In Japan, you may have chanced upon crowds in yukata, seen rows of street food (even bought from them!), or wondered at a slow procession in ornate costumes. That may have just been a matsuri (祭), a local festival.
But what is MATSURI (祭)?
Contrary to popular belief, a matsuri is not only held in the summer but is traditionally related to the season it is held in. While summer festivals are the most popular and well known, festivals are actually held throughout the year! Following its roots in the Shinto and Shinto-Buddhist beliefs, some festivals also celebrate the seasonal solstices and harvests.
However, each festival has a different meaning and celebration theme, so no two festivals are the same! These festivals are also location-specific, meaning that you can only experience them at certain areas in Japan.
Interesting Japan summer festivals you should see!
On the 6th to 8th of August, the whole city of Sendai is decorated with many ornaments made from bamboo and paper. These decorations represent prayers for good health, prosperity, good harvests, and academic success.
The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is a week-long festival happening on the second week of Feburary. Teams from all over the world compete for the best statue in the International Snow Statue Contest. You definitely have to be there to appreciate the beauty of these gigantic snow sculptures.
3. Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri
Who wouldn’t want to watch wet, nearly naked men wrestling in the cold for a pair of sticks? This festival is almost illegal except it’s a 500 year tradition, and is celebrated all over Japan with different variations on the third Saturday of Feburary. The lucky person who manages to grab the sticks is said to receive good luck for a year.
4. Naki Sumo Matsuri
Held every 29th April at the Sensoji Temple, this festival is more for the babies than adults. Sumo wrestlers hold the babies in the air and scare them into crying, and the infant winner is one who cries the longest and loudest. This ritual is believed to ward off evil spirits and keeps the children in good health. Parents can bring their babies to the contest of their free will, so you could even participate if you want!
5. Akutai Festival
Every 3rd Sunday of December, 13 priests of the Atago Shrine in Ibaraki will parade around the shrine grounds in tengu get up and be verbally abused, or robbed by the visitors. No, they are not masochists if that’s what you are thinking. This ritual is conducted for good luck for the upcoming year, or perhaps for anyone who wants to release their pent up frustration…
So… what goes on at Japanese festivals and how to enjoy?
1. Watch some performances at the matsuri! You may catch some exciting performances, or a procession of people clad in ancient costumes.
2. Try some food. You’ll be spoiled for choice, from savoury food like yakisoba (fried noodles), takoyaki and yakitori to sweet snacks like choco-banana, kakigoori (かき氷, shaved ice) and, best of all, dango (だんご, rice dumplings).
3. Wear yukata and mingle with the crowd. Amp up the atmosphere by dressing up in Japanese summer wear. Or, see if you can spot people in traditional matsuri wear.
4. Play some games. From shooting games to yoyo-tsuri, there are many prizes to be won!
5. Go with family and/or friends! Possibly the best part is to enjoy the time spent with your close ones.