It is no secret that Japan likes festivals: holding each year more than 300 000 feasts named 祭り (matsuri). Historical rituals, ceremonies, carnivals, Japan has it all; here is a list of 10 of those famous matsuri:
1. OROCHON NO HIMATSURI オロチョンの火祭り
This festival takes place towards the end of July in the Katsuragaoka Park in Abashiri, Hokkaidō.
While flames rise towards the sky and shamans dance and chant, an ambiance from another world sets in; during this ritual, the native minorities of Oroks’ and Ainus’ ancestors’ souls are supposed to find rest.
2. AOMORI NEBUTA MATSURI 青森ねぶた祭り
This matsuri is held from the 2nd to the 7th of August in Aomori, Honshū.
In the heart of the city are carried the Nebuta (floats made of a warrior figure) by the Haneto (bouncing people). The Nebuta are decorated with flowers, animals, and historical scenes made of stretched paper on wooden and bamboo structures. While the floats parade through the streets, the dancers call the locals and visitors to join in.
3. KOKUSEKIJI SOMINSAI 黒石寺蘇民祭
In early February, for the lunar New Year, the Kokusekiji Sominsai brings men to the Kokusekiji Temple in Ōshū. After a ritual invoking Yakushi Nyorai, the medicine Buddha, men wearing only a fundoshi (loincloth) fight for a jute bag thrown by a temple member. He who will catch this bag shall be rewarded with fortune.
4. KANDA MATSURI 神田祭
Born towards the 1600s, this feast takes place in the Kanda-myōjin sanctuary in Tokyo in mid-May. It is in fact, one the three biggest festivals in Tokyo, more than 200 mikoshi (divine palanquins) are carried in the streets, along with musicians, dancers and floats. It was created to commemorate the victory of the Sekigahara battle in 1600 which marked the end of the Sengoku period, and the start of the Edo period. This matsuri is a blast from the past as preachers ride horses and mikoshi parade through the futuristic megalopolis.
5. GION MATSURI 祇園祭
This matsuri is one of the most famous shintō festivals of all; each year, thousands of people come and animate the Gion district of Kyōto. Over 1 100 years old, it was created to fight the plague and other natural catastrophes. It is held from the 1st to the 29th of July.
This feast in crowned by a parade of floats (the yamaboko) through the streets of the city. These two floored floats are sometimes described as “moving art museums”; ornamented with dyed fabric and sculptures, they are a work of art. During the nights take place the yoiyama, festivals where people can visit said floats and buy omamori (lucky charms). During the yoiyama, the city comes to life, as the hayashi (traditional ensembles) play and houses such as machiya open their doors allowing visitors to take a peek at what traditional houses are like.
6. TENJIN MATSURI 天神祭
This matsuri has a history stretching over a thousand years. It takes place on the 24th and 25th of July, in Osaka along the Okawa river.
While the puppet shows called bunraku are the joys of many, the main course of this festival is the funatogyō, a procession of hundreds of ships sailing on the Okawa river; followed by immense fireworks.
7. KOCHI YOSAKOI MATSURI 高知よさこい祭り
This matsuri was actually created in 1954 and is now also popular in various provinces and countries thanks to the success issued by yosakoi contests. From the 9th to the 12th of August, in Kōchi, men and women gather to dance on hip-hop and samba rhythms, wearing traditional clothing. This unique type of dance is called yosakoi.
8. NIIHAMA TAIKO MATSURI 新居浜太鼓祭り
From the 17th to the 19th of October, people gather in the Yamane Park in Niihama for the kenka matsuri (festival of quarrels). In order to celebrate the harvest of fall, groups of hundreds of people participate in a contest by carrying on their shoulders 47 taikodai, floats weighing 2.2 tons.
9. HAKATA DONTAKU 博多どんたく
During Golden Week, on may the 3rd and may the 4th, the locals parade through the streets of Fukuoka wearing unique outfits, clapping shamoji (a wooden spoon used for serving rice). During this feast also parade decorated floats called hana-jidōsha (literally ‘flower vehicle’).
10. NAHA OTSUNAHIKI MATSURI 那覇大綱挽まつり
On the Sunday before the 2nd Monday of October; around 15 000 people come to the heart of Naha, Okinawa, to play a ‘slightly’ bigger version of Tug-Of-War. People pull a 200 yard long, 6 feet wide rope weighing 40 metric tons. This rope symbolizes the commercial exchanges that Okinawa once constructed with China and Corea.