Matsuri: Japanese Festivals - Japan's Festival Calendar
MAY JAPAN FESTIVALS
Fukuno, Toyama Prefecture
Night festival of colourful floats consisting of giant, decorative paper lanterns. At around midnight, the lanterns begin to be paraded around town with local men hanging from them who start battles whenever other floats come close.
Daito City, Osaka Prefecture
Thousands gather on the approach to Nozaka Kannon Temple to enjoy puppet plays, storytelling and a range of other classical arts and festival amusements.
Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture
The main event is a period dress parade on the 3rd recreating the arrival of Minamoto Yoshitsune and his entourage when he came to Hiraizumi in northern Japan to seek the protection of Fujiwara Hidehira.
Tarui Hikiyama Matsuri
Tarui, Gifu Prefecture
This festival features floats known as Hikiyama. Children in full make up and costume perform Kabuki plays on stages built in to these lavishly decorated three-storied festival floats.
Shimonoseki Straits Festival
Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Many colourful events in the port town of Shimonoseki including recreations of a samurai era sea battle involving about 200 boats, the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro and a colourful parade of courtesans.
Yokohama Port Festival
Parades, dances and entertainments all with an international flavour. Features dragon dances, baton twirlers and decorated festival floats in the port area of Yokohama.
Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri
Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture
Shinto ceremony, parades of warriors in full period dress, traditional music and mikoshi parades.
Kamezaki Shiohi Matsuri
Handa, Aichi Prefecture
A gathering of 31 antique dashi, (drawn festival floats). These remarkable wooden constructions are towed around town and then down to the beach where they are pulled through the shallows at low tide.
Hakata (Fukuoka), Fukuoka Prefecture
Large scale festival with history going back nearly 800 years. Colourful and musical parades and events all over the downtown area of Fukuoka city. Attracts 2 million people annually.
Giant Kite Festival
Showa, Saitama Prefecture
Giant decorated kites (up to 15m in length) are flown on the banks of the dry riverbed of the Edo River.
3-5 May (and 27 April)
Tokunoshima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture
Traditional bullfighting event in which two bulls are pitted against each other in a test of strength. Unlike Spanish bullfighting, the animals are not wounded and are not killed.
Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture
Local teams fly huge decorated kites, attempting to bring kites of other teams to the ground. Accompanied by assorted events, traditional and otherwise, including sacred dances, parades and taiko drumming.
Hiroshima Flower Festival
Festival for peace featuring flowers, music and a wide range of fun and entertainments in Hiroshima. Attracts visitors from all over the world.
Kutani Chawan Matsuri
Terai, Ishikawa Prefecture
Dozens of stalls selling kutani pottery set up in the grounds of Terai Town Hall and the Sano Kutani Museum. Many events related to kutani pottery also take place.
Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture
Features a parade of three enormous dashi, (drawn festival floats) each around 20m in height and weighing around 20 tons. Known locally as dekayama (giant mountains), these floats are built entirely from wood, bamboo and rope and without the use of nails.
Shio no Michi Festival
Omachi, Nagano Prefecture
A procession of local people, dressed in traditional costumes, visit historical spots on the route of the Shio no Michi (Salt Route), a historical road that was once an important trade route.
Okinohata Suitengu Festival
Yanagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture
Three days of festival music and ceremonies are held on a floating stage made from canal boats tied together with stalls and other festivities on the banks of the canals in Yanagawa.
Sea Bream Netting Festival
Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture
See demonstrations of this centuries old method of fishing on specially prepared tourist boats during the period.
Tado Shrine, Kuwana, Mie Prefecture
The ageuma (rising horse) ritual involves young horseback riders in samurai armour riding horses up a steep 3m high cliff. It is traditionally believed to predict the success of the coming year's harvest. The festival also includes a procession of a boy on horseback and retainers in period costume. Access to Tado Station from Kuwana on the Kintetsu Yoro Line, then bus or a 20 minute walk.
Sengen Taisha Shrine, Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture
Demonstrations of yabusame, traditional Japanese horseback archery.
Sagami Giant Kite Festival
Sagami, Kanagawa Prefecture
Held on the banks of the Sagami River, this is an annual event at which a giant (14m long) kite is flown by a team of nearly 100 people.
Kotohira, Kagawa Prefecture
Kemari, a ritual game of kick-ups played by priests in Heian Period (794-1192) robes, is played in the grounds of this famous shrine in Kagawa, west of Takamatsu.
Kusu, Oita Prefecture
An event held in the memory of Takehiko Kurushima, a writer of children's stories who lived in this town. Various events for children to participate in such as a festival parade and kids' sumo wrestling.
Nagashino Kassen Nobori Festival
Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture
The festival features a parade by participants in samurai costume, taiko drum performances and demonstrations of matchlock muskets commemorating the 1575 Battle of Nagashino. The parade takes place from 9.30am. The venue is a short walk from JR Nagashinojo Station on the JR Iida Line.
The Saturday and Sunday closest to 15 May
Kanda Myojin Shrine, Tokyo
Floats, wagons filled with dancers, and around 200 mikoshi are paraded through a large area of downtown Tokyo in honour of the deities of the Kanda Shrine, shinto priests on horseback accompany the parade. The main Kanda matsuri is held once every two years in odd-numbered years, while festivals held in even-numbered years are on a smaller scale.
