Most festivals and events in Japan center on either Buddhist or Shinto religious holidays. The nature-focused events like cherry and plum blossom viewing and commemorations of historic events are much-loved by the Japanese people.
Sapporo Snow Festival
This lovely February event is the first celebration on the festival calendar and takes place in Hokkaido’s regional capital, Odori Park. Vast snow and ice sculptures are featured, drawing visitors from all over Japan.
Held in Old Asakusa, Tokyo’s premier festival has been centered in the famous Sensoji Shrine for 200 years. Portable shrines containing deities are carried by loin-cloth clad men, local women, and children; all making sure they shake the shrines to excite the deities. The event attracts two million-plus spectators every May and is held to ensure good luck and prosperity for the district.
This ancient Japanese festival is held in April in the town of the same name at Hie Shrine and is a colorful riot of decorated floats, dancers, and drummers celebrating the coming of spring. Traditional floats have been passed down for generations, and were originally carved and painted in the style of Nikko.
Kyoto Gion Matsuri
The Gion Matsuri is one of the most beloved Japanese festivals, held every July in the ancient geisha district of Gion. Based at Yasaka Shrine, it’s a fabulous mix of floats, traditional music, drumming, dance performances, and religious ceremonies which continue throughout most of the month.
Nachi Fire Festival
This annual mid-July event sees Shingu come alive with fire rituals. The event kicks off with Shinto offerings, after which 12 portable shrines are decorated and carried to a shrine near a waterfall. The ceremony finishes in a fire bath that is said to purify the shrines.
O-Bon (Festival of the Dead)
Usually held in August, this festival is observed nationwide in Japan. Buddhist tradition dictates this is the day the dead return to earth to visit their relatives. Lanterns are hung outside homes and offerings to the spirits are made. In the evening, people float the lanterns on the river to help guide the deceased back to their resting place.
Nagasaki Kunchi Festival
Based at Suwa Jinja Shrine, this unique October festival reflects the strong Chinese cultural influence in the city with parades featuring traditional dragons and boats. First celebrated 350 years ago, it’s been declared an intangible folk asset.
Hanami and Cherry Blossom Festivals
A tradition all over Japan, Hanami literally means viewing flowers. Picnic under the beautiful flowing trees in any public park during this special season. Usually lasting for only two weeks in March, the sakura (cherry blossom) schedule changes a bit every year, so it’s hard to nail down exactly when to come.