PL Founder's Festival Fireworks Art
1 August (19:45-21:00) PL Headquarters, Tondabayashi City, Osaka Prefecture Special annual event of the Church of Perfect Liberty climaxing with one of the world's largest fireworks displays, consisting of over 120,000 shots. Access: Tondabayashi Station (Kintetsu Nagano Line)
Nagaoka Festival 1-3 August Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture Parades include a procession of mikoshi and a procession of 500 people in full samurai armour. Also features a range of bugaku dances, traditional music and taiko drumming. Breathtaking fireworks displays are held on the second and third evenings, regularly attracting over 600,000 people.
Sansa Matsuri 1-3 August Morioka, Iwate Prefecture A folk dance festival that attracts 20,000 participants every year. Teams from local schools, companies and community organisations come up with their own set of movements and parade through the streets to the beat of 5,000 drummers and other musicians.
Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri 1-7 August Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture
A more low-key version of the Neputa festival held in Aomori but still attracts around 1.5 million people every year. The Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri features parades of huge bamboo and paper lanterns in the shape of fans carried on floats. The lanterns depict popular historical and legendary characters. After the festival, the floats are cast into the sea as a purification rite that is said to rid the town of future illness and bad fortune.
Shimizu Minato Matsuri 2-4 August Shimizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture Commemorates the reopening of Shimizu port to international trade. Tens of thousands gather to dance in the streets, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the fireworks display over the bay at Hinode Wharf.
Wasshoi Hyakuman Summer Festival 2-4 August Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture City-wide festival bringing the area's three biggest Gion festivals together in one place. A feast of parades, dances and other festivities.
Nebuta Matsuri 2-7 August Aomori, Aomori Prefecture A parade of about sixty bamboo and paper lanterns in the shape of historical or legendary heroes. The size of the lanterns ranges from small ones carried by children to 8m tall constructions on festival floats vying to win the competition on the last day. The floats are surrounded by costumed dancers who dance to the sound of flutes and drums. One of the largest festivals in Kanto.
It is said that the Aomori Nebuta festival dates back to the 9th century when a local feudal lord used lantern-lit floats to make his forces look bigger. Since then, it has come to be believed that the fearsome faces help to wake sleepy souls in the heat of summer.
Ishitori Festival 3-4 August Kasuga Shrine, Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture Known as the loudest festival in Japan. Participants ring bells and hit taiko drums while more than 40 floats parade the city.
Takasaki Matsuri 3-4 August Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture Big summer event with a lively parade of mikoshi carried by happi-wearing bearers and surrounded by music, dancing and street vendors. The festival closes with one of the biggest fireworks displays in the Kanto area at Karasu-gawa River.
Matsue Suigo Matsuri 3-4 August Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture
Suigo means 'on the water' and this festival in Matsue in Shimane holds various events on rivers, canals, lakes and moats all over the city. Includes boat parades, floating theatre, markets and fireworks.
Oshika Whale Festival 4 August Oshika, Miyagi Prefecture Celebrates the history of Oshika as a flourishing whaling port and provides an insight into Japan's ancient whaling culture. Features demonstrations of traditional whaling techniques, whale cuisine and fireworks.
Shiogama Port Festival 4-5 August Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture A marine spectacular of around 100 floating mikoshi and a fireworks display over the bay. One of Japan's top three port festivals.
Kanto Matsuri 4-7 August Akita Prefecture One of the three major festivals of northern Japan, deriving from the same legend as the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori in which summer sleepiness must be driven away with lanterns. Kanto are 10m bamboo poles hung with up to 46 lanterns which, in the evenings, young men compete to balance on their shoulders, foreheads, hips and chins.
Torii Yaki Festival 5 August Lake Ashi, Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture Two torii gates are erected on the lake and ceremonially burned. Thousands of lanterns are also set adrift on the water creating an enchanting scene.
Hanakasa Matsuri 5-7 August Yamagata City More than 10,000 townspeople, all wearing hanagasa, (low-rimmed straw hats adorned with flowers) dance their way through the main streets of the city. One of the largest festivals in the Tohoku region.
Peace Ceremony 6 August Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima A solemn ceremony is held on the anniversary of the atom-bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 as a memorial to victims and survivors. In the evening, the park comes alive with music and thousands of paper lanterns are set adrift on the Ota river to pray for world peace.
