My Favorite Places in Japan: Festival Venues

Special zones with a festive mood

By Elena Lisina    - 3 min read

A festival is very important and significant part of Japanese culture. There are a great number of festivals in Japan, and there's something special for every season of the year. I wish I had discovered that earlier so I could have experienced more festivals than I have! But I explored Japan by myself and each time ‘new’ things opened to me.

What I appreciate most in Japanese festivals is the unity of people of all ages, and the connection with their ancestors. At festivals I saw people old and young, even little kids and teenagers, all enjoying and sharing the atmosphere of a festival. Each time my appreciation of that unity grew and steadily I understood the strength of Japanese people.

Walking in those festival zones I soaked into the atmosphere of joy created by everyone. People around me cheered up the musicians and dancers, enjoyed festivals treats bought in colorful tents, took photos and smiled – that was fantastic!

Hanami in Ueno Park, Tokyo
Hanami in Ueno Park, Tokyo

As I’ve mentioned above, festivals are held all year round in big cities and small villages. There are unique festivals held in one place, such as Aizu-wakamatsu Historical Parade, 1000 Samurai Procession in Nikko, Nada no Kenka Matsuri in Himeji, Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Men festival) in Okayama, the festival of giant lighted platforms Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, and many, many others.

I was fortunate to watch spring festivals of blooming sakura called hanami for several years in a row. The first time I was surprised by such a massive celebration – I wondered why it was celebrated if spring and blooming season happened every year? But later I understood the spirit of hanami, it's an atmosphere of joy and hope.

Besides the blooming sakura, many other blooms are also celebrated, such as the Bunkyo Azalea festival, Ajisai (Hydrangea) festival at Nezu Shrine, and the Fuji Festival at Kameido Shrine in Tokyo. During festivals I often enjoyed traditional Japanese music, particularly at the Kagurazaka Matsuri with its dancing procession which lasted about 3 hours - it seemed endless!

The dancing procession seemed endless
The dancing procession seemed endless

I’m sure that festivals in Japan must be visited for a deeper understanding of the country. For more information about festivals in Japan, please check the events section on Japan Travel.

Flower festival in Hamamatsu
Flower festival in Hamamatsu

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Elena Lisina

Elena Lisina @shiroi.tenshi

I love Japan very much! I like small towns of Japan where I can watch people doing their business and talk to them carefully. They're always friendly. I like Japanese gardens where I can just sit or walk and take my time. Also I like Shinto Jinja as being there I feel in peace. I like to watch sunsets and then to dine in some small local places. I like to soak into onsen after a long day of wandering. I like Japanese crafts very much as all items are made with great taste and skill. Nihon wo daisuki desuyo! My photos from Japan I also place here: https://gurushots.com/f10384/photos Matane!

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Sander van Werkhoven 2 weeks ago
Matsuri are great! My first matsuri was the Wakakusa Yamayaki in Nara in 2011, and in 2013 I did my first tour around the numerous summer matsuri in Tohoku. And I've been hooked ever since. To the point that I haven't based most of my visits to Japan primarily around a region I wanted to visit, but mostly around matsuri. I haven't kept count, but by now I must have visited about 60 matsuri in total, some of them twice.

What I like most about matsuri is that so many of those are pretty much unique. Sure there are also lots of "standard" festivals mostly involving a mikoshi, but those are usually the smaller, more local matsuri. Which still can be great fun to visit since you'll probably be the only tourist around. But many festivals are unique enough to be worth to travel for (well, at least to me). There's usually a lot of great food (Hachinohe is the best!), and especially at the lesser known festivals it's just great fun to mingle with the locals.

