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Japan's Summer Festivals

Of the myriad of summer festivals held in Japan, there are religious festivals, performance festivals, dance festivals, stamina competition festivals, and, of course, fireworks festivals. Some offer paid seating, but most are first-come, first-serve on the day of the event, so it's a good idea to arrive early to get good viewing spots. Once you've staked out your claim, it's always fun to wander around and enjoy the atmosphere. People come with friends and family, and the mood is very convivial and relaxed; there are lots of food and game stalls to check out as well.

Festivals provide a great opportunity for visitors to join in the fun! You'll notice that the locals, who might have given you the impression of being rather conservative, tend to loosen their laces and welcome foreign visitors with open arms and boisterous good spirits. You simply need to show a bit of polite interest, and before you know it, your arms might be linked in a daisy-chain of dancers! The resounding musical accompaniments provide a percussive beat that is a wonderful backdrop.

Gion Matsuri Festival (Kyoto)

Main parades in middle of July, with smaller events spanning the rest of the month

Gion Matsuri

This highly elaborate festival which runs the entire month of July is spotted with several main events and many smaller ones, including dance and musical performances, comic plays, displays of artistic treasures and more. During Yoiyama, two types of floats, the smaller Yama and much larger Hoko, are festooned with beautifully designed and illuminated lanterns that lend a magical touch to an already enchanting atmosphere. The festival is named after Kyoto's exclusive and fashionable Gion district, parts of which temporarily close down during the festival.

For more information about Gion matsuri and other festivals in Kyoto, visit here.

Akita Kanto Festival (Akita)

Early August

Akita Kanto Fes

The "pole lantern festival," designed to banish lingering evil spirits before the start of the autumn harvest, features incredible feats of balance and poise as men balance poles ranging from about 16 ft up to 40 ft and weighing over 130 lb which are festooned with up to 46 candle-lit lanterns. The poles, all 230 of them, shaped like ears of rice plants or cedar branches, are lifted at the same time at the start of the performance, then placed on foreheads, hips, shoulders, etc. Balancing competitions take place during the day. The highly competitive nature of the festival along with the fierce drumming and chanting of the crowd combined with the glowing spectacle of nearly 10,000 globes of light is enough to take your breath away (if you weren't already screaming in delight).

For more information, visit here.

Aomori Nebuta Festival (Aomori)

Early August

Aomori Nebuta

Way up at the northernmost tip of the main island of Honshu lies the city of Aomori, home to the annual Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. During the festival, designated one of Japan's significant cultural assets, about 20 huge beautifully illustrated paper floats brightly illuminated from the inside to stunning effect, are paraded through the streets of the city. The floats represent a range of figures from history and folklore to popular anime characters. Specially costumed dancers add to the dazzling view.

For more information, visit here.

Sumida River Fireworks Festival (Tokyo)

End of July

Sumida Fireworks

The world's oldest fireworks festival, 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 displays. Seen from the banks of the river, the gorgeous colors and fanciful forms of the displays say "summer" like nothing else! Over one million come to the river banks to watch, and after the show is over, the tipsy revelers often set off fireworks of their own!

For more information, visit here.

Miyajima Water Fireworks Display (Hiroshima)

Mid August


Launched from boats off Miyajima's north shore, about 200 fireworks from the festival's total 5,000 fireworks are launched directly behind the torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine, which is the central point of the show, and burst above the water, illuminating both sky and sea. The fireworks can also be seen from special sightseeing boat tours circling the bay. The fireworks theme changes annually, but it never fails to enchant and impress the hundreds of thousands of on-lookers who gather on Miyajima as well as on the nearby shore of Hiroshima. If the tide is low enough, you can walk directly up to the front of the shrine, which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For more information, visit here.

Setouchi & Aichi Triennales

Held once every three years, the Setouchi and Aichi Triennales are important events that seek to revitalize local areas and introduce visitors to their striking and one-of-a-kind cultural assets.


Setouchi Triennale 2016

This international art festival highlights artists from Japan and around the world. Centered on the famous Art Island of Naoshima, the twelve islands of the Seto Inland Sea will be hosting a variety of art and other cultural events, introducing visitors to the flavors and experiences of this intriguing part of Japan. Visitors may purchase a 3-Day Triennale Ferry Pass for eight individual island routes at a very affordable price as well as the Triennale 3-Season passport which admits visitors to almost all the Triennale art sites during all three sessions.

The dates of the 2016 Setouchi Triennale are spread over three sessions encompassing a total of 108 days.

Spring: March 20th — April 17th
Summer: July 18th — September 4th
Autumn: October 8th - November 6th

For more information, please visit here.


Aichi Triennale 2016

The Aichi Triennale covers 74 days, from Aug. 11th — Oct. 23rd, 2016 in five separate venues within the Aichi prefecture. Entitled A Rainbow Caravan, it is an art cornucopia of vibrantly varied forms with the intention of developing an exchange of ideas and inspirations between creator and viewer. This unique form of communication will serve to bring the imagination of artists and their audience together using visual art, moving images, music, etc.

