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*From nort to south
1. Sapporo Snow Festival [Hokkaido]
The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Japan’s biggest winter attractions. The 2016 festival will be held from February 5th to 11th in three areas; Odori Park, where the massive ice and snow sculptures will be, Susukino where there will be smaller ice and snow sculptures, and Tsudome, which will have large snow slides and snow-rafting. This amazing event attracts adults and children from all over the world.
Address: Sapporo, Hokkaido (Google Map)
2. Aomori Nebuta Matsuri [Aomori]
Aomori Nebuta is held from August 2nd to 7th every year in Aomori. Over 20 lantern floats, maximum 5 m tall, parade through the town with chanting and festive music played on Japanese flutes and drums. They are designed after mythological warriots or historical figures. A float is accompanied by 500 to 2000 dancers. This dynamic, lively festival attracts more than 3 million people a year.
HP: www.nebuta.or.jp (Japanese Only)
Address: Aomori, Aomori (Google Map)
3. Morioka Sansa Odori [Iwate]
This festival is held in the evening from August 1st to 4th. Groups consisting of drum, flute, and dancer teams parade through the main street of Morioka. Many dancers also play drums, meaning over 10,000 drums are used during the festival. This is why this festival is called the largest drum parade in Japan. After the lively parade, tourists are welcomed to the folk dance.
HP: www.sansaodori.jp (Japanese Only)
Address: Morioka, Iwate (Google Map)
4. Kanto Matsuri [Akita]
This lantern festival is held in the evening from August 3rd to 6th in Akita to pray for a good harvest. Over 230 Kanto poles are carried through the main street on the foreheads, shoulders, or lower backs of performers accompanied with festive music of flutes and drums. A kanto is a bamboo pole bearing lanterns and representing an ear of rice. The biggest poles are 12m tall and weigh 50kg. It’s amazing to see performers balance the massive poles freely without using their hands.
Address: Akita, Akita (Google Map)
5. Sendai Tanabata Matsuri [Miyagi]
Sendai Tanabata is held from August 6th to 8th as a Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of ancestors. There are 7 types of decorations and each have their own meanings. The most popular decoration is ‘Fukinagashi,’ which is pictured above. Approximately 3000 bamboo poles bearing decorations in various sizes can be seen throughout during the festival. More than two million people visit the city every year to enjoy the fantastic atmosphere.
Address: Aoba-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi (Google Map)
6. Yamagata Hanagasa [Yamagata]
This event is a Bon Odori held from August 5th to 7th. Bon Odori is a dance performed as a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of ancestors. Approximately 13,000 people in 150 groups dance with hats decorated with artificial flowers accompanied by floats carrying drummers on the main street in Yamagata. Visitors are welcomed to join the dance.
Address: Yamagata, Yamagata (Google Map)
7. Soma Nomaoi [Fukushima]
This energetic event dating back over a thousand years is held for three days from the last Saturday to Monday in July annually. More than 500 people dressed in traditional armor participate with their horses. Day 1 consists of the ceremonies before the horse events. Day 2 is the highlight of the festival, which has the horse race and the horseback battle. Day 3 is when barehanded volunteers chase a sacred horse in order to capture it. You will feel as if you were back in the Warring States period.
Address: Minamisoma-shi, Fukushima (Google Map)
8. Ishioka no Omatsuri [Ibaraki]www.city.ishioka.lg.jp
This festival is called one of the 3 great festivals of the Kanto area. More than 40 mikoshi (portable shrines), floats, and over 30 big horojishi parade in the city. Horojishi is pictured here; the biggest lion head weights 20 kg. On the floats, masked people dance with the festive music. It’s an exciting experience.
HP: www.city.ishioka.lg.jp/page/page001339.html (Japanese Only)
Address: Sosha-ku, Ishioka-shi, Ibaraki (Google Map)
9. Tochigi Aki Matsuri [Tochigi]
This festival is held in the middle of November every two years, and 2016 is the next festive year. The feature of this festival is ten 7m-high floats topped with dolls that are designed after historical or mythical figures. They are accompanied by people dressed in costumes, festive music, and a dance called kagura. Why don’t you take a chance to visit this beautiful town while it’s in the middle of festivities?
