Summer

How to Get the Most From Japanese Matsuri. A Set of Helpful Festival Tips.

Anton

Writer

Japan is truly a country of Matsuri (festivals). The tradition of holding various festivals is so deep, that you can find a festival almost every week taking place in either small neighborhood or in a big city, attracting a lot of people and lasting for few days. Every season there are various festivals. However, summer is the main season for Matsuri. That doesn’t mean that autumn or winter events are not as enjoyable as summer ones. Though, I think that the main image we have of Japanese Matsuri comes from summer festivals. And from this article, you will learn best tips to enjoy at Japanese festivals!

There are various types of Matsuri. The traditional ones have over thousands of years of history and usually supported by local shrines. There you can really learn about Japanese history, traditions and see fascinating costumes and Mikoshi (portable shrines). Some festivals are quite modern and usually supported by local communities and government. There are many concerts, dances and various contests at these festivals. And let`s not forget about seasonal events as cherry blossoms viewing, autumn leaves watching and various flower festivals. From this article, you will discover some tips for activities at the festivals in Japan and find out how to enjoy these events at 100%. Of course, festivals resemble each other all over the world, but Japan is a unique country. Thus, I hope that the points I gathered in this article will be helpful when you attend a Matsuri in the Country of the Rising Sun!

Contents

Traditional Aspects to Enjoy at Japanese Matsuri 
– Astonishing Portable Shrines and Festival Cars
– Cultural Performances
– Traditional Festival Costumes
– Unique Festival Dances
– Enjoy Traditional Music
– Pray and Wish for Wellbeing
– Take Part in Naked Festival

Things to Enjoy at Seasonal Japanese Festivals
– Don`t Miss the Cherry Blossoms Festivals
– Breathtaking Colorful Autumn Leaves
– Setsubun. Have Fun and Throw the Beans
– The Obon Season
Casual Ways to Enjoy Matsuri in Japan
– Wear Yukata and Watch Fireworks
– Get Unique Souvenirs and Local Delicacies

– The Festival Food

♦ Takoyaki
♦ Yakisoba
♦ Kushiyaki
♦ Okonomiyaki
♦ Oden
♦ Jaga Bata
♦ Grilled Corn
♦ American dogs and Frankfurters
♦ Taiyaki
♦ Yaki Imo
♦ Fruits on Sticks
♦ Wata Ame
♦ Kakigōri
♦ Ramune
♦ Sake and Local Beer

– Stay Entertained with Various Festival Games

♦ Kingyo Sukui
♦ Yo-Yo Tsuri
♦ Ningyo Sukui
♦ Shateki
♦ Superball Sukui
♦ Senbon Tsuri
♦Wanage

General Advises When You Visit Matsuri

The Best Festivals in Japan

1. Cherry Blossoms Festivals in Kyoto and Tokyo
2. Autumn Leaves Festivals
3. Fireworks Festivals
4. Lantern Festivals
5. Fire Waving Festivals
6. Snow Festivals
7. Naked Festivals
8. Water Themed Festivals
9. Traditional Costumes Festivals
10. Dance Festivals

The Most Important Way to Enjoy Matsuri in Japan

Traditional Aspects to Enjoy at Japanese Matsuri

There are many features at Japanese festivals that make them really unique and create an unforgettable atmosphere. I am quite sure, if you have visited a Japanese traditional festival at least once in your life, you could have noticed some of the enjoyable points I am going to tell you about. Those unique features will never let you confuse and leave you a great memory of Japan.

Astonishing Portable Shrines and Festival Cars

At almost every traditional festival in Japan, you will see a Mikoshi (portable shrine) or Dashi (float). People use them to carry the Gods during these events. Usually, they carry the shrines around the festival venue on their shoulders or physically pull the floats. At some festivals, you can also see the actual boats with the Gods if the festivals take place near the sea or a lake. You will be amazed at the detailed ornaments and richness of the materials used for these shrines and floats. Many of it is a few hundred years old. They are kept in local shrines until the net Matsuri comes up.

