Have you ever heard of Japanese festivals? No? Then, my friend, you are missing out on a lot. Japanese festivals are an important part of their culture and are deeply rooted in their traditions. Japanese festivals have everything from celebrating the cherry blossoms to honoring their ancestors. These festivals occur throughout the year and are enjoyed by people of all ages. So, let’s explore the vibrant world of Japanese festivals, their significance, and the reasons behind their celebrations.
Popular Japanese Festivals
Japanese festivals are among the best ways to experience Japanese culture and tradition. Japan’s festivals are well-known, and people celebrate some of the most popular ones, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival, Tanabata Festival, Obon Festival, Shichi-go-san Festival, and Kanda Matsuri, throughout the country. The country turns pink during the Cherry Blossom Festival due to the blooming cherry blossoms. It symbolizes hope, renewal, and the transient nature of life. People gather in parks, gardens, and temples to admire the beautiful scenery and celebrate with food, drinks, and traditional performances. The Tanabata Festival, also known as the Star Festival, celebrates the meeting of two celestial lovers who can only meet once a year. People write their wishes on colorful paper and tie them onto bamboo trees. It is a magical and romantic festival that celebrates love and the power of wishes.
The Shichi-go-san Festival is a celebration of children’s growth and good health. Boys of age three and five, and girls of age three and seven, dress up in traditional clothing and go to a shrine with their families. It is a beautiful and joyful festival that showcases Japanese fashion and culture. Kanda Matsuri is a festival that honors the Shinto deities that protect the city of Tokyo. It is one of the three biggest festivals in Japan and features a parade of portable shrines, traditional music, and dances. It is a grand and exciting festival representing Tokyo’s pride and history. Attending a Japanese festival is a must-have experience for visitors or anyone looking to enjoy Japanese culture, traditions, and food.
Traditional Japanese Food during Festivals
When it comes to Japanese festivals, one must recognize the delicious traditional food accompanying them. Sakura mochi, a tasty pink rice cake wrapped in a salted cherry blossom leaf, is a popular treat during the spring festival season. During the Obon festival in August, people commonly eat Ohagi, a sweet rice ball coated with bean paste. Yaki Manju is a must-try during the autumn festival season if you’re a fan of steamed buns. Takoyaki, a savory octopus ball, is a favorite at summer festivals. And to beat the heat, nothing is better than a refreshing shaved ice dessert called Kakigoori, often served at summer festivals. These festival foods are mouth-watering and provide a glimpse into Japan’s unique culinary culture.
History and Significance of Major Festivals
Japanese festivals often leave visitors in awe of the rich history and significance behind each celebration. From the beloved Cherry Blossom Festival to the centuries-old Kanda Matsuri, understanding the stories behind these events adds an entirely new layer of appreciation. Starting with the Cherry Blossom Festival, or Sakura Matsuri, it’s not just about the beautiful pink blooms that cover the country each spring. This celebration originated from a practice known as hanami, or flower viewing, where people would come together under the blooms to write poetry and enjoy the beauty of nature. Today, it’s still a time for appreciation and a chance to gather with loved ones and partake in picnics and festivities.
For those interested in warrior culture, the Kanda Matsuri is a must-visit. Held every two years, this festival celebrates Edo-era warriors and their shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The festival’s highlight is the procession to the Kanda Myojin Shrine, where participants carry portable shrines and participate in purification rituals. Lastly, the Tanabata Festival, or Star Festival, celebrates the weaving princess Orihime and cowherd Hikoboshi, who can only meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month, according to Japanese folklore. Across the country, colorful decorations and streamers, known as tanzaku, are hung in hopes of making wishes come true. These festivals hold important historical and cultural significance in Japan, and learning about them can add a new level of appreciation to any trip to the country.
Japanese Festivals Beyond Tokyo
Who says celebrating Japanese festivals is only limited to Tokyo? Japan is packed with various festivals spanning different regions of the country. These festivals highlight various cultural traditions, and you can enjoy them more authentically.
If you are traveling anytime soon, check out some of these regional festivals: Head to Kyoto in July to witness the Gion Matsuri – a month-long extravaganza known for its giant floats, traditional costumes, and street food.
If you’re not a fan of crowds, head to Aomori in August for the Nebuta Matsuri – a festival featuring glowing lanterns that are paraded across the streets. You can even participate in the procession!
If you’re visiting Japan during winter, visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido is a must. The festival boasts ice sculptures of pop culture icons, international landmarks, and even some anime characters! Head to the Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo for a summer spectacle and witness a breathtaking pyrotechnics display.
The Awa Odori is a lively dance festival held in Tokushima City on the island of Shikoku. Participants dress in traditional outfits and dance through the streets to the beat of taiko drums and traditional Japanese instruments. The festival is held in August and is one of Japan’s largest dance festivals, attracting over 1 million visitors yearly.
People celebrate the Star Festival, known as Tanabata, every year on July 7th. According to legend, Vega and Altair, two stars separated by the Milky Way, can only meet once a year on this day. The festival features colorful decorations made of paper streamers, bamboo, and traditional Japanese snacks like takoyaki and shaved ice.
Obon is a Buddhist festival held in mid-August to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. Also known as Bon Festival, this event pays respects to ancestors who have passed on. It’s believed that during this time, the spirits of ancestors return home to visit their loved ones. So people light lanterns and participate in dances and other ceremonies to welcome and show gratitude to the spirits. The festival varies by region but typically involves lighting lanterns, visiting family gravesites, and performing traditional dances called bon odori. The festival is an important time for Japanese families to come together and honor their ancestors.
Lastly, visit the Hakata Gion Yamagasa in Fukuoka in July, where participants race through the streets with giant floats. It’s an adrenaline-pumping experience that you don’t want to miss out on. These regional festivals are just the tip of the iceberg; exploring them is a lifetime’s adventure.
To truly experience Japan’s festivals.
It’s important to immerse yourself in the local culture. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your festival experience:
- Dress the part: Many festivals have a dress code, so check in advance and dress appropriately. This may mean wearing a yukata (a lightweight cotton kimono) or other traditional clothing.
- Try the food: Festivals are a great opportunity to sample traditional Japanese cuisine. Look for food stalls selling local specialties, and be adventurous with your choices.
- Participate in the activities: Whether dancing in the streets or trying traditional crafts, be bold and join the festivities.
- It’s important to respect local customs as Japan’s festivals are deeply rooted in tradition. Follow festival organizers’ rules and guidelines and be mindful of others around you.
Japanese festivals are a colorful and vibrant celebration of its rich cultural heritage. From the famous Cherry Blossom Festival to the lesser-known Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, they offer a glimpse into Japan’s fascinating history and traditions. Indulging in traditional Japanese food and watching the fireworks display is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.