Matsuri Japans Festivals

The Japanese word for “festival” is matsuri. Festivals in Japan are typically hosted by neighborhood shrines or temples, but they can also be unrelated to religious sponsors.

Matsuri celebrates or recognizes the change of the seasons, crop harvest, historical events, or cultural traditions, supernatural beings, and persons of note, and they may be found in almost every city, town, and neighborhood, with many dating back centuries.

Kawagoe festival carrying lanterns 

As a Whole there are no set matsuri days in Japan, dates vary from prefecture to prefecture, and even within a city or township, festival days tend to group around traditional festivals like Setsubun or Obon. From late summer to early fall, almost every location has at least one matsuri.

Common themes within the matsuri can be seen throughout the year and most of them will follow a pattern.

Gion Matsuri is one of the most famous festivals in Japan

On average Matsuri has parades, which may include ornate floats, which are common. The planning for these parades is generally done at the local neighborhood level. The local kami (spirit or god) may be ceremonially placed in mikoshi (portable shrine) and paraded around the streets.

Matsuri stalls offering many traditional Japanese foods as well as gifts and other snacks. Matsuri is typically accompanied by karaoke contests, sumo events, and other kinds of entertainment. Renting a boat is another attraction of Matsuri is if it’s held near a body of water.

 Sanja Matsuri is one of the great Shinto festivals of Tokyo 

Some are so unlike the original matsuri of ages past that they bear no resemblance to it, yet retaining the same name and time of year. There are also a number of regional festivals (such as Tobata Gion see below) that are largely unrecognized outside of a particular area.

(Tobata Gion is a local festival that is the celebrated matsuri of an answer to prayers to the local kami that healed the community stricken with a localized plaque in the early 19th century)

Each year there will be hundreds of thousands of festivals across Japan. Matsuri may range from tranquil to chaotic and even hazardous. The estimated total number of festivals held is estimated between 200-300K annually. Multiple festivals multiplied by the vast number of small villages, towns, and cities bring us to this number.

Festivals may be set on a particular calendar date, they may take place on a single day or extend across multiple days.

Sanja Matsuri Festival crowd at the Sensoji temple in Asakusa

Japans Largest Nationwide Festivals Held On Fixed Dates

Coming Of Age Day (Seijin no Hi)Second Monday in January
Girls Day (Hinamatsuri) March 3
Flower Viewing (Hanami)March-May (depending on blooms)
Buddha’s Birthday (Kanbutsu-e)April 8
Star Festival (Tanabata)July 7
Rite of Passage (Shichi-Go-San)November 15
New Years Eve (Ōmisoka)December 31

New Year’s Eve celebrations are the most extravagant of Japan’s set date festivities. Houses are cleaned, obligations are paid in full, and Osechi is made or ordered before the New Year. Osechi meals are traditional foods that are picked for their lucky color, designs, or names in the hopes of achieving good fortune in many aspects of life in the upcoming year.

Family gatherings, a trip to Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines, and visits of relatives and friends mark the start of the holiday season. The first day of the year (ganjitsu) is traditionally spent with family members.

 At the beginning of a new year, Japanese family is gathered at a local shrines

At Imperial Palace, The Emperor conducts the ceremony of shihhai before dawn on January 1st, in which he delivers prayers for the nation’s well-being. The public has authorized to access the inner palace gardens on January 2.  The Emperor’s birthday is the only other day when this is permissible.

In Japan, fireworks are hugely popular during matsuri, and there are fireworks celebrations almost every weekend during the summer. They are known as Hanabi celebrations in Japan (Hanabi meaning fireworks).

Tokyo at night, Fireworks during new years celebrations

Almost all of Japan’s biggest fireworks displays occur in July, August, and September. The yearly spectacular is a long-standing custom that is well-enjoyed in each town, city, or district.

The shows are known for being stunning, creative, and magnificent. Hanabi performances are usually two hours long, and audiences usually take part in a variety of traditional Japanese foods and beverages.

