Festivals In Japan: The Rundown

Festivals in Japan run throughout the year, especially during the summer season. There are a number of local festivals all over the country and larger festivals in Japan’s bigger cities; like Tokyo, Sapporo, and Osaka. Here is a brief overview of the most famous festivals.

Festivals In Japan: A Quick Look

The Sapporo Snow Festival

さっぽろ雪まつり February

The starting date of the Snow Festival held annually in Sapporo for seven days varies each year. The 2014 Snow Festival dates were 5 to 11 February. Over 300 creatively shaped snow and ice sculptures of all sizes are displayed. It is one of the largest and most distinctive events in winter.

The Sanja Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo

三社祭 May

This is one of the three great Shinto festivals held in Tokyo. It takes place every May at Asakusa Shrine and is held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who established and founded Sensō-ji (Buddhist) Temple in Asakusa, People carry Mikoshi (portable shrines) while chanting, dancing and playing traditional music.
2015 date will be: May 15th to 17th

The Hakata Dontaku in Fukuoka

博多どんたく May

People dressed in costumes parade through the streets, tapping “shamoji” (wodden rice scoops) in rhythm and dance on stages and in squares in various quarters of the town. The parade of gorgeously decorated vehicles called hana jidosha is also entertaining. Of all the Japanese festivals held during the so-called Golden Week when there is a series of national holidays from the end of April to early May, the Hakata Dontaku boasts the greatest number of spectators, with some two million people turning out every year. Visitors are also welcome!
Place: In Fukuoka City
Dates: May 3rd – 4th
City: Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City

The Gion Festival in Kyoto

祇園祭 July

A festival held at Yasaka Shrine dating back to the mid 9th century. Beautifully decorated floats parade and festival music resonates, throughout the city of Kyoto. It’s one of the most famous festivals in Japan and goes for the entire month of July.
Place: Kyoto City
Dates: July
City: Kyoto

The Nebuta Festival in Aomori

青森ねぶた祭 August

Among all of the country’s nebuta festivals, the Aomori Nebuta Festival attracts the most tourists every year. It is one of the three largest festivals in the Tōhoku region. “Nebuta” refers to the float of a brave warrior-figure which is carried through the center of the city, while dancers wearing a unique type of costume called haneto (ハネト) dance around in time with the chant Rasserā (ラッセラー). Huge lanterns in the shape of samurai are paraded through the streets.
Place: throughout Aomori City
Dates: August 2nd-7th
City: Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture

The Kanto Festival in Akita

竿灯祭 August

Crowds of men carry 10m long bamboo poles with 46 lanterns hanging down from them, using a variety of techniques, such as balancing them on their forehead or shoulder. This is one of the three main festivals of Tohoku Region. At the festival, energetic youths dressed in short jackets, hachimaki headbands, white tabi socks and zori straw sandals take turns in hoisting up the kanto one at a time to the sound of flutes and drums. Then they parade through the town while ensuring that the lights of the paper lanterns do not go out.
Place: Kanto O-dori
Dates: August 3rd -6th
City: Akita City, Akita Prefecture

The Tanabata Festival in Sendai

仙台七夕まつり August

Tanabata is a festival praying for the improvement of arts and craft skills. Over a thousand streamers and other decorations made with bamboo and Japanese paper, called sasatake, are displayed in the arcades in front of Sendai Station and in all other parts of the city, in what appears to be a contest for beauty.
Place: Entire city of Sendai
Dates: August 6th-8th
City: Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

The Awa Dance Festival in Tokushima

阿波踊り August

This Tokushima festival features folkdances performed to welcome the souls of ancestors in the Bon season, from July to August. It is well known throughout Japan for these words, which are voiced to set the rhythm, regardless of their meaning: ‘It’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches! If both are fools, you might as well have fun dancing!`. The dance dates back to 1587 when the feudal lord Hachisuka Iemasa (1558-1638), in celebration of newly-built Tokushima Castle, offered sake to the people of the castle town; the citizens became so drunk they started to dance in an unsteady gait. Awa is the former name of Tokushima. The Awa-Odori is characterized by irregular steps and by the jovial and energetic up-tempo rhythm. Separated into groups of men and women, the dancers parade through the city while dancing to music played on drums, gongs used when praying to Buddha and at festivals, three-stringed Japanese musical instruments, and flutes.
Place: Throughout the entire city of Tokushima
Dates: August 12th-15th
City: Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture

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