2 December Fukuoka In this 400-year-old festival, oshiroi, a white paste made from rice flour and water, is smeared on villagers' faces as a prayer for good harvests in the coming year.
Chichibu Yomatsuri 2-3 December Chichibu shrine, Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture Famous night festival in which lantern-lit floats weighing more than 10-tons each are pulled through the town.
Morotabune Shinji 3 December Mihonoseki, Shimane Prefecture Action-packed Shinto ceremony in which teams of nine men board two boats in Miho Harbour and proceed to vigorously splash each other with cold sea water.
Takata no Inoko 3 December Sakurai, Nara Prefecture
Village youths carry food and torches in procession to offer to the gods for peace and good harvests in Sakurai, Nara.
Hata Festival 1 December Towa, Fukushima Prefecture Historical festival in which large brightly-coloured flags are carried in a procession through rice paddies and mountain paths accompanied by conch-blowers.
Akibasan Gongen Hibuse Matsuri 6 December Ryokaku-in Temple, Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture Mountain Priests offer thanks for water and fire by lighting fires, giving demonstrations of their axe, sword and archery skills and offering rice cakes to visitors.
Misogi Matsuri 9 December Katsuragake Shrine, Gifu Prefecture
Naked men purify themselves in the freezing Nagara River in Gifu three times during the day at 3pm, 7pm & 10pm.
Hiwatari Shinji 10 December Fukugon Temple, Nishihora, Komaki, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture
Priests walk over burning embers in a purification rite at Fukugon Temple in Komaki, just north of Nagoya city.
Akou Gishisai 14 December Ako, Hyogo Prefecture Traditional dances and warrior parades as an annual memorial to the legendary '47 ronin' (wandering samurai) who commited suicide to avenge their master. For an account of the Ako festival click here
47 Ronin Festival 14 December Bishamon Temple, Yamashina, Kyoto A procession commemorating the 47 Ronin with people in traditional costume walking from Bishamon Temple to Oishi jinja in eastern Kyoto.
Iwatsuta Shrine Fire Festival 14 December Iwatsuta Jinja, Ishizugawa, Osaka
108 wooden bundles are set alight and young men run through the flames in a purification ceremony in Ishizugawa, Osaka. 8pm start.
Akiba Taisai Hiwatari Shinji Festival 16 December Entsuji Temple, Nagoya
100 ascetics run through flames at Entsuji in Nagoya before the general public joins in. 7pm start.
Setagaya no Boro Ichi 15-16 December Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Countless stalls and shoppers crowd the streets at this flea market in Tokyo that dates back to 1578. A huge range of items to browse and buy including antiques, second-hand goods and food.
Akutai Cursing Festival mid-December Atago Shrine, Mt. Atagoyama, Iwama-cho, Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture Priests dressed in white and impersonating tengu goblins are cursed and abused. Participants attempt to steal the goblins' offerings, while the goblins attempt to ward off their abusers with bamboo staves.
Previously held on November 14. Atago Shrine Tel: 0299 45 5637
Akiba no Himatsuri 15-16 December Akiba, Shizuoka Prefecture Fire festival held to pray for protection against fire held at Akiba Jinja, a Shinto shrine that enshrines Hifuse, the god of fire prevention.
Kasuga Wakamiya Festival 17 December Kasuga Taisha, Nara A chance to see rarely performed traditional dances at a festival that has been observed every year since it began in 1136. A two-hour procession (owatarishiki) through central Nara begins at noon from the Prefectural Office followed by around seven hours of dances.
Izumi Kannon Daruma-ichi 17-18 December Izumi Kannon Temple, Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture This temple has been holding daruma (a manifestation of the Buddha) fairs for every year over 400. Attracts large crowds.
Asakusa Kannon Hagoita-ichi 17-19 December Senso-ji Temple, Asakusu, Tokyo
Festive market selling hagoita, the paddles used in hanetsuki, a game traditionally played at New Year. Around 50 stallholders crowd into the grounds of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa over the two days.
Shimai Kobo 21 December To-ji Temple, Kyoto The last festive market of the year honoring the renown Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi at Toji Temple in south Kyoto with over 1600 stalls selling antiques, foods and just about everything else. Read more on Toji market
Shimai Tenjin 25 December Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto The last festive market of the year at the large Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in north-west Kyoto.
Kotohira-gu Shukiku Late December Kotohira-gu Shrine, Kagawa Prefecture
Shinto shrine festival featuring kemari, a ceremonial game of kick-ups said to be a forerunner of the sport of soccer.
Namahage 31 December Oga Peninsula, Akita Prefecture An ancient folk tradition still observed in villages all over the peninsula in which young men dressed in frightening namahage costumes visit the homes of children to warn them not to be lazy in the coming year.
Hagurosan Shoureisai 31 December - 1 January Mt. Haguro, Yamagata Prefecture A famous fire festival in which two giant chiggers are set alight and pulled about with ropes. Forms part of the winter rituals of the Shugendo sect of mountain ascetics.
Mabuni Hi to Kane no Matsuri 31 December - 1 January Itoman-city, Okinawa Held in remembrance of those who died during the second world war. Participants light torches from a sacred flame (hi) and then pray for peace as the bell (kane) announces the beginning of the New Year.
DISCLAIMER Festivals may be cancelled or postponed without much warning. Check with your local tourist office for confirmation.