Cultural Performances

At many traditional festivals, you will see short historical plays. Actors perform it with various Japanese masks symbolizing mythical creature and gods. Also, you can see a puppet theater show. You will absolutely enjoy watching these shows as the stories of the plays are usually very easy to understand and the masks, costumes, and dolls are unique indeed. However, if you are more into action performances, you should visit a festival at Nezu shrine in autumn where they usually hold a sumo match.

Traditional Festival Costumes

Definitely, you will appreciate watching various cultural performances that involve the actors and locals who wear traditional clothes. This does not only include old style, complex kimonos. There are many festivals where people dress like samurais, feudal lords or wear religious attire. For example, at Horse Archery Festivals you can see samurais with bows on the horses. At the same time, you can watch beautiful kimonos of Japanese courtesans (Oiran) at Shinagawa Shukuba Festival.

Unique Festival Dances

If you are really curious about Japanese culture you will be amazed by the way how people dance during traditional festivals. At Matsuri people usually perform a Bon dance (Bon Odori) while parading or circling around the festival venue. The dance is rich in various movements, steps, and gestures, and people are wearing very colorful summer festival wear. You are very likely to join the Bon dance and see hundreds of people making the same moves around you during the festival is just astonishing!

Enjoy Traditional Music

What’s a festival without music? Indeed, the sounds of Taiko (Japanese drums) and Shakuhachi (bamboo flute) will surround you at any traditional Matsuri. The beats of the drums make everybody around move and perform Bon Odori! I personally think that traditional music is creating this unique and energetic atmosphere of Japanese festivals.

Pray and Wish for Wellbeing

As many of the festivals take place in shrines, a lot of people do not miss a chance to pray during these events. You are always welcome to visit a sacred place, wish your dreams to become true and ring a shrine bell after the God comes back home. Then, you can write your wishes on a special wooden board and leave it in the temple.

Take Part in a Naked Festival

There are plenty of strange traditions and festivals around the world and Japan is not an exception. There are many Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festivals) in Japan. So if you would like to see hundreds or even thousands of nearly naked Japanese people, you are welcome to attend one of them! In many cases, you are going to have an opportunity to join the festival and obviously almost get naked and follow its rules. How about this way of discovering Japan and socializing? One of the biggest Naked festivals takes place in Okayama Prefecture in winter!

「©岡山県観光連盟」

Things to Enjoy at Seasonal Japanese Festivals

Japanese people always valued nature and appreciated it at any season. For this reason, there are so many Matsuri and events to enjoy seasonal change or a certain time of the year, which they associate with weather, flowers or even animals sometimes.

Don’t Miss the Cherry Blossoms Festivals

Almost all parks around Japan are full of people under cherry trees when they blossom between March and May. The ancient tradition of cherry blossoms viewing (Hanami) makes everybody go out, have some fresh spring air and drink some sake watching glorious pink clouds of flowers on the cherry trees. I doubt that someone would not appreciate beauty pageants, traditional songs and dances and a little buzz on a pink carpet full of cherry flowers petals.

Breathtaking Colorful Autumn Leaves

Many autumn festivals also take place under the leaves of Japanese maples which turn fiery red, orange and yellow between September and November. The season for Momiji (autumn leaves) is the same as with Sakura, just the season starts from the north of Japan and finishes at its southern part. The tradition of watching autumn scenery is as old as watching cherry blossoms. I assure that you will get the same amount of aesthetic satisfaction being in a shrine in the mountains in October as being in a park with cherry trees in April.

Setsubun. Have Fun and Throw the Beans

Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival) is also an exceptional Matsuri taking place in all major shrines of Japan at the beginning of February. Usually, parents of small kids wear masks of Japanese daemons and scare the children. At the same time, children should throw the beans into these daemons in order to get rid of evil spirits. It is always fun to watch how people enjoy their family lives in this traditional manner. Besides, if you see someone wearing a mask, you can also throw some beans and make that evil go away.

The Obon Season

Obon season in August is also famous for the variety of its festivals. If you enjoy relaxing, mysterious and tranquil atmosphere with candle lights, I recommend you to pay a visit to one of many lantern festivals this season. Obon is the time when Japanese people welcome ancestors` spirits back at home. Candles and lanterns help them to find their way. Festivals during this season have a very chill atmosphere and you will definitely enjoy the sky and background full of lanterns at one of Obon Matsuri.

