrine has only been in existence since 1649.

There are lots of games and food to be had, and the event is noted for being quite rowdy. Flautists, taiko drummers, and people shouting abound throughout the streets. On Sunday, at the festival’s peak, three mikoshi — each containing the spirit (kami) of one of the founders — are carried excitedly through the streets before being placed to rest at Asakusa Shrine. The more chanting and singing there is, and the more violently the mikoshi are shaken, the more good luck is thought to be showered onto the communities they travel through.

Sanja Matsuri (Asakusa)

The Best Festivals in Kyoto: Matsuri

The following is a list of some of our favorite festivals in Kyoto.

Matsuri Aoi (Kamigamo Shrine, Kyoto)

The Aoi Matsuri, also known as the Kamo Matsuri, is an extravagant, exquisite celebration that includes a parade from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrine in the city’s north. Participants dress up in Heian court regalia (794-1185), with some riding horses and riding in ox-drawn carriages, and others walking while performing Heian court music.

The Aoi Matsuri predates the Heian era, and it may have started in some form as early as the 6th century, when Emperor Kinmei would make sacrifices to the Kamo Shrine in the hopes of preventing natural disasters. Eventually, during the peak of the Heian era, this grew into an elaborate procession. The name of the event stems from the hollyhock (aoi) that adorns the participants’ clothes and carriages, which was originally thought to be a good luck charm against natural calamities.

The Aoi Matsuri procession starts at 10:30 a.m. from the Imperial Palace and ends about 3:30 p.m. at Kamigamo Shrine. In addition to the procession, equestrian competitions and activities are held in the days leading up to it.

Aoi Matsuri, Kyoto

Gion Matsuri is a traditional Japanese festival (Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto)

Gion Matsuri is likely Japan’s most well-known and potentially biggest event. It has a lengthy history (going back to 869) and lasts the full month of July, concluding on July 17th with a float procession known as the Yamaboko Junko.

Although there are festival-related activities throughout month, the primary celebrations take place on the Yamaboko Junko’s day (July 17th) and the three nights leading up to it (known as the yoiyama evenings).

The two kinds of floats are referred to as “yamaboko”: the tiny yama floats and the larger hoko floats. Hoko floats may be several storeys tall (about 25 meters) and weigh up to 12 tons when transporting festival goers. The festival floats are lavishly adorned with tapestries and paper lanterns, and hoko floats need around 40 people to move them through the streets.

Streets are blocked and crowded with people enjoying yatai (food booths), performances, traditional music and costumes, and potentially seeing geiko and maiko during the yoiyama nights. This is a unique opportunity to observe Kyoto people let free while admiring the spectacular festival floats up close.

Another noteworthy component of the yoiyama nights is the Byobu Matsuri (“Folding Screen Festival”), which takes place simultaneously and has many Kyoto households opening their doors to the public, allowing visitors to see valuable family relics.

On July 24th, a little smaller parade (with fewer floats) takes place, which is preceded by its own yoiyama nights of celebration.

Gion Matsuri

The Best Matsuri in Japan Aside from Tokyo and Kyoto,

It’s a fool’s errand to try to condense all of Japan’s festivals into a top ten list, but here’s a taste of our favorites.

Matsuri Nebuta (Aomori Prefecture)

Nebuta Matsuri, celebrated in Aomori, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, is one of the country’s most aesthetically stunning festivities. The streets of Aomori City come alive with stunningly brilliant lantern floats during the Nebuta Matsuri, which may take up to a year to assemble.

The spectacular floats are composed of washi (Japanese paper) and illuminated from the inside, showing towering gods, warriors, kabuki performers, animals, and even TV personalities. Dancers, taiko drummers, flutists, and other musicians perform beside the floats.

All festivalgoers are welcome to participate in the colorful dancer procession as long as they are dressed in the traditional haneto dancer’s attire (readily available throughout the city).

The Nebuta Matsuri, unlike other festivals, has parades every evening of the festival week, with the exception of the last day, when the procession takes place in the afternoon.

Matsuri Nebuta (Aomori Prefecture)

Yuki Matsuri in Sapporo (Snow Festival, Sapporo, Hokkaido)

Every February, the city of Sapporo — Hokkaido’s biggest city — hosts Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, one of the world’s major snow and ice festivals, as we mentioned in our piece on the best reasons to visit Japan in winter.

