Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  • January

    Tooka Ebisu (10 January) is a New Year's festival for good luck in commerce and many worshippers throng to this annual Ebisu festival to pray for prosperity in business. This goes back to Fukuoka’s history as a merchant town. The deity of commerce at Ebisu Shrines, intimately called "Ebessan", is believed to bring good luck to those engaged in commerce and business. During this festival the shrines are packed with visitors purchasing Fukusasa, good-fortune bamboo branches. Stalls line the shrine road selling traditional charms and decorations believed to bring good luck for business.

  • February

    Yuki Matsuri (05 - 11 February) held at Odori-koen, is Sapporo’s famous snow festival which attracts some 2 million visitors and boasts an impressive 170 snow sculptures to behold. There are even intricately detailed, gigantic sculptures of world landmarks such as the Taj Mahal. The festival now includes an international snow sculpture competition and many other events, such as co-ordinated ski jumping and nightly music performances. Arrive one week in advance and you’ll be able to see the sculptures being made, and even take part in the construction, since at least one of them in Odori-koen is a community effort.

  • March

    Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) on 03 March is a traditional Japanese event to bless girls with growth and happiness. It is also called Momo no sekku, or peach festival since it coincides with the season of peach blossoms, and a peach tree has long been regarded as one of the spiritual trees, which scare off demons and symbolizes the power of life, agelessness and peace. In modern Hina Matsuri, many families with girl members display hina dolls which is a set of dolls comprising an emperor, an empress, attendants, and musicians in ancient court dress. Displayed along with that are symbolic items in wishing good health for the girls in the family. They are namely peach blossoms, traditional Japanese crackers (hina-arare), a set of diamond shaped rice cakes (hishimochi), and a sweet, white alcohol drink (shirozake) made with rice malt and sake.

    Hina Matsuri
    in Susaka-machi,
    Nagano Prefecture.
    (03 Mar - 03 Apr)

    During this one month period, dolls that have been passed down since the ancient times will be specially exhibited in museums and art galleries, thus attracting large crowds of visitors.
  • April

    Doronko Matsuri (Mud Festival)

    During Doronko Matsuri, women smear mud on men’s faces to wish for good health and a fruitful harvest. The origin of this festival dates back about 380 years ago. A feudal lord was inspecting his paddy field and one of the rice-planting women threw mud at his follower. Instead of getting riled by such an act of impertinence, the feudal lord tried to calm the furious man. When the others in the field saw this, they were so overjoyed that they started to smear one another’s faces with mud.

    Doronko Matsuri in Nagahama, Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture (02 - 04 April)

    Any male will receive pitapats of mud on his face from girls and women dressed up as paddy field workers. Beware! Not even the cameraman will be spared.
  • May

    Sanja Matsuri (Three-Shrine Festival)

    Legend has it that about 1370 years ago, two fisherman brothers, Hamanari and Takenari Hinokuma, caught a statuette of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, in their fishing net along the Sumida River. A wealthy landlord, Hajinomatsuchi heard about the discovery and approached the brothers and taught them about Buddha. Greatly impressed, Hamanari and Takenari converted to the Buddhist faith. The three men then enshrined the statuette in a small temple (Senso-ji) and devoted their lives to preaching the way of Buddhism. The temple grew and prospered together with the surrounding district of Asakusa. The 3 men recognized as the founders of Asakusa were later revered as deities and a shrine, Asakusa-Jinja was built to honour them. Although the Asakusa-Jinja is a guardian of the Senso-ji, a new ruling in 1868 marks the separation of the two. However, the commemoration of these 3 deities continues with the Sanja Matsuri as 3 portable shrines are paraded through 44 towns to bless town folks with prosperity and descendants.

    Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo, Taito District (20, 21, 22 May)

    Town folks shouting "Sei-ya! Sei-ya!" as they parade the portable shrines tbrough the town.
  • June

    Mibu no Hanadaue
    Rice-transplanting Festival in Mibu

    In Japan, June is the season to plant rice and thus there are many rice-planting festivals during this period. In Mibu town, farmers transplant rice while singing traditional songs and beating drums to welcome the god of rice paddies to the field and to pray for a good harvest of rice. This festival is known for its special "taue-uta" (rice-planting songs). Taue means transplanting rice shoots from the seedbed to the rice paddy field.

    Hanadaue in Mibu, Chiyoda, Hiroshima prefecture (First Sunday of June)
  • July

    Gion Matsuri in Kyoto (01-30 July)

    If you are interested in ancient Japanese history, you should visit Kyoto during the Gion Matsuri which is one of the largest festivals in Japan. Its origins date back to the year 869 in the Heian period when people believed that plagues were caused by vengeful spirits. During the epidemic, a priest from Yasaka Jinja (shrine) led a procession of people through Kyoto in an attempt to appease the Shinto gods with prayers and rites. The plague ended but the event became a popular festival in Kyoto. The most exciting part of the festival is Yomaboko Junko (The Grand Procession) on the 17th when elaborately decorated Yama and Hoko floats are paraded through downtown. Some weighing over 10 tons, the Hoko floats are so big that they require a large team of attendants to manoeuvre them.

  • August

    Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori (02-07 August)

    Aomori Nebuta Festival features a parade of huge lantern floats depicting historically famous generals or well-known Kabuki characters. With over 20 Nebuta floats pulled by people and Aomori residents as well as spectators participating as Haneto dancers, the sight is a spectacular one, and more so in the night when these floats are lit up.