HP: www.kuranomachi.jp/akimatsuri/ (Japanese Only)
Address: Tochigi-shi, Tochigi (Google Map)
10. Ikaho Matsuri [Gunma]
This festival is held yearly September 18th to 20th in Ikaho Onsen. Mikoshi are carried up 365 steps to the Ikaho Shrine. To see the big mikoshi going up the narrow stairs is a spectacle. However, it is more astonishing to see a taru mikoshi carried up not by hands but on lower backs.
HP: shibu-s.org/index.php?u=161 (Japanese Only)
Address: Ikaho, Shibukawa-shi, Gunma (Google Map)
11. Sawara no Taisai [Chiba]
‘Sawara no Taisai’ is the collective name of festivals held in June and October in Sawara. This is counted as one of 3 great festivals of the Kanto area. The wooden floats are two-storied; festive music performers seated on the lower floor and dolls (4-5m high) are on the upper floor. Some of the dolls are made by locals. 10 floats are used in the summer and 14 in the autumn to parade through the city.
HP: www.katorishi.com/matsuri.html (Japanese Only)
Address: Sawara, Katori-shi, Chiba (Google Map)
12. Chichibu Yomatsuri [Saitama]
This festival is held on December 2nd and 3rd. Though it’s named as yomatsuri, meaning ‘night festival’, the procession is held during the daytime, too. It is breathtaking at night, however, when magnificent floats bear lit-up lanterns. The climax of the festival is the 10-20 ton floats rushing up a steep hill.
HP: www.chichibu-jinja.or.jp/yomatsuri/ (Japanese Only)
Address: Chichibu-shi, Saitama (Google Map)
13. Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri [Tokyo]江戸村のとくぞう/Wikimedia Commons
This annual festival is held around August 15th and is one of the three greatest festivals in Tokyo. Held once every three years (the next one is in 2017), a hon-matsuri featuring the prestigious mikoshi is performed along with about 120 mikoshi, while approximately 50 mikoshi participate in other years. The highlight of the festival is a unique custom to splash water on the mikoshi and its bearers to purify them.
HP: www.tomiokahachimangu.or.jp/htmls/maturih1.html (Japanese Only)
Address: Koto-ku, Tokyo (Google Map)
14. Kanamara Matsuri [Kanagawa]
This fertility festival, held on the first Sunday in April (the next one is April 3rd, 2016), is reportedly one of the most popular festivals among foreigners in Japan. The Kanayama Shrine is dedicated to the deity of mining, metal forging, and sex, so, the sacred object that is enshrined is a steel phallus. You will find lot of items dedicated to it including foods and souvenirs sold by vendors.
HP: kawasakidaishi-kanko.com/wakamiyahachimangu/index.html (Japanese Only)
Address: Kawasaki, Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa (Google Map)
15. Niigata Matsuri [Niigata]
This biggest summer festival in the region is scheduled to be held from August 5th to 7th in 2016. More than 10,000 people dance to folk music along the main street in Niigata on Day 1. The highlights of day 2 are the 8 mikoshi parading as well as the traditional drum and dance performance by local geisha. The 12,000 fireworks display complete the festival on day 3.
HP: niigata-matsuri.com (Japanese Only)
Address: Niigata, Niigata (Google Map)
16. Takaoka Mikurumayama Matsuri [Toyama]
This festival is held on May 1st. The centerpieces of this festival are 7 gorgeous floats built in the style popular in the 17th century. Beautiful decorations by local artisans adorn them from top to wheel. Takaoka is traditionally known as the center of crafts, including metalwork and lacquerwork. Those floats are lit-up on the evening before the parade so you can see the masterpieces closely.
