Takigi Noh Performance 1-2 June Heian Shrine, Kyoto
Noh performances illuminated by blazing torches with the classic architecture of the Heian Shrine in the Okazaki district of Kyoto and the Higashiyama hills in the background. The only unreserved seats are the mats and benches at ground level. Many bring their own picnics and tickets are on sale (,300) from 4.30pm. Performances last until around 9pm.
Access: take bus no. 5 from Kyoto Station to Kyoto Kaikan-mae (20 min)
Kaiko Kinenbi (Yokohama Port Opening Festival) 1-2 June Minato Mirai and Rinko Park, Yokohama Annual celebrations marking the opening of Yokohama Port. Festivities include boat races, processions, music, dancing and a marketplace.
Access: Sakuragicho Station, Yokohama
Dontsuku Festival Early June Higashi Izu-machi, Shizuoka Prefecture A fertility festival in which local geisha parade through the streets carrying carved phalluses in order to pray for harmonious marital relations and the prosperity of one's descendants.
Enshu Hamakita Hiryu Matsuri
1st Sat and Sun of June
The festival honors Ryujin, the god of the Tenryu River, and includes kite flying in Hamakita (Hamakita Takoage), a fire-festival parade of a flying dragon's head (Hiryu Himatsuri) and performances of Japanese drums (taiko). The Enshu Hamakita Hiryu festival celebrates water, sound and flame.
Rice Planting Festival
Sumiyoshi Shrine, Osaka
Major rice-planting festival that dates back more than 1,700 years. 12 women ritually plant rice seedlings in the shrine's paddy field to the accompaniment of traditional music and rice-planting folk songs.
Access: Sumiyoshitaisha Station, Sumiyoshi-toriimae Station, Osaka
Info: 06 6672 0753
Izawanomiya Otaue Matsuri 14 June Izawanomiya Shrine, Mie Prefecture Rice-planting festival at a sacred rice field within the precincts of the grand shrine at Ise. After the rice-planting itself, the Taketori-shinji ritual is performed by a group of loincloth-wearing men who battle in the muddy paddy field for charms attached to a 14m high bamboo pole.
Sapporo Festival of Hokkaido Shrine
On the last day of the festival a parade of four palaquins and eight decorated floats begins from near Toyohira-koen Station through Odori Park. The shrine is a 15-minute walk from Maruyama-koen Station on the Tozai Line of the Sapporo subway.
Chagu-Chagu Umakko (Horse Festival)
Onikoshisozen Shrine, Takizawamura, Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
This region of northern Japan is famous for its horses and this festival was originally conceived by horse breeders who wished to pray for long and happy lives for their animals. Features a parade of colourfully dressed horses ridden by local children. The parade follows a 15km course from Onikoshisozen Shrine in Takizawamura to Morioka Hachimangu Shrine in Morioka from about 9am-2pm. Around 80-100 horses usually take part dressed in konida costumes (worn by the horses of daimyo - feudal lords - in the Edo Period). At the end of the parade, prayers are offered for a bountiful rice harvest and thanks are given to the horses. The name of the festival comes from the noise made by the bells (chagu chagu) on the horses' harnesses (umakko) and the event is designated as a national intangible folklore cultural asset.
Getting there: take a bus or train to Morioka Bus Station then a free shuttle bus to Sozen Shrine. There are free shuttle buses from Morioka Station from 6.30am-8.25am.
Aoba Matsuri 15th June Chisaku-in, Kyoto
Celebrating the birth of Kukai (aka Kobo Daishi, 774-835), the founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, priests and yamabushi (mountain ascetics) turn out in full regalia at Chisaku-in Temple in Kyoto for a series of purification rites and an ancient fire ceremony.
Aoba Matsuri 15th June Koyasan, Wakayama
Festival to celebrate the birth of Kukai (Kobo Daishi) at Koyasan's Okuno-in Temple. A hundred priests from the temples of Koya-san supervise the purification rituals.
Yasaka Shrine Festival
Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
A court dance of the Heian Period (794-1192) is performed on the Buden stage from 10am at Yasaka Shrine in Gion. Take Kyoto bus #206 to the Gion stop.
Takekiri Eshiki Matsuri 20th June Kuramadera, Kyoto 'Bamboo-cutting' festival where two teams of monks race to cut four bamboo poles representing evil serpents into three pieces.
Yosakoi Soran Matsuri
A festival of folk dance that turns the whole of Sapporo into a stage. The Yosakoi Soran Festival in 2000 attracted 375 teams totalling 38,000 dancers from all over Japan and enough visitors to more than double the population of the city. Dance groups perform in the streets all over the city including the Odori Park area and stirring music based on the Soranbushi folksong of Hokkaido can be heard on every corner.
Itoman Hare Mid-June Itoman, Okinawa
The most famous of Okinawa's Hare, or dragon boat racing, festivals in which colourfully decorated boats made from lightweight wood are raced by teams of 8-14 men in equally colourful dress. The festival and its associated rituals have a strong connection with the local fishing community in Okinawa who pray for safe sailing and good catches. Held on the 4th day of the 5th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
Info: Itoman City Office 09 8992 4121
Sanno Festival 10-16 June (on even numbered years) Hie Shrine, Tokyo
Elegant and courtly festival originally held in 1478 to ensure good fortune during the construction of Edo Castle in present-day Tokyo. Features a parade of mikoshi and hundreds of people in the traditional dress of the Imperial court. Access: Akasaka-mitsuke Station
Hiei Jinja's Sanno Matsuri festival in Yotsuya, Tokyo
Yakata Matsuri 22-23 June Himeji A parade of children dressed in summer yukata on Otemaedori between Himeji Castle and Himeji Station. Hundreds of stalls line the street.
Gotanshin Sai 25 June Kitano Tenmangu, Kyoto
A large ring of fresh reeds is made at the entrance to the shrine which affords protection against summer infections. The festival commemorates the birth of scholar Lord Sugawara, the 10th century scholar. The monthly flea market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is also held on this day.
Aizen Festival 30 June - 2 July Shoman-in (Aizen-do) Temple, Osaka One of Osaka's three major summer festivals. Celebrates Aizen Myo-oh the greatest of the 8 Buddhist guardian gods and the temple's principle image. Throughout history Aizen Myo-oh has been worshipped by actors, actresses, entertainers and prostitutes as the god of charms and popularity. Hundreds of thousands turn out every year to see the glamorous parade of geisha riding on decorated palanquins called hoekago. Access: JR Tennoji Station, Subway Shitennojimae-yuhigaoka Station.
DISCLAIMER Festivals may be cancelled or postponed without much warning. Check with your local tourist office for confirmation.