Top 10 Traditional Japanese Festivals 2023
Written by Tanya Zhang
Introduction to Japan's Festivals
Looking for an exciting and unique cultural experience in 2023? Look no further than Japan, home to a wealth of colorful and fascinating festivals that celebrate the country's rich history, art, and traditions.
From the dazzling lights of the Sapporo Snow Festival to the ancient pageantry of the Jidai Matsuri, these top 10 festivals in Japan are not to be missed!
Gion Matsuri is named after the Gion district of Kyoto, where the festival originated. "Gion" refers to the area around Yasaka Shrine, which is the main shrine of the festival. "Matsuri" is the Japanese word for festival, so Gion Matsuri means "Gion Festival" in English.
The Gion Matsuri is one of the most famous and biggest annual festivals in Japan, held in the city of Kyoto during the entire month of July. The festival has a history of more than 1,100 years and is celebrated to pray for good fortune, and prosperity, and to ward off diseases.
The highlight of the festival is the Yamaboko Junko parade, which takes place on July 17 and 24. This parade features more than 30 huge, elaborately decorated floats that are pulled through the streets by groups of people dressed in traditional attire. The floats are adorned with paper lanterns, tapestries, and other decorations, and each of the festival parade floats represents a different neighborhood in Kyoto.
The festival also features many traditional dances, musical performances, tea ceremonies, and food stalls selling local delicacies. Locals and tourists alike come together to celebrate Kyoto's rich cultural heritage and experience the vibrant atmosphere of the city.
The Tenjin Matsuri festival is named after Tenmangu Shrine, which is also known as Tenjin-sama in Japanese. The shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and politician of the Heian period who is revered as the patron saint of learning and scholarship.
The Tenjin Matsuri is one of the largest and most famous festivals in Japan, held annually in Osaka during the last week of July.
The festival features a variety of events, including a river procession of traditional boats illuminated with lanterns, lively street performances, and a spectacular fireworks display. One main attraction is the mikoshi parade where portable shrines are carried through the streets by enthusiastic participants dressed in traditional clothing.
The Tenjin Matsuri is a lively and colorful festival that attracts millions of visitors every year, making it one of the most popular events in Japan. It is a great opportunity to experience the unique culture and traditions of Osaka.
Awa Odori Festival
The name Awa Odori comes from the region where the bon festival originated, which was formerly known as Awa Province. "Odori" means dance in Japanese, so Awa Odori can be translated to "Awa Dance". The festival is a celebration of the Bon season, during which Japanese people honor the spirits of their ancestors who have passed away.
This is the biggest traditional dance celebration and takes place in Tokushima City on the island of Shikoku in Japan during the Obon season in mid-August.
During the festival, teams of dancers, musicians, and performers called ren (groups) take to the streets, dressed in traditional costumes and playing instruments. The dancers move in a distinctive, rhythmic style, accompanied by the sounds of taiko drums, flutes, and other instruments.
The celebration has a long history, dating back more than 400 years, and evolved into a celebration of the Obon season, a time when Japanese people honor their ancestors and welcome the spirits of the departed back to the world of the living.
The Awa Odori is a lively and colorful festival that is known for its energetic dance performances and festive atmosphere.
The Nebuta Matsuri festival is called "ねぶた祭り" in Japanese, which is pronounced "Nebuta Matsuri" in English. "Nebuta" refers to the illuminated floats that are paraded through the streets during the event.
The Nebuta Matsuri is a traditional festival held in Aomori City in the northern part of Japan's main island of Honshu. It takes place annually from August 2 to 7 and is one of the most famous summer festivals in Japan.
The event features large, elaborate paper lantern floats made to resemble famous warriors, gods, and mythical creatures from Japanese folklore. The floats are illuminated from the inside and carried through the streets and accompanied by the sounds of taiko drums and other traditional instruments.
The celebration has a long history, dating back more than 300 years, and was originally held to drive away evil spirits and pray for a good harvest, but over time it evolved into a celebration of Japanese culture and the beauty of the nebuta floats.
The Nebuta Matsuri is a colorful and exciting event and surely one you shouldn't miss!
Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual winter festival that takes place in the historic town of Sapporo, the capital city of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. The event is held in early February and is one of Japan's largest and most famous winter events.
The festival is known for its impressive snow and ice sculptures created by artists and designers from around the world. The sculptures are illuminated at night, creating a magical atmosphere throughout the celebratory grounds. The festival also features live music performances, snow slides, and food stalls selling local delicacies.
The Sapporo Snow Festival has a long history, dating back to 1950 when local high school students created a few snow sculptures in a city park. Since then, the gathering has grown in size and popularity, becoming one of the most famous winter events in the world.
The Sapporo Snow Festival showcases the beauty and creativity of winter art and is a great opportunity to experience the winter culture and traditions of Japan.
The Takayama Matsuri festival is named after the city in which it takes place. Takayama is located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu prefecture in central Japan. The celebration is one of the most famous and important events in Japan, and it has been celebrated in Takayama for over 400 years.
It is actually composed of two festivals: the Sanno Matsuri, which takes place in the spring, and the Hachiman Matsuri, which takes place in the fall. These festivals are known for their elaborate floats and traditional music performances.
The festivals are held in the spring (April 14-15) and autumn (October 9-10) and are considered to be some of Japan's most beautiful festivals and elaborate events.
The celebration features large, ornate floats called "yatai," which are decorated with intricate carvings, lacquer work, and other traditional crafts. The floats are paraded through the streets by people in traditional costumes.
With a long history, this celebration dates back more than 350 years. It was originally held to ward off sickness and disasters, but over time it evolved into a celebration of Japanese culture and the beauty of traditional crafts.
The Jidai Matsuri festival is named after its main theme, the "Festival of Ages" or "Festival of Eras". The festival is held every year on October 22nd in Kyoto, Japan, and it celebrates the long and rich history of the city, which was once the capital of Japan.
Participants dress in historical costumes representing different eras of Japanese history and parade the streets of Kyoto toward the Heian Jingu Shrine. The gathering is one of the three biggest festivals in Kyoto, along with the Aoi Matsuri and the Gion Matsuri, and attracts many tourists from all over Japan and the world.
The Jidai Matsuri features a large procession of people dressed in historical costumes, representing various periods of Japanese history from the Heian period (794-1185) to the Meiji period (1868-1912). This includes samurai warriors, courtiers, nobles, and other figures from Japanese history, and is meant to celebrate Kyoto's rich cultural heritage.
Its long history dates back to 1895 when it was first held to celebrate the 1,100th anniversary of Kyoto becoming Japan's capital. Since then, the event has become an important cultural event, showcasing Kyoto's unique history and traditions.
The Kanda Matsuri festival is named after the Kanda Shrine, which is located in the Kanda district of Tokyo, Japan. The event is held biennially on odd-numbered years in mid-May, and it is one of the most famous and largest festivals in Tokyo. The Kanda Matsuri features a parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) as well as floats, musicians, dancers, and other performers. The festival has a history of over 400 years, and it is considered a significant event in the cultural calendar of Tokyo. It was originally held to pray for good harvests and to ward off epidemics and disasters, but over time it evolved into a celebration of Japanese culture and tradition.
The Kanda Matsuri is a traditional festival held every two years in Tokyo, Japan. There will be a Kanda Matsuri festival in 2023 and the next one is scheduled to take place on May 12-14, 2023. However, it is worth noting that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may impact the event schedule, so it is advisable to check for any updates or changes closer to the event date. This also means there will not be a Kanda Matsuri festival in 2024.
The celebration centers around the Kanda Myojin Shrine, which is dedicated to the Shinto god of war and prosperity. The shrine is decorated with colorful banners and lanterns and is the starting point for a large procession that winds its way through the streets of Tokyo.
The parade travels to various locations throughout Tokyo, including the Nihonbashi and Otemachi areas, before returning to the Kanda Myojin Shrine.
The Kanamara Matsuri, also known as the "Festival of the Steel Phallus," is an annual festival held in Kawasaki, Japan. It takes place on the first Sunday in April and is known for its unique and provocative atmosphere.
The celebration centers around the Kanayama Shrine, which is dedicated to the Shinto god of fertility and childbirth. The shrine is famous for its large iron phallus, which is said to provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases and promote fertility.
