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Japan's Fabulous Fall Festivals

As the blazing heat and humidity of the summer months starts to fade, anticipation of coolness seems to revitalize everyone. The season of autumn celebration is upon Japan, and it seems wherever you go, you are treated to traditional cultural festivals complete with fabulously decorated floats, dancing, music, delicious local street fare, and in general, a boisterous, noisy and fun good time!

Here are a few of the most popular autumn festivals, each one distinct in their own special way.

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri (Osaka)

This thrillingly high octane festival held for two days and nights every autumn in Osaka's Kishiwada City consists of approximately 35 or so portable floats called danjiri which are elaborately hand-carved, all wooden structures weighing about 4 tons each. Each one is pulled by a team of up to 1,000 people representing different districts of the city, each wearing their own special uniforms. These teams tow their danjiri around the city streets during the daytime hours of the festival, caroming around street corners at what seems to be recklessly high speeds. At night, the danjiri are festooned with bright red lanterns and a slow, regal procession takes place along the main parade route. Those who enjoyed the daytime festival now get a chance to enjoy a completely different atmosphere of the nighttime danjiri. About 600,000 people visited last year's fall festival, and the same can be expected this year!

For more information, please visit here.
Takayama Matsuri Autumn Festival (Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture)

This festival, considered by many to be one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan takes place every year on October 9th and 10th. 11 huge, tiered floats, all designated significant intangible folk cultural assets, each of which is spectacularly constructed and ornamented with intricate metalwork, gilded wood, lacquer, etc. on the outside and inside are topped with large wooden marionettes, which are conducted in performances on top of the floats. These beautiful figures are also highly decorated with fabrics such as brocade, embroidered cloth, silk and the like. These floats also take part in a night procession, and each one is adorned with up to 100 lanterns. Despite their grand size, they seem to float gently in the pools of lantern light as they regally make their way through the city on wheeled carts.

For more information, please visit here.
 
Nada no Kenka Matsuri (Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture)

On October 14th and 15th, a rather aggressive-seeming festival called a "fighting festival" takes place in Himeji, and it is just one of many such popular festivals in Japan. The Himeji city version consists of three portable ornately decorated floats shouldered by bearers and joined by groups of men bearing bamboo poles. The three floats are violently clashed against each other, knocking and colliding with brutal force until one of them is finally heaved on top of another, which signifies Game Over. As night falls, the floats are beautifully illuminated, and hopefully, a peaceful mood settles in!

For more information, please visit here.
Shuki Taisai Grand Autumn Festival (Nikko-Tosho-gu Shrine, Tochigi Prefecture)

This festival is part of a large UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes other shrines and temples in Nikko, and it is thought to represent the funeral ceremony of Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose remains are interred at the shrine, and who was the first shogun of the Edo era. You can see a grand procession of about eight hundred people all dressed in 17th century period clothing as warriors, samurai and the like. Watching this magnificent, slightly imposing reenactment temporarily transports one back four centuries in the blink of an eye! There is also a yabusame performance (archers performing their skills on horseback) which, though an ancient Japanese traditional contest, is now gaining popularity overseas as well.

For more information, please visit here.
Kyoto Jidai Matsuri (Kyoto)

Held every year on October 22, this Festival of the Ages is a fantastic way to see history reenacted by actors in period clothing representing famous and common figures, portable shrines, horse-drawn carriages, etc., representing each era of Kyoto's 1,200 year history and adorned with decorations of each particular era. Costumes, ornaments and such are painstakingly hand-crafted by Kyoto's traditional artisans. The festival begins at the Old Imperial Palace and ends at the Heian Jingu Shrine. This is a beautiful glimpse of old Kyoto history in all its glory. It's almost like visiting a museum!

For more information, please visit here.

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