Nationwide Multiple Day Festivals

Day of Seasonal Division (Setsubun)February 3
Four Affirmations/ Kami Day (Ennichi)Fluid Dates

12 Top Festivals (Matsuri) In Japan

Shishi Matsuri (Lion Dance Festival)

Every June, the Lion Dance Festival takes place at the Namiyoke Inari Shrine. It’s a holiday with roots dating back hundreds of years when a heavenly creature is said to have arisen from the sea to calm the winds and waves after people began praying to it.

Lion Dance Festival In Yokohama-city Kanagawa prefecture

It is said that the entity, which assumed the shape of a lion, was responsible for calming the winds and waves, which is why lion-headed costumes are worn as a symbol during the celebrations.

Aside from the lion head parades, the event involves a large number of food vendors lined up on both sides of the procession.

Tokyo Jidai Matsuri (Festivals of Eras)

Tokyo Jidai Matsuri, officially recognized as the Festival of Eras, is a historical festival that remembers the city’s rich past and culture from the Heian through the Meiji eras.

festival of Jidai Matsuri

A street procession starts outside Sensonji Temple and proceeds down Umamichi-Dori, Kaminarimon-dori, and Asakusa Shopping Center before concluding in Asakusa Tawaramachi. More than one thousand participants costumed as emperors, samurai, and rulers take part in the celebration.

Tokyo Bay Grand Fireworks Festival

The Tokyo Bay Fireworks Festival is a spectacular fireworks show, one of the best you’ll ever witness anywhere. The customary setting is over Tokyo Bay, where more than 10,000 fireworks mortars explode and light up the night sky, providing incredibly thrilling views.

The event’s attendance has gradually increased in recent years, with the most recent one attracting up to one million attendees who view the event from various vantage points across the bay and surrounding city.

Tokyo bay city view and Tokyo rainbow bridge with beautiful fireworks

Gion Matsuri

Gion Festival (Matsuri) is one of Japan’s most well-known and biggest events, held annually during the month of July.  

It was created to purify and pacify disease-causing spirits, and it is technically part of Japan’s original, nature-based Shinto faith.  There are numerous rituals conducted throughout the festival, but the two Yamaboko Junk float processions on July 17th and 24th are the most well-known.  

The ancient kimono district in central  Kyoto, as well as the Yasaka Shrine, holds several festival activities. The festival’s sponsor shrine is the Shinto Yasaka Shrine . The event takes place in Kyoto’s famed Gion area, which provides the festival its name.

 Gion Matsuri festival walkthrough Shijo Dori street in Kyoto

Koenji Awa Odori (returning ancestral spirits)

On the final Saturday and Sunday in August, Koenji Awa Odori is a festival held on the streets of Tokyo to commemorate the homecoming of ancestral spirits.

The matsuri includes a variety of colorful performances that include traditional costumed dancers and live music. The dances and festivities usually take place on seven separate stages across the city, ensuring that there is enough diversity for anybody searching for traditional festival events.

Japanese performers dancing traditional Awaodori dance in the famous Koenji Awa Odori festival

Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival)

Setsubun was regarded to be equivalent to the Lunar New Year in its ceremonial and cultural implications of ‘cleaning’ the preceding year as the start of the new season of spring, despite the fact that it was not the official New Year.

Setsubun is surrounded by a multitude of rituals and customs performed at different levels to ward off the previous year’s bad luck and evil spirits for the upcoming year.

Evil spirits can be seen scaring small children who throw beans at the spirit to scare them away

Sanno Matsuri

The Sanno Matsuri Festival, along with the Fukagawa Matsuri and Kanda Matsuri, is a prominent Shinto festival in Tokyo.

The Festival is held every year in mid-June, but only in even-numbered years does a procession known as Shinkosai take place; yearly events last a week and also include day-long Shinkosai (also known as Jinkosai) march in Nagatach, Chiyoda, Tokyo.

