Nebuta Matsuri Float

Wasshoi!: Exploring Japan’s Summer Festivals

The sultry heat of the Japanese summer is heralded by a chorus of cicadas and the lively cacophony of Japan’s myriad of summer matsuri (festivals). These lively gatherings are a blend of ancient traditions, dazzling performances, and a celebration of community spirit. Let us take you on a journey through some of Japan’s best summer festivities, where the streets spring to life with colourful processions and folk dances. Attending a matsuri is a fantastic way to support local communities and get a real insight into what makes up the fabric of Japan’s rich cultural heritage.

Matsuri float, festival goers

1.Kitakyushu – Wasshoi Hyakuman Summer Festival – August 5th – 6th

The Wasshoi Hyakuman Summer Festival typically features lively parades, traditional performances, music, and dance. The term “Wasshoi” is often associated with traditional Japanese festival chants, creating a spirited atmosphere. The term roughly translates as peace and harmony. The festival aims to bring together the local community and visitors to celebrate the summer season. Dozens of floats parade the streets accompanied by traditional music, dancing and the enthusiastic shout of wasshoi, wasshoi, wasshoi!

2. Aomori Prefecture – Neputa & Nebuta Matsuri – August 1st-7th

For the first week of August every year the Nebuta and Neputa Matsuri take over the streets of Aomori and Hirosaki city. Both festivals are renowned for their over the top festival floats and are truly a feast for the senses. Nebuta Matsuri is the larger of the two, where you can enjoy a daily parade of monsters, gods and other mythical figures brought to life in the form of huge lantern floats, made of wood, bamboo and paper, which take over a year to construct. The Neputa Matsuri is the more demure festival held in the castle town of Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture. Festival goers flock to see its vivid fan shaped floats and enormous taiko (Japanese drums), the beat of which can be felt to your very core. Neputa Matsuri is one of the most visually stunning and popular festivals in the country.

Nebuta Matsuri Float

3. Tokushima – Awa Odori Festival – August 12th – 15th

Head to Shikoku for another one of Japan’s most exciting festivals. The Awa Odori is a traditional dance parade held annually in Tokushima, a city on the island of Shikoku just off the coast of Japan’s main island. This dynamic matsuri is one of the largest and most famous dance festivals in the country and is sure to get any visitors moving to the music. Awa Odori, also known as the “Fool’s Dance,” has a rich history dating back to the 16th century.

4. Osaka – Tenjin Matsuri – July 24th – 25th

Known as one of Japan’s top three festivals, the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka is celebrated on July 24th and 25th. The festival honours the spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, the deity of scholarship and learning. A captivating boat procession on the Okawa River, accompanied by traditional music and dance performances, marks the festival’s triumphant climax. The vibrant energy of Tenjin Matsuri draws countless locals and visitors alike to the heart of Osaka.

5. Sendai – Tanabata Matsuri August 6th – 8th

The Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai is one of the most visually appealing festivals in Japan. Although the Tanabata celebration, taking place on the 7th day of the 7th month, is commemorated across Japan – Sendai’s matsuri is the largest and most popular. The festival is preceded by a bang on the 5th August with a spectacular fireworks display. However, the main attraction of the event are the large paper streamers which are hung throughout shopping arcades to create a forest of colourful crepe paper. The locally handcrafted streamers vary from 3-5 metres and are decorated with origami cranes and traditional washi paper.

Tanabata Streamers, Sendai Tanabata Matsuri

Japan’s matsuri are not simply a fun-packed day of experiences or activities – they are a chance to truly immerse yourself into the culture of the local community. It is here that you can see and feel the beating heart of Japan – thudding with the beat of the taiko drum. When you visit Japan, consider participating in a summer matsuri. You will make memories to last a lifetime, and participate in an event which helps to keep Japan’s rich culture alive.