Some of my favorites, in no particular order:
- any snow festival at Hokkaido....
- Karatsu Kunchi (Saga)
- Oga Namahage Sedo Matsuri (Akita - https://youtu.be/F__UwV4M0sQ)
- Yokote Bonden (Akita - https://youtu.be/cwcyvzHxi_8)
- Goshogawara Tachineputa (Aomori)
- Mamada Jagamaita (Tochigi - https://youtu.be/hTQFYoIDQyo)
- Furano Heso Matsuri (Hokkaido - https://youtu.be/5CKr6GVS248)
- Akita Kanto Matsuri (Akita - https://youtu.be/Y_jndp4zbqk)
- Hachinohe Sansha Taisai (Aomori - https://youtu.be/yo0Vs-YM0n0)
- Sukagawa Taimatsu Akashi (Fukushima - https://youtu.be/TbY0Vifm5dQ)
- Soma Noma Oi (Fukushima)
- Hanno Matsuri (Saitama)
- Kurayami Matsuri (Tokyo)
- Nanao Seihakusai (Ishikawa)
- Kamine Jinja Daisairei (Ibaraki)
- Sanja Matsuri (Tokyo)
- Hachinohe Enburi (Aomori)
- Kamezaki Shiohi Matsuri (Aichi)
- Hamamatsu Matsuri (Shizuoka)
- Furakuwa Matsuri/Okoshi Daiko (Gifu - https://youtu.be/aq6gOxVW8wA) - even though I ended that one in an ambulance....

So far the only one matsuri that left me truly frustrated was the Kurama no Himatsuri near Kyoto. In itself it must be a great festival, but is is simply totally overrun by tourists. I don't really mind big crowds, that's just part of the deal. But a huge crowd in a big city is something different than that same crowd in a tiny village consisting of one narrow street. Here you had to keep walking in circles (enforced by hundreds of police officers constantly yelling "keep walking" in their megaphones - mostly in English!) just to accommodate all of the people, maybe walking five minutes along the festival route (during which you mostly saw those same police officers instead of the actual festival) and then over an hour trough some pitch black fields to get back to the beginning. After only one tour I took the train back to Kyoto, not only to be ahead of the crowds, but also because I wasn't sure I could complete a second lap before the last train left....
(The Jidai Matsuri earlier that same day was also quite disappointing, but mostly because it was rather boring)

Right now I should have been in Sapporo or Otaru for the Yuki Matsuro and Yuki Akari no Michi (I've visited both before in 2015 and 2016), but last week I've rescheduled my flights until March (and to the other end of Japan, starting in Fukuoka). I'm currently planning my new route (mostly Sanyo/Sanin area), but it seems this is gonna be my first matsuri-free trip since 2012!
(even though Omi-Hachiman Sagicho Matsuri seems very tempting....)

Here in the Netherlands we also don't really have anything similar, though here in the south Carnival is pretty big. And I absolutely hate it. It's just people dressing up in weird costumes, being drunk for days, parading the streets. Whenever possible, I try to escape that madness and go to Japan. To visit matsuri where people more or less do the exact same thing :-)
Thank you for posting so many interesting articles here! Those are a great inspiration for future travels!

While I do absolutely love matsuri, I might have gotten stuck in a pattern of just looking for more and more matsuri. Years ago I usually didn't have much trouble planning a trip. On the one hand there were still entire regions of Japan I hadn't visited yet, but also I had quite a lot of time available for planning. But things changed at work so my evenings are now a lot shorter, and at the same time it became more and more difficult to come up with "logical" routes. That's where the matsuri came in: those became the dots I had to connect. But even that became more difficult as I've visited more of them. Resulting in two completely planned but at the last moment cancelled/rescheduled trips (mostly because of stress) that in hindsight might just have been too much of what I had already seen.

I'm currently planning a completely different trip than I should have been on right now (Hokkaido and Kansai), while my new route will be mostly Chugoku. Rather different from any of my last travels, this time I already have a fixed start and end point (Fukuoka and Tokyo, can't change the flights unless the Corona-situation in Japan gets so bad KLM doesn't want to fly there anymore...), too few matsuri to connect the dots so but instead I do feel inspired to discover some new places in a way I haven't felt in years. And one of the places I definitely want to visit is Kure, partly because of your recent article about that place. And the next time I visit Japan during golden week, Fantanima will be on my list!
Kim B 2 weeks ago
They really do have a very special atmosphere...some of my best memories in Japan come from attending interesting festivals.
Elena Lisina Author 2 weeks ago
Yes, I agree! Here we don't have anything similar, just few mass celebrations like a City Day or a Victory Day.