Casual Ways to Enjoy Matsuri in Japan

 

Wear Yukata and Watch Fireworks

You do not have to wear anything special at Japanese festivals. Please come in your casual clothes. However, isn`t it fun to try on a Japanese Yukata – a light robe which local women, men, and children wear in summer especially at the festivals. You will feel much more involved in the process of Matsuri, and of course, attract some attention.

Watching fireworks is another ancient tradition in Japan and you can enjoy plenty of pyrotechnic contests throughout the summer. I think, as most of them are held in August – the hottest summer month, one of the fireworks festivals is the best choice to wear Yukata.

Yukatas vary in designs. Obviously, women`s designs are more colorful, when men`s ones are more modest but still very refined. Don`t forget to add Geta (wooden sandals), Obi (belt for Yukata), and handbag and you are totally ready to enjoy any festival! You can buy a Yukata and Geta for about 8000-10000 Yen in any department store or small local clothing store in summer.

Don`t be disappointed if you want to go to a winter festival. There are warm Yukatas as well. Besides, many winter festivals take place in mountainous areas. This means that you should definitely try going to Onsen (hot spring) and relax after a festival.

Get Unique Souvenirs and Local Delicacies

During most of the festivals in Japan, you will be able to find something special which was prepared just for this particular event. There might not be a specialized souvenir shop at the venue, but you will definitely find some lucky charms, mascots, fortune telling sheets, special devices that people use only for a certain festival are at the stalls or nearby shrine. I think those souvenirs are really unique as they are made especially for the festival. So, probably next year they will not be the same. Another good souvenir would be some local food which you can bring back with you. In Japan, people prefer to bring food as a souvenir instead of something more tangible, so the choice of local delicacies should definitely be good.

Usually, there are plenty of goods for kids at the festivals. Masks of popular heroes, small Japanese character toys and of course a big variety of sweets are available at any festival!

The Festival Food

At any Japanese Matsuri, you will find Yatai (food stalls). Yatai will never let you feel hungry or thirsty. It is a great chance to try the local festival food in one place. You can always take something to try and sit on the nearby chair or on the ground or just wander around. I think that Japanese street food stalls contribute a lot to make the atmosphere of the festival even more enjoyable. The average price for a portion of food in Yatai would be around 500 Yen.

Takoyaki

You can meet Takoyaki at all festivals in Japan, and this is one of the most popular street foods. Basically, it’s a set of octopus balls prepared in a special batter. It all comes under a brown sauce. They also use the same batter for Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba.

Yakisoba

Yakisoba is a traditional Japanese fried noodle with the same sauce that they use for Yakitori. The recipe varies from stall to stall. Generally, it is made with pork, has some marinated ginger and seaweeds in it. You can also find these noodles with seafood.

Kushiyaki

Kushiyaki is everything grilled in sticks. Most common at festivals would be various parts of meat. These are Yakitori. You will be able to find some parts that you wouldn’t think of eating at home like chicken skin, cartilages etc. but in Japan, nothing goes to trash except bones. Don’t worry, normal meat is also available.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake that consists of three major ingredients – batter, cabbage and okonomiyaki sauce. The rest of the ingredients are up to you or a chef. I like it with seafood😊

Oden

Oden is a traditional winter street food in Japan. As it stays in warm soup all the time, it can become a great way to warm yourself up during winter Festivals along with warm sake! Pieces of oden usually consist of tofu and fish paste and you can eat it with yellow mustard and soy sauce.

Jaga Bata

Jaga Bata is a very popular and fulfilling Matsuri food. In Japanese, Jaga is potato and Bata is butter. Usually, the potato is prepared in foil on the grill. When it’s done just put some butter on it and enjoy!

Grilled Corn

The smell of grilled corn slightly covered with soy sauce catches the attention of people passing by. It is common to see a line in front of the Yatai selling grilled corn on the cobs. Don’t miss your chance to try it.

American dogs and Frankfurters

These are also very common street foods in Japan. Here they call corn-dogs – American dogs. So, if you find all the Japanese food a bit strange, you will definitely have a common treat during the festival!

