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Summer Festival Fun

When it feels too hot to beat the heat, Japan's summer festivals introduce a great way to enjoy yourself and have a blast in spite of raging temperatures! Dramatic, breathtaking, gorgeous and boisterous are just a few of the words used to describe the glorious spectacle of these natsu matsuri (summer festivals)!

Here are some of the major festivals, listed from their location north to south:


Aomori Nebuta Festival (Aomori)
August 2-7, 2014


Way up at the northernmost tip of the main island of Honshu lies the city of Aomori, home to the annual Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. This festival, designated one of Japan's significant intangible cultural assets, parades about 20 huge beautifully illustrated paper floats illuminated from the inside, many of which represent famed historical figures, through the streets of the city. Specially costumed dancers add to the dazzling view.

Sumida River Fireworks Festival (Tokyo)
July 26, 2014


The Sumida River fireworks festival goes all the way back to the early 1700s. Since 1978, it has been an annual tradition, showcasing the marvelous talents of rival pyrotechnic companies who vie with each other to produce the most extravagant display. Seen from the banks of the river, the gorgeous colors and fanciful forms say "summer" like nothing else!

Nachi-No-Hi-Matsuri (Wakayama)
July 14, 2014


This breath-catching fire festival is to honor the deities living in the area around the Nachi Taisha shrine in the Kumano mountains which have the highest waterfall in Japan, and have been registered as a World Heritage Site. 12 large flaming pine torches weighing more than 110 pounds each are carried through the Nachi Taisha Shrine precinct, located in the Kumano mountains. 12 portable shrines, each about 20 feet tall, are carried up and down the steps of the shrine as those holding the pine torches run down.



Gion Matsuri (Kyoto)
Throughout July, 2014


This highly elaborate festival is a month-long affair with floats, dance and music performances, comic plays, displays of artistic treasures, etc. The highlight is the grand parade which is preceded by the "pre-party". The downtown areas are designated car-free during this time, and hundreds of food and game stalls line the streets.

Miyajima Water Fireworks Display (Hiroshima)
August 11, 2014


Launched from boats off Miyajima's north shore, about 200 fireworks from the festival's total of 5,000 fireworks burst above the water, illuminating both sky and sea, and can be seen from the Itsukushima (the other name for Miyajima) Shrine and from special sightseeing boat tours circling the bay. The fireworks theme changes annually, but it never fails to enchant and impress the on-lookers who gather on Miyajima as well as on the nearby shore of Hiroshima. The Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Shoro Nagashi (Nagasaki)
August 15, 2014


An event that is a heartwarming mix of boisterousness and solemnity (and nowadays noisy enough to warrant bringing earplugs to the party), Shoro Nagashi consists of boats said to carry the spirits of the deceased of the past year that are floated down the river. Boats vary in size, construction material and construction method, and many are decorated with items which represent the deceased. They are accompanied by fireworks, gongs, drums, and special shouts. In the past, the boats were released into the waters of Nagasaki Bay, but due to pollution concerns, this is no longer the case, and the boats are dissembled after the revelry subsides.

Anyone who has lost a relative or friend in the past year (as well as anyone else) is welcome to participate.

Yamaga Toro Matsuri (Kumamoto)
August 15-16, 2014


About 1,000 women wear yukata and dance to traditional music with lanterns strapped to their heads while men wearing traditional costumes recreate the pathway that the emperor supposedly followed home long ago when he and his entourage became lost one foggy night. It was the light of the lanterns lit by the Yamaga locals that guided them home, and it is this that is re-enacted during the the festival. Additionally, the fireworks display on the evening of the 15th and the closing ceremony at night on the 16th are major crowd pleasers.



For more information about annual events and festivals in Japan, visit here.


The Glory of Spring

After a long, cold, and snowy winter, spring has finally sprung, and the beauty of the season is welcomed not only with sighs of relief, but in a wealth of haru matsuri, or spring festivals taking place all over Japan. Here is a brief introduction to some once-seen, never-forgotten festivals that you won't want to miss!


Haru Matsuri (Takayama, Gifu Prefecture), April 14 - 15, 2014

Takayama in Gifu is home to one of what are considered the three most beautiful festivals in Japan, the Takayama Haru Matsuri, or Takayama Spring Festival. Dancers wearing spectacular hats, a shishimai (lion dance) are, among other entertainment, wonderful crowd pleasers, but the apex of the festival is the procession of the festival floats, or yatai, all built by the local craftsmen, adorned with breathtakingly dexterous large marionettes and cleverly constructed for easy maneuverability around town. When night falls, the magnificent floats turn into a magical vision, illuminated by traditional lanterns and creating an almost otherworldly effect.

For more information, please visit here.