The Sapporo Snow Festival (which dates back to 1950) attracts over two million visitors each year and is known for its awe-inspiring ice and snow sculptures. The sculptures’ laborious work and artistry may be seen during the day, but they are much more wonderful in the nights when they are magnificently lighted.

Aside from the snow architecture, the Yuki Matsuri has a range of activities for both children and adults, including concerts, an international snow sculpture competition, gourmet events, snowball fights, snow slides, ice bars, and more.

Yuki Matsuri in Sapporo

Takayama Matsuri (Takayama, Gifu Prefecture)

Takayama’s Spring and Autumn Matsuri are among Japan’s most attractive festivals, owing in large part to their setting: Takayama, a charming and ancient town in the Japan Alps.

Takayama is known across Japan for its highly trained crafters, whose work is on show at the magnificent yatai festival (apart from referring to food stalls, the word yatai can also refer to parade floats as it does here). Intricately carved wood, lacquer paintings, complex metal work, woven fabrics, and fully moving huge marionettes are used to create the yatai (karakuri ningyo).

The wheeled floats are magnificent, but the daily performances of the puppets, which are controlled by dozens of strings and pushrods from within the float by a master puppeteer, are the true delight.

Takayama’s Spring festival (Haru no Takayama Matsuri) is celebrated in southern Takayama at Hie Shrine to pray for a good crop following the planting season (also known as Sanno Shrine). The Autumn Festival (Aki no Takayama Matsuri) is held in northern Takayama around the Hachiman Shrine to express appreciation for the crops that have been gathered.

Both festivals are worthwhile, showcasing the incomparable yatai as well as a magical evening procession (yomatsuri) on the first evening of each. When evening sets, the floats, which are accompanied by costumed dancers and musicians, are illuminated with hundreds of lanterns and carried through Takayama’s streets, passing by the town’s scenic bridges.

Takayama Matsuri

Tenjin Matsuri (Tenmangu Shrine, Osaka)

Tenjin Matsuri (“Festival of the Gods”) is an enthusiastic festival held in the vibrant city of Osaka at the end of July.

The event honors Sugawara no Michizane, a Heian poet and scholar who is worshipped at Osaka’s Tenmangu Shrine. This patron god of art and education is paraded on his mikoshi with lion and umbrella dancers, musicians, goblins on horseback, and many other participants throughout the procession.

While Tenjin Matsuri is a storied traditional festival with over 1,000 years of history, the atmosphere during the festival is pure fun, with endless food stalls and festive street partying.

The festival reaches its peak on the second day, when 3,000 people dressed in Heian period garb parade through the streets before boarding torch-lit boats that cruise down Osaka’s Okawa River. The evening concludes with a spectacular fireworks show above the river’s blazing boats.

Tenjin Matsuri

Awa Odori (Tokushima, Shikoku)

On the island of Shikoku, the Awa Odori (Awa Dance) event began in rural Tokushima (previously known as Awa Province).

According to legend, the feudal lord of Awa hosted a massive celebration for the inauguration of Tokushima castle in the late 16th century. The attendees are said to have started drunken singing and dancing while musicians played a simple, syncopated beat throughout the night. This quickly became a popular yearly event, as well as one of Japan’s most enjoyable matsuri.

Awa Odori attracts over a million tourists to Shikoku each year, despite its isolated position (we include Shikoku in this piece about amazing off-the-beaten-path attractions).

Fantastic traditional clothing, a powerful (if stylized) dance, and extremely intense singing, chanting, and music are all included during the event. It is, above all, a really pleasant and lively dancing competition at its heart.

The parade is made up of dancing teams. Each team has its own set of clothes and takes a different approach to the traditional dance. The dance is known as the “fool’s dance” and the atmosphere is party-like. “The dancers are idiots, and the ones watching are fools,” the lyrics read. Why not dance, because everyone is a fool?”

If you can’t make it to Tokushima, the Tokyo version of Awa Odori, which has been hosted in Tokyo’s Koenji area since the 1950s, is worth checking out.

Even though Tokyo’s version of Awa Odori is smaller than the original in Shikoku, it has grown to draw over a million people each year. It is hosted in the Koenji district, a laid-back region just west of Shinjuku renowned for outstanding food and drink, music venues, and vintage stores.

Awa Odori

Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu Shrine, Saitama Prefecture)

The Chichibu Yomatsuri, which takes place around 90 minutes outside of Tokyo, is one of Japan’s most stunning float festivals, with human-powered floats weighing up to 20 tons. In fact, during the day, the artistically carved floats function as kabuki stages.

