5 Famous Festivals In Japan

Japan is home to a wide variety of festivals, and its citizens enjoy them all. In Japan, it is said that there is always some sort of event going on. Food, games, and other forms of entertainment are all centred on a single, overarching theme at each of Japan’s many festivals. You can find them wherever from temples and shrines to places that sell pyrotechnics. We’ve compiled a list of the best Japanese festivals for you to attend while you’re there.

5 Famous Festivals In Japan

Japan is known for its vibrant and diverse festival culture, with numerous festivals celebrated throughout the year. Here are some of the famous festivals in Japan:

1. Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival):

Sakura Matsuri, also known as the Cherry Blossom Festival, is one of the most iconic and celebrated festivals in Japan. It is held annually to mark the arrival of spring and the blooming of cherry blossoms, which are known as “sakura” in Japanese. Here are some key details about the Sakura Matsuri:

Timing: The festival takes place between late March and early April, although the exact timing varies depending on the region and the specific blooming period of cherry blossoms in that area. The dates are determined by nature and are eagerly anticipated each year.

Hanami: Hanami, meaning “flower viewing,” is a popular tradition during the Sakura Matsuri. People gather in parks, gardens, and along riverbanks to appreciate the beauty of the cherry blossoms. They spread out picnic mats, enjoy food and drinks, and spend time with friends, family, and colleagues beneath the blooming cherry trees.

Cherry Blossom Locations: Many cities and towns throughout Japan are known for their picturesque cherry blossom spots. Some of the famous locations include Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo, Maruyama Park in Kyoto, Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, and Hirosaki Park in Aomori. These places attract a large number of visitors during the festival.

Nighttime Illuminations: In some locations, cherry blossom viewing extends into the evening with the addition of nighttime illuminations. The cherry trees are beautifully lit up, creating a magical atmosphere. Some popular spots for illuminated cherry blossoms include the Meguro River in Tokyo and Osaka Castle Park in Osaka.

Traditional Performances: Alongside the cherry blossom viewing, Sakura Matsuri often features traditional performances such as music, dance, and tea ceremonies. These performances showcase Japanese culture and add to the festive ambience.

Sakura-Related Events: Various Sakura-related events and activities take place during the festival. These may include concerts, parades, fireworks displays, and cherry blossom-themed exhibitions or workshops.

Sakura Matsuri is a time when the entire country comes alive with the vibrant beauty of cherry blossoms. It is a cherished tradition that attracts both locals and tourists from around the world who seek to experience the fleeting and enchanting beauty of Japan’s national flower.

2. Gion Matsuri:

Gion Matsuri is one of the most famous festivals in Japan, held annually in Kyoto during July. It is a month-long celebration, and the main events take place on July 17th, known as Yamaboko Junko. Here are some key details about Gion Matsuri:

History and Significance: Gion Matsuri has a history of over a thousand years and originated as a religious ritual to appease the gods during a plague outbreak. Over time, it transformed into a vibrant festival celebrating Kyoto’s culture, heritage, and the local Gion district.

Yamaboko Junko Parade: The highlight of Gion Matsuri is the Yamaboko Junko parade held on July 17th. It features massive, elaborately decorated floats called yamaboko, which are constructed by different neighbourhoods in Kyoto. These floats can reach towering heights and are adorned with exquisite tapestries, wooden carvings, and lanterns. The parade showcases the craftsmanship and artistry of the local artisans.

Procession Route: The parade route extends from Shijo Street to Karasuma Street and then to Oike Street. The floats are pulled by teams of men dressed in traditional attire, accompanied by musicians playing traditional instruments. The procession creates a lively and festive atmosphere with music, chanting, and the cheers of the spectators.

Yoiyama: In the week leading up to the Yamaboko Junko parade, Gion Matsuri features a series of events called Yoiyama. During this time, the streets in the Gion district are lined with food stalls, traditional performances, and entertainment. It is a bustling time when locals and visitors can enjoy the festive atmosphere and experience the unique traditions of Kyoto.

Mikoshi Procession and Nagoshi-sai: On July 24th, a smaller procession called the Mikoshi Procession takes place. It involves carrying portable shrines called mikoshi through the streets of Kyoto. The following day, a ceremony known as Nagoshi-sai is held to bring good luck and cleanse away any impurities.