The streets of Kawasaki are filled with people dressed in colorful costumes, as well as giant phallic sculptures and other phallic-themed decorations. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of food and drink vendors, as well as music and dance performances.
The Kanamara Matsuri has a relatively short history, dating back to the mid-20th century, but it has become an important cultural event in Japan, drawing visitors from around the world. While the festival may seem strange or even shocking to some, it is seen as a way of celebrating fertility and promoting awareness about sexual health and wellness.
The Sanja Matsuri is a traditional festival held in Tokyo, Japan. It takes place over three days in mid-May, and is one of Tokyo's most famous and popular festivals.
Sanja Matsuri (三社祭) means "Three Shrine Festival" in Japanese. The event is named after the three shrines that are central to the festival: the Asakusa Shrine, the Hakusan Shrine, and the Kannonji Temple.
The festival is held in honor of the three founders of the Sensoji Temple, which is located in Tokyo's Asakusa district. The celebratory parade winds its way through the streets of Asakusa, stopping at various locations to offer prayers and blessings.
The Sanja Matsuri goes back more than 700 years and was originally held to celebrate the construction of the Sensoji Temple, but over time it evolved into a celebration of the local community and its traditions.
The festival is known for its lively and energetic atmosphere, with traditional music and dance performances, food and drink vendors, and a variety of other activities. It is a great opportunity to experience the unique culture and traditions of Tokyo and to see some of the most impressive examples of Japanese folk art.
The Sanja Matsuri is a must-see event for anyone visiting Tokyo and is a testament to the enduring spirit of Japanese culture and tradition.
The Best Japanese Festival: Our Favorite Matsuri
It is difficult to determine everyone's favorite festival in Japan, as people have different preferences and experiences. However, the Gion Matsuri festival in Kyoto is one of the most famous and highly regarded festivals in Japan.
Honorable Mentions: Other Great Festivals in Japan
We could not contain the mention of several honorable mentions and we have countless additional ones:
Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri: This festival takes place in September in Kishiwada City in Osaka Prefecture and features a parade of ornate wooden floats that are pulled through the streets by local residents.
Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival): This event is held in Sapporo, Hokkaido, in February and features massive snow sculptures, ice slides, and other winter activities.
Gion Odori: Held in Kyoto in November, it features traditional dance performances by geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha).
Aoi Matsuri: This festival takes place in Kyoto in May and features a grand procession of people dressed in traditional Heian period costumes.
Nagasaki lantern festival: Held annually in February, the Nagasaki lantern festival is a vibrant and enchanting celebration of Chinese New Year that features thousands of colorful paper lanterns, traditional performances, and delicious food stalls.
Frequently asked questions about the festivals of Japan
What is the largest festival celebrated in Japan?
Hakata Dontaku Matsuri in Fukuoka is Japans biggest festival in May Golden Week. The festival has well over a million visitors and 30,000 participants, and the festival culminates in two huge parades called the Hakata Matsubayashi which run along Fukuoki streets.
What is the famous festival in Japan?
Gion Matsuri is perhaps Japans most celebrated festival. Perhaps the biggest as well. The festival is well-established (dated from 869) and runs all summer until August, culminating on July 17 by an equestrian parade.
What are the most important Japanese celebrations?
Some of the most important Japanese celebrations include New Year's Day, Coming of Age Day, Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival), Children's Day, Tanabata (Star Festival), Obon (Festival of the Dead), and Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three Festival). These celebrations reflect various aspects of Japanese culture and tradition, and most festivals are observed throughout the country with various customs and rituals.
What festivals do people celebrate in Japan?
Gion Matsuri in Kyoto
Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka
Awa Odori in Tokushima
Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori
Sapporo Snow Festival
Takayama Matsuri in Gifu
Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto
Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo
Kanamara Matsuri in Kawasaki
Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo
How many festivals does Japan celebrate?
It is difficult to give an exact number, as there are many festivals celebrated throughout Japan every year, ranging from small local events to large national festivals. However, it is estimated that there are thousands of festivals celebrated in Japan each year, reflecting the rich cultural heritage and traditions of the country.