Gifu Tejikara Himatsuri Fire Festival

Festivals

Japan is very proud of its four distinct seasons: clear, cold, and sometimes snowy winters melt into blossom-laced springs; summers are tropically hot, and the cooling autumns are aflame with turning leaves. Seasonal changes permeate the culture, making their way into fashion and food, and are marked by the traditional celebrations that punctuate the year.

The year starts on January 1st, celebrated with family and symbolic food. At midnight on December 31st, people gather at temples to ring out the old year on giant bronze bells; and the trains run all night, allowing a first visit to a Shinto Shrine – often in kimono – to pray for luck and success in the New Year. Into Japan Specialist Tours would be happy to plan your New Year’s holiday to Japan for you.

Spring is Japan’s best known season, with the cherry blossom, or sakura, front moving up the country like a pink tide. The blossoms generally reach their peak in Kyoto and Tokyo in the last week of March, and higher altitudes and latitudes follow gradually, with the blossoms reaching the northern island of Hokkaido in the beginning of May. Sakura season is generally celebrated with rowdy alcoholic picnics beneath the flowering cherries, kimono-ed tea parties, and the spring Geisha Dances in Kyoto.

Visitors to Kyoto in May can enjoy the famous Aoi festival, which features a long procession of revellers, wearing stunning period costume, making their way through the streets along the Kamo River. The Aoi festival is named after the aoi, or hollyhocks, which are used to decorate the festival floats.

Summer brings hot days and nights filled with fireworks. The summer Obon festival is celebrated with evening Bon-Odori dancing, and neighbourhoods are filled with paper lanterns, yukata-clad dancers, and the deep beat of the taiko drums.

As the seasons turn to fall, the air cools and fruits ripen in the mountain orchards. On the hillsides and in gardens the leaves begin to change color, and people go “hunting autumn leaves” with their cameras, and picnic under the trees.

October brings Kyoto’s Jidai festival parade, and November, the national Shichi-go-san festival in which children aged three, five and seven dress in bright kimono and visit local temples in an ancient and picturesque tradition.

There are many other festivals throughout the year and across the land. Talk to us about whether it’s possible to include a visit to a festival as part of your trip to Japan!

See below for a selection of festivals in Japan.

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Aoi Festival

Like the Gion Matsuri, Kyoto’s summer festival, the Aoi Matsuri has its roots in ritual and began in the eighth century. Properly known as the Kamo Matsuri, the Aoi Matsuri features an impressive parade in the style of the Heian Court. The procession is made up of costumed participants, many riding horses and others leading…

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Awa Odori Festival

The Awa Dance (Awa Odori) is Tokushima’s largest annual event and boasts a history of over 400 years. The festival is well established in various areas even outside the prefecture, and Awa Dance troupes are regularly invited to events outside of Japan, placing it alongside the Rio Carnivale as one of the largest dance events…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Shikoku  |  Tags: , , , ,
Gifu Tejikara Himatsuri Fire Festival

Gifu Tejikara Fire Festival

The Tejikara Fire Festival is held at Tejikara Shrine in Gifu City on the second Saturday of every April and is said to have a history of more than 300 years. Cascades of fire sparks rain down on men stripped to the waist who carry the portable shrine on their shoulders; great sprays of fire…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Central Honshu  |  Tags: , , ,

Gion Festival

Although Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto, is said to celebrate a festival every day somewhere in the city, the Gion Matsuri is generally believed to be the best, and marks the highlight of the Kyoto festival year. Dating back to the ninth century, the Gion Matsuri has its roots in a purification ritual intended to clear…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Jidai Festival

The Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) is one of Kyoto’s three great festivals, along with the Gion and Aoi Festivals. Held every October 22nd, the festival dates back to the Meiji Period, and celebrates Kyoto’s inception as Japan’s capital in 794. The festival features an impressive procession of around 2,000 costumed participants, who wear…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , , ,

Kanda Matsuri

The Kanda Matsuri is one of Tokyo‘s most famous festivals and takes place in mid May during odd numbered years, alternating with the Sanno Matsuri which is held in even numbered years. The Kanda Matsuri is held over an entire week, but the main events usually happen over the weekend closest to May 15th. The…

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Kurama Fire Festival

Japan’s fire festivals are spectacular and Kurama’s is no exception. A small town just outside Kyoto, Kurama literally lights up every October 22nd, when giant watch-fires are lit throughout the town at night. The festival starts at dusk, and features a parade of torches carried through the town from the Yuki Shrine to the Kurama…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Maiko Odori

