It is safe to say that you can visit Japan at any point of time during the year, and you will probably be able to catch a matsuri (festival). Numerous as the number of shrines itself, a matsuri event is not to be missed. That is, if you don’t mind the crowd, as it will be massive. The trick is, to find out when is the celebration of deity of each shrine takes place and plan your trip accordingly. But to narrow the list down a bit, here are some of the most celebrated matsuri in Japan that you might want to catch:
SAPPORO YUKI MATSURI
First held all the way back in the 1950’s by a group of students, the Sapporo Snow Festival has since become a worldwide event with participants coming from all over the world. Their internationally recognized snow-sculpturing competition attracts around 2 million visitors a year and is considered a world standard event. To see the magnificent ice sculptures in Sapporo’s Odori Park, make sure you plan your trip in the second week of February as the event lasts for 7 days.
You can catch the Sakura Matsuri or sometimes called hanami (flower-viewing) in April. The Sakura Matsuri is celebrated by bringing lots of food and sake while having a picnic under the cherry blossoms day and night. While hanami can be seen throughout Japan, there are certain areas that holds very big Sakura Matsuri such as Hirosaki, Ueno Park in Tokyo, and the mountain Yoshino-yama, considered the best cherry blossoms viewing spot in Japan.
Sanno Matsuri and the Kanda Matsuri, takes place in June, in Tokyo alternatively every year. It is one of the biggest celebrations in Japan with around 300 people taking parts in the procession around Tokyo city, wearing Japanese traditional costumes. The procession, also characterised by it’s mikoshi (portable shrines) will leave Hie-jinja shrine in the morning and will not be back until it has made it rounds in the Tokyo city and lasts all the way till night time.
Gion Matsuri is the biggest festival in Kyoto and it takes place during the whole month of July. Its main highlight though is the Yamaboko Junko float procession that occurs from the 17th to the 24th of July. The Gion Matsuri originated from the ancient days as a way to appease the Gods to ward of natural disasters and pestilence. During the celebration the roads will be closed and lined with street pedlars selling food. This is also a good time to catch Japanese ladies wearing their yukata.
The Nebuta Matsuri takes place from the 2nd to the 7th of August in the city of Aomori. It is characterised by its procession of high floating lanterns, often in painted figures of warriors, kabuki actors and depiction of their Gods. The procession starts in the evening accompanied by dancers wearing a specific costume called haneto and continues well into the night.
Celebrated from the 3rd to the 6th of August, the Kanto Matsuri is a not to be missed pole lantern festival held in the city of Akita. The highlight of the event is the pole balancing act by the the participants, which is an amazing feat as some of the poles reaches up to 12 meters! The pole itself is made from bamboo and hanged with numerous lanterns on either side and can weight up to 50 kilos.
These are just a handful of the festivals they held in Japan. For a more detailed schedule, you can also check out http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/festivals/