5 Matsuri in Japan Everyone Should Join At Least Once! | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

5 Matsuri in Japan Everyone Should Join At Least Once!

By Aika Kaise Sep 14, 2018

This post is also available in: Spanish

Have you ever participated in any festivals in Japan before?

In Japan, everyone loves festivals. There is an incredible number of more than three hundred thousands festivals every year in this Country of the Sunrise, so it is almost ‘Mission Impossible’ to participate in all of them during one lifetime. However, no one in Japan should miss the opportunity of joining at least one, so if you visit Japan, make sure to search for the nearest festival taking place during your stay! The best thing is, most of the matsuri (Japanese festival) do not require an entrance fee, so both residents and tourists can enjoy them freely!

This article will walk you through five recommended matsuri you definitely should not skip when in Japan.

1. Kanda Festival

The Kanda Festival is held every May in Tokyo at Kanda-Myojin Shrine, and is known as one of the three major festivals in Japan. Because it started from the Edo-period, it is also regarded as one of the three major Edo festivals.

When coming to the Kanda Festival, you should get ready to be amazed by the sight of numerous floats and historical dress used in the festival. On the last day, you can witness more than one hundred floats going back to the Kanda-Myojin Shrine. Another unique feature for this festival is that you can enjoy the contrasting, yet complimentary sight of modern and ancient scenery presented simultaneously because the festival takes place in the center area of Tokyo, but makes use of many traditional elements. Akihabara is the most recommended spot for great views of Kanda Festival because there are so many electric shops there. This helps highlight the contrast between historical festival floats and the modern urban scenery.

2. Otofuke Tokachi-river White Swan Festival

The White Swan Festival uses the symbol of a white swan which signifies people the beginning of the winter. Every year, more than one thousand white swans gather at the Otofuke Tokachi river, which is why this festival takes place at Tokachigaoka-park in Hokkaido, where the river passes through. The view is enhanced with beautiful illuminations and music. More than six hundred illumination displays will surely bring you a magical experience.

It is held from January 27 to February 25, from 7 pm to 9 pm, so you can visit this festival for nearly one month during the winter. Not only are you able to see the adorable swans, but can also try snow rafting! There is a Tokachi-river hot spring, so you can relax after enjoying the festival or playing snow sports. Staying overnight is also an option for tourists who wish to take part in many activities.

3. Aoi Festival

Aoi Festival is held on May 15 in Kyoto every year and is one of the three major festivals in Kyoto.

Here, you can see people wearing various kinds of traditional clothes, and riding on white and black horses in traditional dresses. The horse riding parades go around the city on an 8-km path. It starts from Kyoto Gosho at 10:30 am, then through Marutamachi street, Kawaramachi street, and finally arrives at Shimogamo shrine at about 11:40 am. The afternoon ride starts at 2:20 pm, and then goes through Shimogamo Main Street, then in front of Rakuhoku high school, Kitaoji street, Kitaoji bridge, and finally stops at Kamigamo shrine at 3:30 pm.

Because it takes place in the center area of Kyoto, a lot of people come to see it even from overseas. Moreover, there are a lot of street food stands at Shimogamo shrine and Kamigamo shrine, so you can enjoy the festival scenery while picking up a delicious Japanese snack. The places where you can enjoy the food stands are only at these two shrines, so it is advised you to go there if you participate in this festival.

4. Sapporo Snow Festival

Get your winter jackets ready for the most major snow festival in Japan! Did you know the Sapporo Snow Festival is also 1 of the 3 major snow festivals all over the world? The other 2 are Quebec Winter Carnival in Canada and Harbin Ice Festival in China!

Not only people in Hokkaido but also people from different areas of Japan, and all over the world participate in this festival, and the number of visitors can reach to 2 million people per year. Sapporo Snow Festival, which started in 1950, is held from February 5 to 11, the coldest season in Hokkaido.

Here at the largest snow matsuri of Japan, visitors can see impressive sculptures made from snow.  Even the stages are constructed for live performances, out of snow! Don’g forget the adventurous ice slides and snow maze. Many Hokkaido regional foods are on offer such as Hokkaido crab, potatoes, corn, and fresh dairy products such as cheese or milk.

5. Okinawa Eisa Festival

‘Eisa’ is the name of a traditional Japanese dance which is practiced in Okinawa and Kagoshima prefecture. The Okinawa Eisa Festival is the most important event in the Okinawa prefecture! More than 3 hundred thousands people visit this festival annually, and visitors can watch this traditional dance.

The festival started in 1956, and it is held for 3 days in September. You can experience the hot Okinawa summer at this festival, and watch exceptional firework displays on the last day! Remember to prepare water and towels so you can still have fun in the scorching heat.

Japanese people love festivals, not only because they are super fun events to enjoy but also for the fact that they hold precious culture and tradition within them. Festivals can take place all over Japan through the whole year. If you find one you find fascinating, why not try participating in it? Because there are up to 3 hundred thousand festivals in Japan, I am sure everyone can find a matsuri that fits them!

Aika Kaise / Japan