    There are a number of theories to Nebuta Matsuri’s origin. One speaks of a legend from around 800 A.D. , originating from an imperial general’s strategy of flushing out rebels from their hiding place with these huge lanterns. Another theory has it that this festival evolved from the Tanabata Festival. Lighted floats were put out into the rivers or sea to send evil spirits away. In time, the festival became popular and the floats grew in size, as did the festivities. Yet another saying attributes Nebuta to "Nemuri Nagashi", a custom intended to ward off drowsiness in summer with the fall harvest season coming up. Children celebrated the arrival of the seventh month by hanging lanterns from poles and walking the length and breadth of the village.

    Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori (02-07 August)
  • September

    Owara Kaze no Bon (01-03 September)

    Kaze no Bon, a festival that dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868) represented the people’s prayers for protection from typhoons. The first day of September was the "unlucky" day when typhoons were likely to strike. On this day, young men and women dance through the streets of their town to the slow, lilting tunes of folk songs called owara. The music comes from the three-stringed shamisen, taiko drums and kokyu lutes.

    Owara Kaze no Bon in Toyama Prefecture
    Dancers dancing to traditional folk songs called owara. Their faces are hidden under braided straw hats so that the spirits will not become overly attached to them.
  • October

    Nada-no-Kenka Matsuri (14 -15 October)

    Nada Matsuri or Nada-no-Kenka Matsuri (Nada Fighting Festival) is an annual festival held at Matsubara Hachiman Shrine of Shirahama town in Himeji city. Villagers prepare for this celebration one year in advance. On the day of the event, paced by the rumbles of drumbeats, large teams of men clad in mawashi chant "Yoi yasa!" as they parade palaquins (yatai) to the Matsubara Shrine to receive blessings from the local Shinto priest. On the second day, the intensity of this physically demanding event heightens. The yatai, each representing a deity, are forcefully jostled together and thus the name ’Nada Fighting Festival’. It is believed that the harder they collide, the more pleased the deities will be and the more prosperous the village will become. The near-end of the festival involves an arduous ascend up the mountain with those palaquins followed by a descend. Despite the risk of injuries and even death, this festival remains one of the more interesting events to behold in autumn.

    Nada-no-Kenka Matsuri in Shirahama-cho
  • November

    Karatsukunchi (02 -04 November)
    Saga prefecture, Karatsu city

    This festival was started among the villagers who strongly believed that they were under the protection of a tutelary god in that region.During the Showa period, the emperor’s convalescence warranted a hold on all festive activities. Karatsukunchi, however, was never cancelled despite threats because the locals felt that it was all the more reason to hold the festival to pray for good health. So for 400 years, Karatsukunchi continued to survive and about 180 years ago the hikiyama (floats paraded through town during the 3-day festival) made their first appearances.

    The hikiyama -- 14 of them to be exact -- are each constructed with an internal wooden frame and then papered over and lacquered. It takes 2 to 3 years to complete one and the biggest hikiyama goes up to 6.8 metres in height and weighs 3 tons. The year they were completed became the order of their appearances during the parade. This order is strictly adhered to except for the 13th (Shachi) and the 14th (Shichihoumaru) hikiyama. As they were completed at the same date, their order of appearances switches from time to time. The hikiyama -- starting with Akajishi (red lion) and ending with Shichihoumaru -- are wheeled through the town by large teams of men, often turning tight corners at precarious speed. Accompanying the giant floats are the lilt of Japanese flutes, the rhythmic beats of the drum and the paraders’ chant of "en-ya en-ya" and "oi-sa oi-sa". On the last day, the hikiyama are returned to the Hikiyama Tenji-ba (exhibition hall) where they are exhibited until the festival comes round again next year.

  • December

    Chichibu Yomatsuri (02, 03 December)
    Saitama prefecture, Chichibu city

    Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu Night Festival) held by Chichibu-jinja (shrine) has over 300 years of history and is considered one of the 3 biggest hikiyama (float) festivals in Japan. Even though it uses the least number of floats (6 compared to Gion Festival’s 32), these 10-tonne national cultural assets are in no way any less impressive.

    The Chichibu region, known for its kinu (silk) produce, had many kinu markets in the area during the Edo period. The festival was held as a closing event marking the end of the silk trading activities on the 3rd of December every year. Even though the kinu markets no longer exist presently, the townsfolk still celebrate this year-end event with much aplomb.

    In the evening, the 6 floats start off from the grounds of Chichibu-jinja and parade towards the Chichibu park which is about 1 kilometre away. Of the 6 ornately crafted floats, 4 of them (yatai) are built with a stage in front for Kabuki acts and folk dances presented by child performers while in the backstage area, musicians provide musical accompaniment on traditional Japanese instruments. The toughest part of the journey comes just before the destination when the floats have to be wheeled uphill over Dango-zaka. However, the struggle is instantly rewarded by the magnificent display of fireworks lighting up the night sky.

Check out these interesting reads in our archives as well:

Know Japan
2013 archive

Know Japan
2012 archive

Know Japan
2011 archive

Know Japan
2010 archive

Know Japan
2009 archive

Japanese Recipes
2008 archive

Japanese Customs
2007 archive

Japanese Customs
2006 archive

Japanese Festivals
2005 archive