Japanese festivals, or matsuri, are a very important part of the Japanese cultural calendar. Some matsuri date back almost a thousand years, and months and months of preparation and hard work go into making them a success. Until recent times, participation has been restricted to locals, however times are definitely changing. The 10 festivals below have been hand-picked by editors at by DyDo DRINCO “Matsuri” of Japan. These festivals encourage public participation from both locals and visitors from overseas. Forge a deeper connection to Japanese culture by taking part in a matsuri.
Hokkai Heso Matsuri
Where: Furano-shi, Hokkaido
When: July 28-29
Furano City is in the center of Hokkaido and is affectionately described as the island’s “belly button.” This fact, combined with the festival’s connection to the Heso Shrine, was the spark that created the Hokkai Heso (or belly button) Matsuri. People paint the upper-half of their bodies to resemble comical faces and parade through the city bringing color and vibrancy to the area.
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
Where: Aomori-shi, Aomori
When: August 2-7
Accompany the huge, vibrantly colored doll-shaped lanterns known as Nebuta as they are paraded through the city of Aomori at nighttime. The festival is played out to the sounds of drums, flutes, cymbals and dancers leaping to cries of “Rassera.” Rental costumes are required to participate.
Kesencho Kenka Tanabata Matsuri
Where: Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate
When: August 7
Large floats are pulled around the town before being crashed into each other in a stirring finale. This festival has a very long history, but serves a greater purpose in more recent times as it aims to raise the spirits of those who suffered in the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the area on March 11, 2011.
Where: Hanamaki-shi, Iwate
When: The second Fri-Sun in September (dates may differ depending on the year)
This festival received Guinness World Record certification for the largest number of mikoshi (portable shrines) displayed in one location. Experience something new by joining the locals in carrying the portable shrines. The festival showcases distinctive Tohoku culture including the beautifully-decorated floats and deer dancers.
Chichibu Yo Matsuri
Where: Chichibu-shi, Saitama
When: December 2-3
This festival is one of Japan’s top three float festivals. The matsuri has so much prestige that it is the dream of many float-pullers to participate here. Attending the festival gives you the opportunity to feel the power and beauty of traditional Japanese culture.
Where: Gujo-shi, Gifu
When: About 30 evenings between mid-July and early September
This festival is one of Japan’s top three odori dance festivals. The free-and-easy way that participants dance in circles wearing traditional yukata dress and geta sandals distinguishes this festival from the many others. Anyone can join in the four all-night dances held on August 13-16.
Katsuyama Kenka Danjiri
Where: Maniwa-shi, Okayama
When: October 19-20
Large danjiri floats are paraded around the city before clashing in a thrilling and violent way with other floats. Brave visitors to this matsuri can join the teams pulling the floats, or alternatively you can feel the power of this dramatic spectacle from relative safety at the side of the course.
Hiwasa Hachiman Jinja Shuki Reitaisai
Where: Minami-cho, Tokushima
Heavy floats known as Chosa are hauled onto shoulders and paraded around the seaside town of Hiwasa before being dragged out into the sea. The festival brings many young people together as teams from a number of Shikoku’s universities take part. The festival is known for its exquisite seafood.
Yamaga Toro Matsuri
Where: Yamaga-shi, Kumamoto
When: August 15-16
Ladies at this festival can take part in something fantastical. One thousand female dancers move gracefully to traditional melodies while wearing gold paper lanterns upon their heads. Participation is limited to females and rental costumes are required to take part.
Misatocho no Ondasai
Where: Misato-cho, Miyazaki
When: The first Saturday and Sunday of July
Experience life as a rice-planting maiden and forge a closer connection to Japanese farming. During this festival, females plant rice in the sacred grounds of the shrine. Rental costumes are required to take part.