Matsuri, Festivals of Japan

Matsuri, Festivals of Japan © Chiharu /

Kyoto Gion Festival (Kyoto)

At certain times of the year, people gather at temples and shrines for festivals to enjoy portable shrines, floats and stalls. Traditionally, festivals were held to worship ancestors and god, or to thank god for a year’s harvest. Over the years the traditional meanings have faded and the rituals have been simplified. 

There are also festivals that are not related to temples and shrines such as Sapporo snow festival (Hokkaido), Takada Castle cherry blossom viewing (Niigata) and Hakata Dontaku (Fukuoka-city). In such case, the city or town plans and organises the event.

Japan's three major festivals  Gion-matsuri (Kyoto), Tenjin-matsuri (Osaka) and Kanda-matsuri (Tokyo) are Japan's three major festivals. The Gion festival is held from 1 to 31 July. It’s well known for the parade of decorated floats on 17 and 24 July. The Tenjin festival is held around 25 July of each year. The Kanda Festival is held every second year around mid May. 

Festival details can be found on the shrine or special event websites;

Highlights of the festival Many festivals feature a portable shrine or decorative float.

The portable shrines "Mikoshi" are also called "Omikoshi". These portable shrines are carried around town on the shoulders of men or on wheels. Depending on the region, they not only walk around town but treat the portable shrines roughly and shake it or even collide it with others on purpose. The Kenka-matsuri of Nada (Hyogo) is famous for the rough collision of portable shrines. People call out "Wasshoi" or "Essa" as they carry them. 

"Dashi" are large decorative floats pulled around town during the festivals. The size, shape and decoration vary by area, and also have different nicknames such as Hikiyama or Danjiri. The Danjiri-matsuri of Kishiwada (Osaka) is famous for its floats.

Portable shrine "Mikoshi" carried by people  Supachita Ae /

How to enjoy festivals

"Yatai" are the festival stalls. There are food stalls that sell yakisoba noodles, takoyaki, cotton candy and more.  Some examples of game stalls are shooting games, yo-yo balloon fishing and goldfish scooping. Each food or game costs around 200 to 500yen.  Festivals are often very crowded. It’s good to agree on a meeting point just in case family or friends get lost in the crowd. 

Matsuri, Festivals of Japan: Image Gallery

Matsuri, Festivals of Japan: Video Gallery

Parade of decorated floats of Gion festival