Tanabata Festival 6-8 August (Fireworks display: 5 August) Sendai Town Centre Tanabata festivals are celebrated throughout Japan in July but the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri or 'Star Festival' held in August is Japan's most famous. Bamboo poles decorated with colourful paper streamers adorn the tree-lined avenues of central Sendai. The parades held along Jozenji-dori turn the whole street into a street theatre with music, dancing and mikoshi. Access: Sendai Station
Niigata Festival 7-9 August Niigata City
Niigata's largest festival. Features a folk dance parade across the Bandai bridge with over 30,000 participants, a procession in full Heian period dress, a mikoshi parade and a fireworks display on the Shinano River in Niigata city on the Japan Sea Coast.
Touki Matsuri 7-10 August Gojo District, Eastern Kyoto Kyoto's largest open air pottery market. Nearly 500 stalls offering thousands of bargains.
Anjin Festival 8-10 August Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture The Anjin Festival commemorates the launching of the first western-style Japanese ships built by William Adams (aka Anjin) by sending festival lanterns down the Matsukawa River to float into the sea. There is a ceremony and parade, a concert and taiko drum competition. The main event is the fireworks display over the sea. Read more about the Anjin Festival
Yassa Matsuri 9-11 August Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture
Loud and lively street festival of traditional music and dancing in Mihara, Horoshima.
Yosakoi Matsuri 9-12 August Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture A total of 15,000 people divided into over a hundred groups dance in the streets to a local folk song. Every team comes up with its own Bon dance and costume.
Awa Odori Festival 12-15 August Tokushima, Tokushima Prefecture One of Japan's most famous Bon festivals. Over a million people visit every year to watch and take part in the Awa Odori, a local folk dance set to traditional music. Awa dance is said to be a 'fool's dance'. A well known saying runs, "it's a fool who dances and a fool who watches, so if both are fools, you may as well dance!". The atmosphere is infectious and many thousands dance in the streets, giving the whole city centre a real carnival atmosphere.
Osaka Castle Takigi-noh 11-12 August Osaka Castle, Nishinomaru Park, Chuo-ku, Osaka City
Noh theatre is performed by firelight as part of a religious ritual at Osaka Castle. There is an admission fee.
Info: 06 6941 1717
Sanuki Takamatsu Festival 12-14 August Chuo Park, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture
One of the four big festivals on Shikoku. Features parades, shows, one of Western Japan's best fireworks displays (13 August) and a folk dance parade in which thousands of local residents take to the main streets of Takamatsu.
Tetsuya Odori Festival 13-16 August Gujo-Hachiman, Gifu Prefecture Major Bon Festival for which many thousands come to watch and dance through the night.
Suichu Hanabi Taikai 14 August Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima Annual fireworks display held over the bay behind the the famous waterborne torii gate in Hiroshima Bay. The largest display in Western Japan.
Mantoro Lantern Lighting 14-15 August Kasuga Taisha, Nara Prefecture
2,000 stone lanterns and 1,000 bronze hanging lanterns are lit in the evenings at this shrine in Nara Park in Nara city. Bugaku and Kagura are performed in the apple garden and the dimply lit main hall is open to visitors.
Shoro Nagashi Nagasaki 15 August Nagasaki Held at the end of the city's bon festival celebrations. A parade of thousands carry floats loaded with countless lanterns to the sea front where they are set afloat on the water. Firecrackers ring through the streets testifying to the influence of Chinese customs in the area. Read more on the Shoro Nagashi Festival
Yamaga Toro 15-16 August Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture A parade of women wearing yukata and lanterns on their heads perform toro odori (lantern dance) through the main streets. Part of Yamaga City's bon festival celebrations.
Mishima Summer Festival 15-17 August Mishima City, Shizuoka Prefecture Shrine festival commemorating a victory of the famous general Minamoto Yoritomo at a garrison nearby over 800 years ago. Features a procession of townspeople dressed in period military dress, folk dance parades, yabusame, and a fireworks display. Access: 10-minute walk from JR Mishima Station.
Toro Nagashi Hanabi Taikai 15 August Matsushima Bay, Miyagi Prefecture Matsushima's most popular festival is held on the night of August 15, the eve of a service for the dead who have left no surviving relatives at Zuigan-ji. While 8,000 glowing lanterns float out on the water, a breathtaking fireworks illuminates the islands of the bay.
Tomioka Hachimangu Matsuri 15-18 August (next Hon-matsuri - 2002) Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, Koto-ku, Tokyo
The tri-annual Hon-matsuri is one of Tokyo's big three festivals. A large parade of mikoshi processes along a 6km parade route getting sprayed liberally with water every where it goes.
Access: Monzen-Nakacho Station, on the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line & Toei Oedo Line in Tokyo.
Lake Suwa Fireworks Festival 15 August Lake Suwa, Nagano Prefecture
The largest fireworks festival in Nagano Prefecture held on the banks of Lake Suwa. 35,000 shot display with a 2km 'Niagara Falls' firework.