For more information, please visit here.

Events Under the Cherry Blossoms

One of the defining delights of early springtime in Japan is the glory of the cherry trees in bloom. It seems there are infinite varieties of trees, each with their own special trunk and branch shape, blossom color and configuration. There are numerous ways to view these lovely flowers, with special events and activities for visitors to enjoy. Below are three magnificent cherry viewing locations: one in Tokyo and two in the Tohoku area which encompasses several prefectures in the north end of the main island of Honshu.

Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival (Iwate)

About a 3 1/2 hour train ride from Tokyo, Kitakami City annually hosts the Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival, held at Kitakami City Park Tenshochi, from mid-April through early May. There are 10,000-plus trees and 100,000 azaleas which also come into bloom at approximately the same time as the cherry trees. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely ride in a horse-drawn carriage under the heavily laden boughs, or riding in a pleasure boat along the Kitakami River while gazing at the trees along the bank as the wind whips the brilliantly colored carp shaped streamers stretching across the river. There is a 1.2-mile promenade of trees over 80 years old which is illuminated at night, casting a fairytale reflection onto the tranquil surface of the river. In the park one may also enjoy exploring a folklore village with beautifully restored historical buildings and a varieties of cherry blossoms. A memorial museum dedicated to the famous lyricist Hachiro Sato is nearby as well. There are also booths selling food and souvenirs to help celebrate the season!

For more information, please visit here.

Chidorigafuchi-ryokudo Walkway (Tokyo)

When your travels take you to Tokyo during cherry blossom season, you will definitely want to head over to see one of the city's biggest springtime delights: the blossoms of Chidorigafuchi-ryokudo, a walkway along the moat of the Imperial Palace.

Chidorigafuchi lies on the northern side of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The name Chidorigafuchi is from the moat named after chidori (the plover), since its shape is said to be similar to the bird. While a magnificent viewing spot (a varieties of cherry trees create a stunning, tunnel-like effect as they gently curve over a 0.4-mile pedestrian walkway), you best be well prepared for a crowd-over one million people come to Chidorigafuchi annually.

Nighttime is also lovely, with the illuminated blossoms creating a dream-like landscape. Boats are available for rent, and who doesn't like to ponder the mysteries of life while trailing one's fingers in the limpid waters, dotted here and there with the fragile beauty of cherry blossoms resting on the water's surface?

For more information, please visit here.

Tendo Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival (Yamagata)


Of the many springtime festival events in Japan, one of the most unusual by far is the "Ningen Shogi", or Human Shogi (shogi is a traditional board game, similar to chess, and is known as "Japanese chess" or the "Generals' Game.") held in Tendo City which is produces over 90% of the unique, 5-sided pieces used in shogi. Men and women dressed in centuries-old battle attire represent the "pieces," and they are positioned on a huge board. The two opponents, shogi professionals known as Kishi, vie with each other to capture the "king" by moving the pieces on the board. The Kishi, also known as the "generals" shout out their moves, and the pieces then move to the corresponding squares. About 95,000 spectators countrywide show up annually for the spectacle. While Ningen Shogi is the main attraction, the festival includes nighttime cherry blossom illumination, a portable shrine, traditional dances, and plenty of food stalls. Tendo City is about a 3-hour train ride from Tokyo Station.

For more information, please visit here.

Events in the US: Save the Date!

Japan Week Returns to New York!

Japan Week, New York City's premiere Japanese travel and tourism event organized by Japan National Tourism Organization, is back for its 5th year on March 10-12, 2016 at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal.

Japan Week 2016 features food and confectionaries straight from Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku, over 30 diverse businesses from both New York City and Japan, and a conveyor belt sushi restaurant right in Grand Central Terminal. Free and open to the public, visitors can also find general information on Japan tourism, receive special travel package offers, and even win a trip to Japan.

From world-famous ski resorts and picturesque national parks to traditional cuisine, festivals, and seafood, Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku are home to hidden regional gems that even seasoned travelers miss. The brand-new Hokkaido Shinkansen, linking Hokkaido with the northernmost part of the mainland via high-speed rail for the first time ever, is scheduled to begin in March of 2016. Travelers will be able to take a bullet train directly from Tokyo to see all of the natural and man-made wonders of northern Japan.

More information on Japan Week's events, exhibitors, giveaways, and activities will be revealed in the coming weeks at www.japanweek.us.

National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Let your inner blossoms bloom at the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., March 20th - April 17th, 2016. Come celebrate spring with parades, marching bands, fireworks, not to mention taiko drums and other live musical performances; Lots of food and fun for the entire family! And how about enjoying the cherry trees from a different perspective? Tours including bike and pedicab, as well as daytime and moonlight cruises all available.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

For more information, 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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