HP: mikurumayama.jp (Japanese Only)
Address: Takaoka-shi, Toyama (Google Map)
17. Noto Kiriko Matsuri [Ishikawa]
Kiriko festivals are held in more than two hundred areas in the Noto Peninsula from July to October. A number of kirikp, lantern floats indigenous to the region, parade through each town, meaning that seven to eight hundred kiriko in total exist on the island. These majestic festivals are worth visiting if you are in the region.
HP: www.notokiriko.jp (Japanese Only)
18. Mikuni Matsuri [Fukui]
This festival is held from May 9th to 21st. The highlight of the festival is a procession of 6 doll-floats to festive music on May 20th. There are 18 floats in total and 6 from them are paraded in turns. The dolls on top of the floats are made each year. These floats are 6.5m tall because of the town’s electric wiring but they used to be over 10m tall. These massive dolls look impressive on the narrow streets in this small port town.
HP: www.mikunimatsuri.com/ (Japanese Only)
Address: Mikunikitahonmachi, Mikuni-cho, Sakai-shi, Fukui (Google Map)
19. Yoshida Himatsuri [Yamanashi]
This spectacular fire festival is held in annually on August 26th and 27th in Fujiyoshida, at the base of Mt. Fuji. This festival with over 500 years of history is held to keep the volcano from erupting, as well as to celebrate the end of climbing season. More than 70 torches (3m tall and 200kg) are lit in the streets on the 26th.
HP: www.mfi.or.jp/himatsuri/ (Japanese Only)
Address: Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi (Google Map)
20. Nozawa Onsen Himatsuri [Nagano]
This bonfire festival is held every year on January 15th in Nozawa Onsen. A massive wooden tower is erected and villagers rush at it with torches at night. The climax is when the tower succumbs to the flames.
Address: Nozawa Onsen-mura, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano (Google Map)
21. Takayama Matsuri [Gifu]
The Takayama Festival consists of festivals held in the spring (April 14th and 15th) and autumn (October 9th and 10th) in Takayama. The centerpiece of this festival is 12 luxurious tall floats and mechanical puppets mounted on some floats. Both processions are breathtaking, as is the charming town it takes place in.
Address: Takayama-shi, Gifu (Google Map)
22. Hamamatsu Matsuri [Shizuoka]
This festival is held between May 3rd and 5th to celebrate births. The main attraction is kite-flying at beach in the daytime and a lit-up float parade in downtown in the evening. They fly big kites with babies’ names on day 1. On day 2 and 3, the kite-flier battle is fought between 170 kites from different towns. In the battle, the participants try to cut the threads of other kites using friction.
HP: www.shizuokamatsuri.com (Japanese Only)
Address: Hamamatsu-shi, Shizuoka (Google Map)
23. Inuyama Matsuri [Aichi]Bariston/Wikimedia Commons
This festival is held on the first Saturday and Sunday of April in Inuyama where Inuyama Castle is. There are 13 three-storied antique floats and each has mechanical dolls from the Edo period. The puppets give a short performance. Those floats are lit up with 365 lanterns at night and it’s magnificent to see them parade through the blooming cherry blossom trees.
Address: Inuyama-shi, Aichi (Google Map)
24. Ueno Tenjin Matsuri [Mie]
This festival with a history of over four hundred years is held in late October in Iga Ueno. The nine antique floats and their festive music remind us of the Kyoto Gion Festival. The parade of over one hundred ogres are eye-catching. It is rare to see so many ogres simultaneously. Some are droll, while others look frightening.
HP: uenotenjinmatsuri.jimdo.com (Japanese Only)
Address: Ueno, Iga-shi, Mie (Google Map)
25. Nachi Himatsuri [Wakayama]
This fire festival is held on July 14th in the Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine. The centerpiece of the festival is 12 blazing torches carried to the base of the Nachi Waterfall to purify 12 ougi-mikoshi, portable shrines, before the deities enshrined go back to their home once a year. It’s a spectacle as those torches are 6m tall and weigh 50 to 60kg.
HP: www.town.nachikatsuura.wakayama.jp/forms/info/info.aspx?info_id=9443 (Japanese Only)
Address: Nachi Katsuura-cho, Higashimuro-gun, Wakayama (Google Map)