Access: 8-minute walk from JR Kamisuwa Station
Toro Nagashi Festival 16 August Miyazu Bay, Kyoto Prefecture One of the biggest Bon festival lantern floating events in all of Japan. Over 10,000 paper lanterns are set afloat on the bay with the sky above lit by spectacular fireworks.
Daimonji Bonfire 16 August Mt. Nyoigadake, Kyoto As part of Kyoto's Bon Festival attractions, a spectacular bonfire is lit near the summit of Mt. Nyoigadake in the shape of the Chinese character 'dai' meaning large. Other characters are also lit on Kyoto's surrounding mountains. Attracts 1,000s of visitors. Read more about Daimonji Festival.
Mando Nagashi Festival 16 August Togetsukyo Bridge, Arashiyama, Kyoto
Bon festival lantern floating event with the scenic Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama in the background. Also features traditional music and dancing as well as displays of ukai, the ancient art of cormorant fishing.
Hakone Daimonji Yaki 16 August Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
At night, bonfires are lit near the summit of Mt. Myojogatake in Hakone to display the kanji (Chinese symbol) for 'dai', meaning large, 108m across. Accompanied by a fireworks display.
Hanawa Bayashi 19-20 August Kazuno City, Akita Prefecture Held in Hanawa, the old merchant's quarter of what is now Kazuno city. A parade of beautifully carved wooden floats carrying musicians who play Hanawa-bayashi, a kind of folk music dating back to Heian times.
Sento Kuyo 23-24 August Nenbutsu-ji Temple, Adashino, Kyoto
A memorial service for graves that no longer have families to look after them. Candles and lanterns are lit for each of the temples 8,000 stone stupas and Buddha Statues at Nenbutsuji in western Kyoto. 2,000 people admitted each day, reservations required.
Info: 075 861 2221
Toi Misaki Fire Festival 23-24 August Cape Toi, Miyazaki Prefecture According to legend, a serpent that once terrorised this town was killed by a monk who threw a torch into its mouth. Nowadays, a 30m pillar is erected to symbolise the snake and flaming torches are thrown at it creating a spectacular show of fire and sparks. Access: JR Kushima Station
Minami Kyushu Kagura Festival Late August Kirishima Jingu, Kagoshima Prefecture On the last Saturday of August stalls with food and crafts are set up and you can watch traditional myths re-enacted with kagura music and dance. Kirishima Guide
Gangara Fire Festival 24 August Atago Shrine, Ikeda City This event has been held in Ikeda City for over 350 years. In addition to Shinto rituals, 4 metre-long torches are paraded through the city and bonfires in the shape of the kanji (Chinese character) for "dai" (large) and "dai-ichi" (first) are lit on Mt. Satsuki. Access: Ikeda station (Hankyu Takarazuka Line)
Zenkoku Hanabi Kyogi Taikai 24 August (5-9pm) Omono River, Omagari, Akita Prefecture Japan's most authoritative traditional fireworks competition. High quality shells and creative new designs are exhibited by around 30 expert fireworks producers. Access: Omagari Station (Akita Shinkansen Line)
Giant Lantern Festival 26-27 August Suwa Shrine, Isshiki, Aichi Prefecture
Huge paper lanterns painted with colourful designs are lit in the Suwa Shrine compound.
Yoshida no Hi Matsuri 26-27 August Yoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture One of Japan's grandest fire festivals, officially marking the end of Mt. Fuji's climbing season. The festival climaxes in the evening when a huge lantern in the shape of Fuji-san is paraded through torchlit streets. Massive bonfires illuminate the mountainside long into the night.
Koenji Awa Odori Festival Last weekend of August Suginami City, Tokyo
Large-scale festival of street dance modelled on the Awa Odori festival on Shikoku. Thousands dance in the streets to rhythmic traditional music and over a million come to watch in Koenji.
Usuki Stone Buddhas Fire Festival 31 August Usuki, Oita Prefecture
At twilight, the mysterious stone Buddha statues of Usuki in Oita Prefecture are illuminated by flickering torchlight.
Eisa Matsuri Late August at the end of Obon Okinawa City Hugely-popular festival of traditional dance, music and drumming that brings Okinawa's bon festival celebrations to a close. Teams from all over Okinawa compete to be the most colourful, exuberant and stylish dancers at the festival. Held concurrently with the Orion beer festival. Climaxes with a spectacular fireworks display. Held at Okinawa City Koza Sports Park.
DISCLAIMER Festivals may be cancelled or postponed without much warning. Check with your local tourist office for confirmation.