Takigi Noh Performance
11 & 12 May, 4-9pm
Kofuku-ji Temple and Kasuga Shrine, Nara
Performance of traditional noh theatre held outdoors lit only by torchlight at Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Jinja in Nara.
Johana Hikiyama Festival
Johana, Toyama Prefecture
A parade of six intricately carved and lacquered floats, each the work of skilled local craftsmen. These are joined by Iori yatai floats that carry musicians playing folk tunes.
Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture
Kabuki is performed by children on eight festival floats parading around the town led by children performing lion dances.
Sanjo Niigata Prefecture
Features a parade of hundreds of local people dressed as warriors and attendants. Recreating the clan lord's journeys to Edo Castle during the Edo Period (1603-1867).
Kamigamo Shrine, Kyoto
The Aoi (hollyhock) Festival is a solemn and formal parade dating back over 1,000 years, involving 500 people in full Heian Period court dress. An ox drawn cart is led to Kamigamo Shrine from the Imperial Palace (Gosho) in Kyoto where Shinto rituals take place. Sacred dances and music are performed on the way. Known as the world's oldest festival, dating from the mid 6th century.
Read more about the Aoi Matsuri
Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture
Many events of both a traditional and an international flavour as this is a festival to mark the coming of the kurofune (black ships) led by Commodore Matthew Perry who arrived in Shimoda in 1854 to demand that Japanese ports be opened to American trade.
One of the largest mikoshi parades of all Japanese festivals. A parade of about 100 portable shrines centered on Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Many geisha as well as others dressed in traditional costumes also take part. Attracts 2 million spectators every year. Recently the festival has run in to trouble due to the participation of Japan's mob, the yakuza.
The Sanja Matsuri is one of Tokyo's most lively festivals
Citizens' festival featuring parades during the day and in the evening, samba dancing and a fireworks display held out over the harbour in Kobe.
Tosho-gu Grand Festival
Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture
Nikko's most important annual festival, featuring yabusame (horseback archery) and a 1000 strong costumed re-enactment of the delivery of Tokugawa Ieyasu's remains to Nikko.
Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
2-day people's festival in Sendai packed with events such as mikoshi parades, a flea market, warrior processions, taiko drumming and street dancing.
Tagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture
Thrilling traditional festival during which ten teams carrying richly-decorated mikoshi participate in races, ending in a hectic crossing of the Hikosan River in the afternoon of both days. Tagawa is east of Fukuoka city.
Mifune Boat Festival
Thirty boats carrying participants in court dress of the Heian Period (794-1192) travel upstream on the Oi River in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Leading the way are three boats carrying players performing noh dramas, gagaku musicians and shrine maidens respectively. A group of poets, dressed in ancient ceremonial robes, compose and recite symbolic verses of 17 syllables (haiku). Offerings of any impromptu poem to the deity of Kurumazaki Shrine (075 861 0039) will be welcomed.
Toshodai-ji Temple, Nara
Buddhist ceremonies and performances of court music and dance held before the main event when thousands of specially prepared paper fans are thrown into the crowd at Toshodaiji Temple in Nara. The fans are kept as good luck charms for the coming year.
Mikuni, Fukui Prefecture
One of the largest festivals in the Hokuriku region. Features a parade of unique festival floats each decorated with ornately decorated, giant effigies of famous samurai warriors.
Aioi Peiron Festival
Aioi, Hyogo Prefecture
Harbour festival with teams of oarsmen and women competing in longboat races. Also features street parades, dancing and fireworks.
Hanazono Shrine Festival
The highlight of this 3-day festival is the shinkosai procession of floats and mikoshi on the 25th along Yasukuni Dori, Meiji Dori and Shinjuku Dori from 9.30am-7.30pm. Food stalls are set up along the way in places. Go to Shinjuku-Sanchome Station on the Toei Shinjuku, Marunouchi or Fukutoshin lines.
Minatogawa Jinja Shrine, Kobe
A memorial service for the spirit of Masashige Kusunoki, the enshrined deity of Minatogawa Jinja. Many visitors come for the shigin contest (recitation of Chinese-style poems), and for the rice-cake scattering event.
Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture
Participants wearing costumes and hats which hide their faces wander around downtown Tsuruoka giving out sake to passers by. It's said that if you participate for three years without being recognized then your wishes will come true. Properly known as the Tenjin Festival.
Yushima Tenjin Matsuri
There is a float (horen) procession on the 24th as mikoshi circulate around Yushima Tenjin Shrine from 10am-4.30pm. There is similar activity the next day from 8am-6pm. Take the Chiyoda Line subway to Yushima Station.
Soga no Kasayaki
Jyozen-ji Temple, Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture
Various ceremonies and attractions including sumo wrestlers scattering rice cakes and money, a ritual burning of old paper umbrellas, a children's parade, a warriors parade and a children's sumo wrestling competition.
DISCLAIMER Festivals may be cancelled or postponed without much warning. Check with your local tourist office for confirmation.
Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo
Books on Japanese Festivals