Tokasai & Goshin Noh (Hiroshima Prefecture), April 15 - 18, 2014

The island of Miyajima off the coast of Hiroshima is home to several unique festivals, two of which are the Tokasai or Peach Blossom Festival, and the Goshin Noh, a festival celebrating Noh drama. Tokasai, performed at the Itsukukshima Jinja Shrine, is a celebration of ancient court dance and music that was introduced from Kyoto by Taira Kiyomori, one of Japan's first soldier-dictators. The Goshin Noh, a sacred Noh drama, is also staged at the Itsukushima Shrine. The stage is the only Noh stage in the entire country that rests upon the sea, creating wonderful resonant sound effects from this natural setting. (Other Noh stages are created with a container of water underneath to create this resonance.) The ebb and flow of the tide adds an extra dimension to the quality of the sound.

For more information, please visit here.



Aoi Matsuri (Kyoto Prefecture), May 15, 2014

Held every year in Kyoto on May 15th, the Aoi Matsuri, or Hollyhock Festival, is one of the 3 main annual festivals of the city; the others are Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) and Gion Matsuri. Some sources claim it was the Emperor's offerings to the sacred spirits of the Shimogamo and Kamigamo shrines that appeased them and brought an end to a string of natural disasters that had devastated the region. This traditional offering became a festival that grew into the beautiful spectacle that it is today, with six hundred men, women and children parading in traditional Heian period dress, accompanied by oxcarts, men on horseback and giant flower bouquets. Hollyhock leaves were once believed to protect against natural disasters, and are used as decoration on clothes and vehicles of the procession. The parade, which takes about 5 hours, travels from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Shimogama Shrine and the Kamogamo Shrine, where rituals are performed by designated members of the procession. Horseracing and mounted archery demonstrations are also part of the festival, and you don't want to miss the thrill of watching these skilled equestrians dressed in traditional garb perform. Watching this splendid festival is sure to make you feel like you've been transported back to the Heian period yourself!

For more information, please visit here.



Asakusa Sanja Matsuri (Tokyo), May 16 - 18, 2014

Every year, for three days in May, the Asakusa section of Tokyo, known for its "old town" feel due to traditional residences and streets that co-exist within the most modern of the modern cities, celebrates the Sanja Matsuri. This festival is dedicated to the sacred spirits of the three men who founded the temple Senso-ji, which lies adjacent to the Asakusa Shrine. On the final (and most boisterous) day of the festival, three quite large and highly decorated mikoshi (portable shrines) that weigh about one ton each, are carried along the streets, bounced and jostled by the people shouldering them. Bouncing and jouncing the shrines up and down is believed to intensify the power of the spirit housed inside the mikoshi, and as a result, good luck will be showered down upon the onlookers and bearers. The proceeding two days of the festival are also chock-full of lavishly costumed performers and entertainers, musicians and the like, as well as other, smaller mikoshi which are also paraded through the streets. Shops and food stalls offer plenty of delicious food and souvenirs. This festival attracts about one and a half to two million visitors a year - this year, come join the fun!
For more information, please visit here.



Nikko Toshogu Shunki Reitaisai (Tochigi Prefecture), May 17 - 18, 2014

Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate, is a Shinto shrine which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Shunnki Taisai, or Grand Festival of Spring, is the reenactment of Tokugawa's final journey, per the request in his will, from his grave in Shizuoka prefecture to the shrine, built for him by his grandson, where he would be interred. The shrine is actually a mausoleum complex, highly and dazzlingly ornamented. No expense was spared on details that make even the most jaded of tourists gasp in wonder. The festival consists of a grand parade of one thousand men dressed in samurai costumes, and other men mounted on horseback test their archery skills in competitions. Musicians and dancers also perform inside and outside the shrine. It is indeed a fine send-off to one of the most powerful men in the history of Japan.
For more information, please visit here.




Events in the US: Save the Date!

August 8 - August 10, 2014 Otakon 2014

Shake it on over to the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, MD on August 8-10, 2014 for Otakon 2014. Make sure you don't miss the Otakon Matsuri Festival on August 7th, when two big USA Sumo stars will show their stuff! Fan-produced videos, talent shows, karaoke, maid café, workshops, etc. are all waiting for your otaku-self to come and join the fun!

For more information, please visit here.


August 22 - August 24, 2014 Japan Expo 2014


The 2014 Japan Expo will be held August 22-24, 2014 at the San Mateo County Event Center in California with special guest of honor video game music legend Akira Yamaoka. Come and see a great mix of pop and hi-tech culture, traditional arts and more. The 2013 Expo welcomed over 5,500 attendees, and this year we're hoping to see even more of you! Easy access to the major airports in the bay area makes it a snap to come and pay us a visit!

For more details on all the events, please visit here.



Information is provided as a courtesy to users of this website. Though the JNTO endeavors to ensure the information is accurate, users of the information are to act on such using their own judgement and at their own risk. Neither the JNTO nor any holder of copyright to the information shall be held responsible in any way whatsoever for any loss or misunderstanding, either direct or indirect, that is incurred as a result of utilizing the information.


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