An Exploration of Japanese Festivals

Fireworks

Japanese culture has a great history and is full of interesting traditions and rituals. Ancient Japan being so far removed from Western civilisations means that even in the modern day there are lots of cultural elements and Japanese festivals we're still unfamiliar with in the English speaking world. Today we will explore some of those key festivals, their origin and associated traditions. We hope you learn something and can perhaps even celebrate some of them with us this year!

Yuki Matsuri

February

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Yuki Matsuri, also known as the Sapporo Snow Festival, is Japan's largest and most famous winter event. It's held for one week every year in Hokkaido, one of Japan's coldest and snowiest regions. During the festivities, this beautiful setting is littered with snow statues and ice sculptures.

 

There are several key settings for this festival but the main one is Sapparo's Odori Park, a 1.5km long strip of parkland that is transformed for the purpose of this event. Other venues include Susukino and the Tsu Dome. In fact, for the one week each year in which the festival is held, you will find it difficult to avoid seeing snow statues everywhere you go!

Started by students in the 50s, Yuki Matsuri attracts over 2 million people every year. Attendees compete by trying to build the best ice sculptures. Prizes can be won and there are always plenty of local Japanese businesses selling delicious treats, trinkets and souvenirs. Music performances are also common so even if you're not into the snow sculptures, there's no chance you'll get bored!

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri

August

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Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is a summer festival held in Aomori prefecture. Japan's most colourful festival, it sees intricate lanterns and parade floats shaped as Japanese mythological creatures and legendary characters cruising the streets. Made from bamboo and cloth, these floats are designed to represent ancient armies who would be employed to protect Japan from foreign threats and evil spirits.

Nebuta refers to a specific float of a brave warrior and the highlight of the festival is watching his figure being carried through the city centre. 

Held from the 2nd to the 7th of August every year, attendees also benefit from live music, competitions and traditional chanting rituals. All in all, this festival is a sight to behold and something you definitely wont forget in a hurry!

Omizutori

March

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Omizutori is also known as the sacred water drawing festival. It takes place in the Japanese city of Nara for 2 weeks every March. The celebrations precede the blooming of the cherry blossoms and are held to cleanse the people of their sins and bring a clean and happy spring to Japan.

 

The festival itself contains a number of key traditions but the main event involves carrying huge flaming torches up to the top of a large balcony and letting the fire rain down. This is known as Otaminatsu and represents the cleansing of sin through fire, one of nature's most powerful elements. 

The happy and colourful atmosphere make this Japanese festival a great destination for tourists. However, when travelling here, it is important to remember this is a traditional Buddhist festival and attendees ought to treat the occasion with the appropriate repsect.

Gion Matsuri

July

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One of Japan's largest and most popular festivals, Gion Matsuri was established as a purification ritual and a way to appease the gods thought to cause natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

The event is held for the entire month of July across Japan's Kyoto region. Popular amongst tourists and locals, this event truly has something for everyone. It's a fantastic blend of the traditional and the modern, with music performances and drinking tents being set up alongside traditional calligraphers and historical dress shops. Where else can you attend a modern music festival wearing a Kimono?

 

The main events of the festival are traditionally held on the 17th and 24th July, where beautiful floats made by local people are paraded through the streets accompanied by music and dancing. Truly a sight to behold.

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

September

Japanese harvest festival

Danjiri Matsuri is a Japanese harvest festival. Historically it was an occasion to pray to the gods for a a bountiful harvest and plenty of food to last out the rest of the year. 

 

The word danjiri refers to a traditional Japanese wooden float decorated with carvings and ornaments. Carved in the shape of shrines and temples, the danjiri are pulled through the streets on festival days. Each float represents a different district of the city who then go on to compete for the much esteemed best float prize.

Held in Osaka in mid September every year, this festival attracts huge crowds and lots of noise. It's often referred to as Osaka's wildest night and anyone who's been to Osaka before will know it's pretty wild even on a normal day!

Now you understand everything you need to know about Japanese festivals, why not try to improve your Japanese language skills? 

We offer group and private courses for all levels. You can take these courses either online or face to face at our London offices where you will meet lots of other Japanese language learners!