Other Events: Gion Matsuri includes various cultural events and activities throughout July. These may include tea ceremonies, traditional music and dance performances, exhibitions, and special temple and shrine visits.

Gion Matsuri is not only a significant religious and cultural event but also a major tourist attraction. It attracts thousands of visitors from both within Japan and around the world who come to witness the grandeur and splendour of the floats, experience the traditional festivities, and immerse themselves in the unique atmosphere of Kyoto during this special time.

3. Obon Festival:

The Obon Festival, also known as Bon Festival, is a traditional Japanese Buddhist event that takes place in mid-August. It is a time when people honour and remember their ancestors’ spirits and express gratitude for their contributions to the family. Here are some key details about the Obon Festival:

Origin and Significance: The Obon Festival has its roots in the Buddhist belief that during this time, the spirits of ancestors return to visit their living relatives. It is a time to remember and honour the deceased, offer prayers, and express gratitude. The festival also serves as a reunion for families as they come together to participate in various rituals and activities.

Dates and Duration: The dates of the Obon Festival vary depending on the region in Japan, but it is generally held from August 13th to 15th. However, some areas celebrate Obon in July or other dates according to the lunar calendar. The festival lasts for several days, with the main activities concentrated around a specific day or days.

Lanterns and Bon Odori: During the Obon Festival, families often hang lanterns outside their houses or place them in front of altars to guide the spirits of their ancestors. Bon Odori, or traditional Bon dances, are an integral part of the festival. These folk dances are performed in a circle, accompanied by traditional music, and are a way to welcome and entertain the visiting spirits.

Grave Visits: Many people make visits to ancestral gravesites during the Obon Festival. They clean the graves, offer food, flowers, and incense, and pray for the well-being of their ancestors. This practice is known as “ohaka-mairi” and is a significant part of the festival.

Festive Atmosphere: The Obon Festival creates a vibrant and festive atmosphere in communities throughout Japan. Local festivals and events are organized, including food stalls, games, traditional performances, and fireworks displays. These activities bring people together and contribute to the lively spirit of the festival.

Floating Lanterns: In some regions, the Obon Festival concludes with the tradition of floating lanterns on rivers or other bodies of water. These lanterns, called “tōrō nagashi,” are released to guide the spirits back to the other world. It is a beautiful and symbolic sight to see the lanterns gently floating away in the evening.

The Obon Festival is a time of reflection, remembrance, and gratitude in Japanese culture. It is a significant occasion for families to gather, honour their ancestors, and celebrate the continuity of life and the bonds between the past and the present.

4. Tanabata Festival:

The Tanabata Festival, also known as the Star Festival, is a traditional Japanese celebration that takes place on July 7th. It is based on a romantic legend originating from Chinese folklore. The festival celebrates the meeting of two celestial lovers, Orihime (the Weaver Princess, represented by the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (the Cowherd, represented by the star Altair), who are separated by the Milky Way. Here are some key details about the Tanabata Festival:

Legend: According to the legend, Orihime and Hikoboshi were in love but were separated by the Milky Way and were only allowed to meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. It is believed that if it rains on the day of the Tanabata Festival, the two lovers cannot meet, and the festival becomes more solemn.

Decoration of Bamboo: To celebrate the Tanabata Festival, people write their wishes on colourful strips of paper called “tanzaku.” These wishes are then hung on bamboo branches, creating beautiful displays known as “tanzaku kazari.” The bamboo branches are often set up in homes, schools, offices, shopping centres, and public spaces.

Street Decorations: In some towns and cities, particularly in Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture) and Hiratsuka (Kanagawa Prefecture), the Tanabata Festival is celebrated on a larger scale. The streets are adorned with huge, elaborate paper decorations made in the shape of various objects, such as stars, animals, and mythical creatures. The vibrant decorations create a festive atmosphere.

Parades and Events: The Tanabata Festival features parades, traditional performances, and events. These may include music and dance performances, costume contests, art exhibitions, and fireworks displays. Many places organize community gatherings and festivities where people can enjoy traditional food, games, and activities.

Regional Variations: While the Tanabata Festival is celebrated throughout Japan, there are regional variations in customs and traditions. The Sendai Tanabata Matsuri in Miyagi Prefecture is one of the most famous and largest Tanabata festivals in Japan, attracting millions of visitors. It features spectacular decorations and a grand parade.