Taiyaki

Taiyaki is a special Japanese pastry. It has a shape of a fish with custard or sweet red bean paste inside. The cover is made of batter and the whole Taiyaki pie is fried in a special form. Many Japanese remember the taste of Taiyaki from their childhood. Why not try how Japanese nostalgia tastes like when you are at a festival?

Yaki Imo

Yaki Imo is a baked sweet potato. It is usually purple. Not only the potato is super tasty, but if you see the cart in which they bake it, you will be charmed with its smell. Because they bake those potatoes in the oven with open fire, the scent of charcoals and potatoes leaves an unforgettable impression.

Fruits on Sticks

Japanese people really like putting fresh fruits on sticks. You will easily find bananas covered with dark or white chocolate with a splash of sprinkles, apples, strawberries, and grapes covered with glossy caramel. Those make festivals even more colorful!

Wata Ame

Wata Ame or Cotton candy is the most popular treat among children during festivals. And don`t forget to treat yourself if you pass by this stall!

Kakigōri

Kakigōri is a traditional Japanese festival treat. Basically, it is a cup of fluffy shaved ice where you can put any syrup, sweetener, tea or whatever you like. If you are lucky you can also see very old school ice shaving machines that look like small ice shaving factories.

Ramune

Ramune is a typical Matsuri refreshment drink and exclusive Japanese soda. This drink has an unusual and distinctive design of a bottle with a special device to open it. For this design, Ramune became a modern symbol of Japanese summer. Originally it has a lemon-lime taste, but recently you can find other tastes as well.

Sake and Local Beer

What`s a festival without a little booze? You can find local beer and sake at any festival. Usually, in Yatai they keep it in large tanks filled with ice. At winter events they keep sake at the tanks with hot water for you to stay warm at any time.

Stay Entertained with Various Festival Games

Games are great options not only to make your children busy. Actually, many Japanese festival games are entertaining for grownups as well. These old-school games will never lose its popularity in the society. And this is something you really must try to enjoy the festival as Japanese people do.

Kingyo Sukui

Kingyo Sukui is a very old Japanese Festival game – goldfish scooping. You need to scoop as many goldfishes in a tank with a special tool – Poi before it brakes. Poi is made with a very thin paper, so when you put it into water it becomes fragile and it is really hard to catch even one fish. If you are lucky and got a fish you can either leave it in the tank or take it with you as they usually provide a plastic bag to bring the fish back home.

Yo-Yo Tsuri

In this game, you need to catch a balloon which is partially filled with water that floats on the surface of the water in the tank with a paper string and the hook on its end. This is also quite a challenging game as the string also gets wet and Yo-Yos are quite heavy so everything depends on your speed and reaction.

Ningyo Sukui

This game is for children. They simply need to scoop rubber or plastic toys from the tank. Usually, there are famous characters from Pokemon or Disney.

Shateki

Shateki is a small shooting gallery with fake guns and corks instead of bullets. Rules are simple: you target the prize, shoot at it, and if you hit it – just collect the prize! Isn’t it romantic?

Superball Sukui

Superball scooping is also a challenging game. The rules are the same as in goldfish scooping, and you use the same device. The only difference is that rubber balls do not move like fishes but they are heavier.

Senbon Tsuri

In this game, you can just rely on your luck. You need to pull one string an see if there is any prize on its end. The point is that you can not see what is on the other side of the string until you pull it.

Wanage

Wanage means ring tossing. It is also a very common game for Japanese festivals. All you need to do is to toss the ring on the prize you want from a small distance. However, it is pretty challenging to do so without practice. Usually, you can try from 5 to 10 times. Good Luck!

General Advises When You Visit Matsuri

I shall be obvious, but it is worth mentioning a few points that are better to keep in mind to enjoy Japanese Festivals with no stress.

  • Most of the festivals in Japan are events full of people. On the event days, you will probably experience traffic jams and a shortage of parking spaces. Besides, some of the roads will be closed for traffic as many festivals take place on those roads. So my advice is to use public transportation instead of coming by car to avoid loss of time and further inconveniences.
  • Many summer festivals are held in summer and use a lot of water. Some festivals like Pantu Festival in Okinawa use mud. So put on yourself something light and comfortable. At the same time, choose the cloth that will not disappoint you when it gets wet, dirty or absorbs smells from Yatai.
  • Consuming alcohol in Japan is also a cultural feature. Many local people come to the festivals to relax and have a couple of beers with friends and families. Indeed, what`s festival without being a bit tipsy? Though I suggest you drink alcohol moderately to avoid any misunderstandings and peacefully enjoy these traditional events.
  • If you want to avoid crowds, some festivals like Fireworks Festivals or festivals that have shows, as Horse Archery Festival, usually have reserved seats with a better view for an extra charge. Besides, if you would like to participate in some parades or dance competitions like Yosakoi dance you will need to register. For these reasons, it is always better to contact the organizers of the festival in advance.