The traditional and historical Japanese festival Sanno and Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo

Kurayami Matsuri (Darkness Festival)

The Kurayami Matsuri (Darkness Festival) is said to be one of the Tokyo region’s three oldest celebrations. Every year, between the 30th of April and the 6th of May, this event takes place.

In Japanese, kurayami means ‘darkness’ It was initially held very late at night, but in 1959 it was moved to the early evening.

Mitama Matsuri

Yashukuni Shrine is one of Tokyo’s most significant shrines, as well as one of the few shrines devoted to Japanese soldiers.   Thousands of lanterns litter the temple during the Mitama Matsuri, producing a spectacular visual effect.

The four-day festival features include a variety of folk dance and entertainment, as well as tens of thousands of merchants selling a variety of street delicacies to keep the crowds fed during the event.

 Mitama Matsuri festival in summer at the shinto shrine Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo

Yosakoi Festival

Yosakoi Matsuri is held in the city of Kochi. It is the original yosakoi festival, held every August since 1954.

Teams of dancers and floats gather during this festival to perform the yosakoi naruko dance collectively. Every year, the number of competitors has grown: in 2005, nearly 10,000 dancers performed in this event.

Performers dancing in the famous Yosakoi Festival

Sakura Festival Tokyo

The Sakura Festival, which takes place every year between late March and early April, is a national event recognizing the beauty of cherry blossoms. The event takes place in Ueno Park in Tokyo.

The event draws a massive gathering in Tokyo, which usually has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment. Boat trips on the lake, seeing a lot of cherry trees, and consuming a lot of food from the food stalls are among the highlights.

 Sakura Festival at Ueno Park, Tokyo

Sanja Matsuri

Sanja Matsuri is essentially a celebratory festival. During the festival weekend, the scene near Asakusa is electric and vibrant. Flutes, whistles, chanting, and taiko (traditional Japanese drumming) may be heard across the neighborhood as people continue to fill the streets around the Sens-ji.

The festival’s major attractions are three mikoshi maintained by Asakusa Shrine, which emerge on the festival’s third and final days. These three ornate black lacquered-wood shrines were designed to serve as smaller replicas of the Asakusa Shrine.

Each mikoshi weighs around one ton and is ornamented with gold sculptures and gold leaf. They’re carried on four long poles that are tied together with ropes, and each one takes around 40 people to carry.

Sanja Matsuri is one of the great Shinto festivals of Tokyo and is held in May, in Asakusa

Festivals in Japan are a major part of Japanese cultural heritage. A huge number of matsuri are held each year, throughout the season and provide a never-ending chance to witness and be part of these amazing events.

Below is a table of some of the most popular matsuri in Japan, listed are the dates and locations.

Check below this table for links to the best festivals.

Matsuri NameDate of Festival Location
AoiMayKyoto
AtsutaJuneNagoya
Awa Odori AugustTokushima
DontakuMay 3-4Fukuoka
Gion JulyKyoto
Hadaka FebruaryOkayama
Hakata Gio YamakasaJulyFukuoka
HonenMarchKomaki
JidaiOctober 22Kyoto
KanamaraAprilKawasaki
KandaMayTokyo
KantoAugust 3–7Akita
Kishiwada DanjiiriSeptemberKishiwada
Kumagay UchiwaJuly 19–23Saitama
KunchiOctober 7-9Nagasaki
Miki Autumn HarvestOctoberMiki
Nada no KenkaOctober 14–15Himeji
NebutaAugust 2–7Aomori
Neputa HirosakiAugust (first week)Hirosaki
Ojima NeputaAugust 14–15Gunma
SanjaMayTokyo
SannoJuneTokyo
TanabataAugustSendai
TenjinJulyOsaka
Wakausa YamayakiJanuary (fourth Saturday)Nara
Yosakoi Matsuri AugustKochi
Yotaka JuneToyama

TripAdvisors Best Rated Matsuri Events

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.