The Chichibu Yomatsuri is a yomatsuri (night celebration) known for the spectacular display of lanterns that cover the floats, which are accompanied by taiko drummers, flute players, and mikoshi from the 2,000-year-old Chichibu Shrine.

The floats are pushed to the top of a hill at the festival’s conclusion, and the night culminates with a two-hour fireworks show — a rare treat in the winter.

Chichibu Yomatsuri (Credit: boutiquejapan.com)

Hanabi (Fireworks) Matsuri

If you brave the heat and travel to Japan during the summer, you might be able to attend one of the country’s spectacular hanabi (fireworks) matsuri. Fireworks are elevated to an art form in Japan, as everyone who has spent time there knows, and hanabi artists take their employment very seriously!

Hanabi festivities take place all throughout Japan during the summer, ranging from huge events in cities like Tokyo and Osaka to regional and local exhibitions in smaller towns. These festive events, like other matsuri, are a terrific way to unwind, spend time with friends and family, and enjoy cool beverages and festival food.

Here’s a rundown of some of Japan’s most well-known hanabi matsuri. Make sure to come early, especially if you’re hoping to attend a popular fireworks display!

Hanabi Matsuri

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

The largest hanabi festival in Tokyo (with approximately one million people in attendance), having two separate programs and settings, both along the Sumidagawa River (Sumida River).

Edogawa Fireworks Festival

On the Edogawa River, one of Tokyo’s biggest fireworks displays is staged (Edo River). The event is held in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, near Senso-ji Temple.

Katsushika Noryo Fireworks Festival

This matsuri, which is smaller in size than Tokyo’s major hanabi celebrations, is a fantastic choice if you want to secure a good view. Walk through the old-fashioned streets leading to Shibamata Taishakuten Temple on your way to the fireworks viewing spot.

Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival

This festival, which is one of Osaka’s most well-known summer events, is fully planned and administered by volunteers. The hanabi show is best known for its unique, hand-crafted fireworks.

Other Great Festivals in Japan (Honorable Mentions)

We couldn’t leave out a couple of honorable mentions, but there are plenty more!

Omizutori omizutori omizu (Todaiji Temple, Nara)

Priests carrying flaming torches ascend up to the balcony of Todaiji Temple’s Nigatsudo Hall every evening after sunset during the gorgeous Omizutori. The falling embers are said to grant the attendees below a safe year ahead, in addition to the beauty of the spectacle and lovely views of Nara from Nigatsudo.

Kanamara Matsuri (Kanamaya Shrine, Kawasaki)

The notorious Kanamara Matsuri (“Festival of the Steel Phallus,” or “Festival of the Steel Phallus,” as it is more generally known) is held in Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo. You’ll discover “strange” mikoshi, candies, and souvenirs, all fashioned around fertility symbols, as befits the theme. The festival is a fun, upbeat event that distributes revenues to AIDS/HIV research.

Kanto Matsuri (Akita Prefecture)

Performers balance enormous bamboo poles hung with lanterns as part of the Kanto Matsuri (“Pole Lantern Festival”), while drummers and other musicians play alongside. The night parades, when the lanterns are illuminated with candles and the spectacular balancing acts dazzle the night, are the festival’s highlights.

Nagasaki Kunchi (Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki)

Nagasaki Kunchi pays homage to the Dutch and Chinese influences on Nagasaki’s ancient and multicultural metropolis. Performances depicting the ethnic influences on this Japanese melting pot, such as Chinese lion dances and gigantic ship-shaped floats, are staged in several local areas. Despite the fact that the major concerts are ticketed, there are several free activities staged across the city.

Jidai Matsuri (Heian Shrine, Kyoto)

The Jidai Matsuri (“Age Festival”) in Kyoto transports you back in time to Kyoto’s thousand-year rule as Japan’s capital. In this photographic recreation of Kyoto’s famous past, over 2,000 samurai soldiers, Heian court princesses, geisha, and other historically important figures form a procession from the Imperial Palace to Heian Shrine.

More Matsuri Resources in Japan

Hopefully this has piqued your interest in visiting Japan and attending a lively matsuri or two!

Please bear in mind that many of the aforementioned events — particularly the most popular, such as the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri and the Takayama Festivals — need extensive preparation ahead of time, since lodgings sometimes sell out months in advance.

Discover the interesting things of Japanese culture

Noah

You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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