Geisha Dances More than any other place in Japan, Kyoto is known for geisha: both Gion and Pontocho, Japan’s best known geisha quarters, lie within the old capital’s boundaries, and exclusive tea houses are tucked in amongst the houses and restaurants of Kyoto’s more traditional areas. Though visiting a tea house is traditionally very difficult…

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Miyajima Fireworks Display

Around 5000 fireworks are launched from boats in a spectacular display just off the north shore of Miyajima Island every year in mid August. Best viewed from around Itsukushima Shrine, combined with the shrine’s giant torii gate, this is one of Japan’s most iconic firework displays and very popular with photographers. The fireworks can also…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Western Honshu  |  Tags: , , ,

Nagara River Fireworks Displays

Fireworks enthusiasts in central Japan during the summer are in for a treat; the city of Gifu is host to two spectacular fireworks displays on consecutive weekends in the mid summer. On the last Saturday in July, The Chunichi Newspaper Nagara River All-Japan Fireworks Festival is held and the following weekend, on the first Saturday…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Central Honshu  |  Tags: , ,

Nebuta Matsuri

The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is a summer festival that takes place in Aomori, Aomori Prefecture. The festival attracts the most tourists of any of the country’s nebuta festivals, and is counted among the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region. It was designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1980, and as one of…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Northern Honshu  |  Tags: , , ,

Onbashira

Onbashira is a festival held only once every six years in the Lake Suwa area of Nagano, Japan. The purpose of the festival is to symbolically renew the Suwa Taisha or Suwa Grand Shrine. “Onbashira” can be literally translated as “the honored pillars”. The Onbashira festival is reputed to have continued, uninterrupted, for 1200 years….

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Central Honshu  |  Tags: , ,

Sanja Matsuri

Tokyo’s Sanja Matsuri, held on the third weekend in May, is a three day celebration featuring portable shrines and traditionally clothed participants that boisterously transform the old shitamachi district of Asakusa into a riotous festival. The Sanja Matsuri officially celebrates the deities enshrined at Asakusa Shrine, and is a wonderfully welcoming festival that allows visitors…

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Sanno Matsuri

Originally begun during the Edo Period and soon growing into one of Japan’s largest festivals, today the Sanno Matsuri is one of Tokyo’s famous festivals, along with the Kanda Matsuri. It takes place in mid June in even numbered years, alternating with the Kanda Matsuri which takes place in odd numbered years. The Sanno Festival…

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Sapporo Snow Festival

Most famous of Japan’s snow festivals, or yuki matsuri, the Sapporo Snow Festival transforms Hokkaido’s capital into a wonderland of ice and snow sculpture. The festival draws millions of visitors to Sapporo for seven days each February, and international teams compete to create the gigantic and elaborate sculptures, whose themes range from famous landmarks to…

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Shunki Reitaisai (Tōshō-gū Festival)

On 17th & 18th May, Nikko‘s famous Tōshō-gū shrine holds a legendary festival in the honour of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Edo era. A huge procession takes 1000 samurai from one end of Nikko to the other, reflecting Tokugawa Ieyasu’s final wish: upon his death in 1616, the legendary…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Northern Honshu  |  Tags: , , ,

Sumida River Fireworks Display

The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is an annual fireworks display held on the last Saturday in July, by the Sumida River near Asakusa. Like many displays in Japan, it follows the tradition of being a competition between rival pyrotechnic groups. Each group tries to out-do the last, and the result is an incredible variety of fireworks,…

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Tado Festival

The Tado Festival takes place every year during Golden Week on May 4th and 5th at Tado Shrine in the city of Kuwana, Mie Prefecture. The main event of the festival is a horse jumping event which features young horseback riders in samurai armor who must jump a horse up and over a three-meter hill….

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Central Honshu  |  Tags: , , , ,

Takayama festival

A quiet mountain town much of the year, Takayama’s Spring and Autumn festivals are two of Japan’s best, and draw crowds of revellers from across the country and overseas. Like Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, the Takayama Festival centers around a parade of elaborately decorated floats, which are brought through the old town’s narrow streets between the…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Central Honshu  |  Tags: , ,

Tenjin Matsuri

Osaka’s Tenjin Festival is ranked as one of Japan’s top three festivals, along with Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and Tokyo’s Kanda Matsuri. The festival started over 1000 years ago and today takes place on July 24 and 25 every year. The main celebrations are held on the festival’s second day, July 25, including a land procession…

Type: Festivals  |  Category: Kansai  |  Tags: , , ,