Festivals are the key to the culture and tradition of a country. If you are fascinated by Japan, then its various colourful and traditional festivals are perfect to introduce you to the vast culture of Japan and its beauty. All these small or big festivals are always related to some kind of religious background, story or harvesting themes just like India. Matsuri or festivals vary from place to place. Shrines or local temples usually sponsor them. Most of the vibrant and unique festivals involve procession, Hanabi (fireworks), food stalls, entertaining events, and carnival games. Let’s dig into these vibrant Japanese festivals to know more interesting facts about them:
Taimatsu Akashi festival ( Torch fire festival)
Taimatsu Akashi festival is a traditional fire festival that has been celebrated in the Sukagawa area for more than 420 years. “Akashi” is the light of each and every 10 m tall 22 torches which are offered to the Gods. They held this festival on the second Saturday of November every year to mourn the spirits of the people who lost their lives in war and in natural disasters like earthquake and tsunami. Also, they celebrate this to find hope for the people who are suffering due to disasters. It’s one of the most famous Japanese festivals.
Hokkai Heso Matsuri began in 1969 in Furano city, located at the center (that’s why referred as belly button) of Hokkaido. This festival started to strengthen the bonds between Furano people and unite them. The “Heso (belly button) shrine” is a significant part of this annual festival. It prays for love, birth, peace, health, and happiness. The biggest attractions of this festival are “Belly button dance competition” and “Bellybutton gourmet”. Here, more than 5000 people participate every year. For the dance competition, participants paint large humourous faces on their bellies. Also, people prepare local authentic dishes for “Belly button gourmet” with the same theme. They celebrate this every year from September 28 to September 29.
Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo Snow festival)
One of the most popular winter events, Yuki Matsuri or Sapporo Snow festival is celebrated every year in the month of February for one week in Hokkaido. It began in 1950 when a few high school students started building snow statues in the park. However, nowadays they organize it into a glorious festival which attracts a lot of tourists due to its beautiful exhibition of snow and ice sculptors. Also, snow slides and snow rafting are popular adventurous activities organized in various sites of the festival.
Tobata Gion festival
The Tobata Gion Yamagasa festival is famous for the parade consisting of spectacular giant floats (10 m) with lanterns ( 12 tiers). This has two kinds of decoration during day and night making it much more glorious. During the daytime, people carry eight floats with 12 great flags hoisted on the four big floats in the parade. However, in the night, they hang 309 lanterns in each one of the 12 tiered lanterns. These require at least 80 to 100 carriers usually. The huge floats with lanterns create a magnificent view making everyone out there drowning in the spellbinding atmosphere successfully. This festival began in 1802 when people started getting cured of the plague after offering prayers to Gods at Tobata Hachimangu shrine. Since then, they celebrate this traditional festival every year in the month of July.
Aomori Nebuta festival
Aomori Nebuta Matsuri or Aomori Nebuta is a Japanese summer festival which is celebrated early August in Aomori. It is designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1980. The highlight of the festival is “Nebuta” which are lighted floats covered with the art of various historical figures like brave warriors. While they carry the floats are through the center of the city, dancers wearing unique clothes called hanteo danced around them chanting “Rassera rassera”. This creates an alluring atmosphere throughout the festival and makes you feel like joining them unknowingly.
Chichibu night festival
The Chichibu Night Festival or Chichibu Yomatsuri is a festival of Chichibu shrine which is held every year on December 2 and 3 in Chichibu. During this festival, people decorate the floats with lanterns, gilded wood carvings, and tapestries. This is usually accompanied by drum and flute music. However, the significant attraction of the festival is the grand display of fireworks for 2 and a half hours. One can enjoy the amazing display of fireworks with the delicious foods available at the nearby food stalls along.“Amazake” (sweet rice wine) is one of the famous drinks available there.
The Awa Odori or Awa dance festival, a part of Obon festival is celebrated every year from 12 to 15 August in Tokushima. This is one of the biggest festivals in Japan which is famous all around the world. Even, the dancers get invitations to perform in foreign countries because of their immense talent and larger than life performances. This dance festival which attracts nearly 1.3 million people every year has a history of over 400 years. Group of dancers and musicians called “ren” perform throughout the streets of Tokushima city wearing traditional obu dance costumes. They transform the entire city into a giant stage itself.
Hanami (Cherry blossom festival)
The Hanami is the spring tradition of admiring the beauty and transience of sakura or cherry blossoms in Japan. Since the blossoming time varies in different parts of Japan, so it is celebrated in Okinawa where the blooming usually began. During this time, thousands of people visit the parks and hold feasts and tea ceremonies under the cherry blossom trees. The spend time with their families, friends, and relatives. This involves drinking, eating special foods like dango, bento, playing games and listening to music till night. Moreover, at night they decorate the trees with electric or paper lanterns glorifying the beauty of “yozakura” (night sakura).
Akutai Matsuri (Festival of abusive language)
Akutai Matsuri or The Cursing festival is celebrated during the third Sunday of December on Mount Atago’s peak in Ibaraki. During this festival, a large number of crowd gather and cuss at the priests who make offerings while parading on Mount Atago. The priests usually wear the mask of demons during this period. According to their beliefs, cursing them can cast evil spirits away. However, it can also help as a stress buster for those who have too much bottled up emotions and resentment. One is free to cuss in any language they want.
Setsubun (Bean throwing festival)
Setsubun is celebrated every year on 3rd February in Japan. It is a part of the Spring festival. This is held the day before spring begins in Japan. “Mamemaki” or bean throwing is the significant ritual commonly practiced in most of the households. They believe that this ritual purifies the household and drive away from the evil spirits and bad luck. Usually, the male head of the household wears an Oni or demon mask and the other members of the family including the kids throw roasted beans on him. Moreover, they believe that eating roasted beans will bring a lot of good luck throughout the year.