Symbolism and Wishes: The Tanabata Festival represents a time for making wishes. People write their desires, aspirations, and hopes on tanzaku and hang them on the bamboo branches, believing that the wishes will come true. It is believed that the energy and magic of the stars will carry the wishes of Orihime and Hikoboshi.

The Tanabata Festival is a colourful and joyful celebration in Japan, filled with romanticism and a sense of hope. It is a time when people come together to express their wishes, enjoy the festive atmosphere, and celebrate the enduring power of love and connection across the universe.

5. Nebuta Matsuri:

The Nebuta Matsuri is a lively and vibrant festival held in Aomori City, located in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan. It is one of the most famous and visually striking festivals in the country. Here are some key details about the Nebuta Matsuri:

Origin and Significance: The festival has its roots in the Tanabata legend, similar to the Tanabata Festival mentioned earlier. Nebuta Matsuri originated over 300 years ago as a way to dispel sleepiness and the summer heat during the Obon season. The festival also serves as a way to celebrate and honour ancestral spirits.

Giant Lantern Floats: The highlight of Nebuta Matsuri is the procession of enormous illuminated paper lantern floats known as “nebuta.” These floats are meticulously crafted and often depict historical or mythical figures from Japanese folklore, samurai warriors, gods, and other cultural symbols. The floats can be as tall as several stories and are constructed using bamboo frames and covered with beautifully painted washi paper.

Music and Dance: Accompanying the Nebuta floats are live music and dance performances. Festival participants, known as “haneto,” wear traditional costumes and dance energetically to the beat of taiko drums and other traditional instruments. The spirited dancing and rhythmic music create a captivating atmosphere.

Parades and Audience Participation: The Nebuta floats are paraded through the streets of Aomori City during the festival. Spectators line the streets to witness the procession and marvel at the artistic beauty of the floats. Some festivals allow visitors to join the parade as “renjishi,” where they can dance and participate alongside the haneto.

Fireworks and Nighttime Processions: In the evenings, Nebuta Matsuri takes on an even more enchanting ambience. The floats are illuminated from within, creating a stunning display of lights and colours. Nighttime processions, accompanied by fireworks displays, add to the magical atmosphere of the festival.

Duration: The Nebuta Matsuri typically takes place from August 2nd to 7th, with the main parades occurring on the last three days. However, some variations of the festival are held in neighbouring towns and run on different dates throughout August.

Nebuta Matsuri is known for its grand scale, artistic craftsmanship, and immersive experience. It attracts a large number of visitors from within Japan and around the world who come to witness the magnificent floats, participate in the festivities, and immerse themselves in the vibrant and celebratory spirit of Aomori City during the festival.


In conclusion, Japan is renowned for its rich and diverse festival culture, offering a plethora of unique and celebrated events throughout the year. Festivals such as the Sakura Matsuri, Gion Matsuri, Obon Festival, Tanabata Festival, and Nebuta Matsuri showcase the country’s deep-rooted traditions, vibrant displays, and the unifying spirit of its people.

The Sakura Matsuri marks the arrival of spring with the enchanting beauty of cherry blossoms, while the Gion Matsuri captivates with its grand processions of elaborately decorated floats, showcasing Kyoto’s cultural heritage. The Obon Festival provides a time for reflection and remembrance, honouring ancestors and expressing gratitude.

The Tanabata Festival weaves a tale of celestial love, inspiring communities to hang wishes on bamboo branches, and the Nebuta Matsuri dazzles with its towering illuminated floats, vibrant music, and captivating dances.

These festivals, among many others, offer not only visual splendour and cultural immersion but also a chance for people to come together, celebrate traditions, and create lasting memories. They highlight the enduring importance of tradition, community, and the preservation of cultural heritage in Japan.

Whether it is the delicate beauty of cherry blossoms, the elaborate craftsmanship of festival floats, or the joyous dances and music, these festivals showcase Japan’s spirit of celebration, appreciation for nature, and reverence for the past. Attending these festivals allows visitors to experience the vibrant tapestry of Japanese culture and witness the country’s unwavering commitment to keeping its traditions alive.

With their captivating sights, sounds, and traditions, these famous festivals in Japan serve as a testament to the nation’s rich history, cultural diversity, and the enduring spirit of celebration that is deeply ingrained in the hearts of the Japanese people.

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