 

The Best Festivals in Japan

Here I assembled for you the best festivals which you can enjoy all year round and divided it into few groups. Please take a look at these Matsuris. I am sure you will find something which will catch your eye!

1. Cherry Blossoms Festivals in Kyoto and Tokyo

For those who are looking forward to enjoying Japanese spring and have a picnic under a blooming cherry tree, here are two articles on best Cherry Blossoms Festivals in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Kyoto URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2566/
Tokyo URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/1805/

2. Autumn Leaves Festivals

As for autumn nature beauty lovers. The following article will help you to choose your favorite festival to adore colorful autumn leaves in Japan.
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/4274/

3. Fireworks Festivals

Don’t you just like watching Fireworks? In the following article, you will find the best Hanabi Festivals all around this beautiful country. So choose the festival, put on your Yukata and enjoy the festivity!
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/4269/

「© TCVB」

4. Lantern Festivals

I really appreciate calm and tranquil festivals sometimes. You will easily see from the following article how many beautiful and charming Lantern Festivals Japan holds. Just click on the link below.
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5021/

5. Fire Waving Festivals

For those who like watching the fire, but lanterns are not enough for you, I suggest you look through an article that introduces you to the best Fire Waving Festivals in Japan! The link is below.
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5190/

6. Snow Festivals

For winter and snow lovers I chose an article that tells you about best spots for Snow Festivals. Obviously, they are all in winter so prepare some warm cloths when you attend these events.
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/4442/

7. Naked Festivals

Are you curious about those strange festivals in Japan? The following article is the best source for you to pick up a great Naked Festival so you can enjoy your day feeling totally Japanese!
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/4281/

8. Water Festivals

Being surrounded by the sea and having a lot of fresh water resources, Japan has a deep connection with water. It`s not surprising that there are so many festivals with a water theme here. The following article will help you to choose one.
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/4601/

9. Traditional Costume Festivals

Many tourists come to Japan to see unique traditional clothes and festival costumes. And the link below will help you to choose the Best Festival to watch Traditional Costumes.
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5164/

10. Dance Festivals

What’s a festival is without dancing? There are so many dance festivals in Japan that sometimes it is hard to choose one. Following article assembled Best Dancing Festivals in Japan. Please have a look.
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5246/

Closing Remarks

Japanese people are quite shy in their everyday life. Sometimes I feel a distance in our communication sometimes. At the same time, I think that the best way to enjoy Japanese people is to socialize, learn about local traditions and make friends. And festivals are the best events to do it! It is always much easier to communicate with people in a friendly and relax atmosphere. You will definitely feel very comfortable at a Japanese Matsuri, learn much more about local culture and make new friends! Please visit and enjoy unforgettable and unique Japanese Festivals!

Start making new friends right now. Huber is a platform connecting local guides with curious tourists. You can choose a festival you like or ask the locals to help you with the choice and you definitely will spend a wonderful time at Matsuri with local people who can show you more than you expected!

Would You Like to Make New Local Friends When You Travel In Japan? It is Easy!

Kamakura is a tranquil suburban paradise close to the sea and not far from Tokyo. As I wanted to see something really traditional, I thought that the atmosphere of this place would be perfect to spend my weekend and learn something new about Japanese culture. At that moment the guides from Huber. helped me to choose a proper event and accompanied me during this exceptionally impressive Matsuri. Besides, we are still very good friends with them!

Please take a look at the article about my experience in Yabusame Matsuri in Kamakura and how I met local friends!
URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/3935/

Anton

I`ve been living in Japan for over 10 years and still fascinated with this unique country. I always discover something new about the land of the rising sun when there is a chance!

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