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Japanese Summer Festivals
Japanese Summer Festivals

If you happen to be visiting Japan during the balmy summer months, be sure to plan your trip around one (or a few) of its spectacular matsuri, or festivals. Drawing crowds by the thousands, they’re a great opportunity to learn about Japanese history and mythology — and mingle with locals. Click on the map for more details on each.

DISCOVER THE FESTIVALS

Japanese Summer Festivals

If you happen to be visiting Japan during the balmy summer months, be sure to plan your trip around one (or a few) of its spectacular matsuri, or festivals. Drawing crowds by the thousands, they’re a great opportunity to learn about Japanese history and mythology — and mingle with locals.

Click on the map for more details on each.

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KYOTO

Gion Matsuri

The month of July (with popular events on July 17 and 24)

Kyoto’s biggest festival, it’s known for a procession of elaborate, wooden mega floats, many of which measure over 80 feet high and represent a distinct neighborhood or corporation of Kyoto.

HISTORY

It began as a ceremony in the ninth century as a plea to the god of the Yasaka Shrine to stop the plagues.

DON'T MISS

The grand procession of floats, called Yamaboko Junko, takes place on the 17th and 24th of July.

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TOKYO
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Tokyo

Fukagawa Matsuri

Mid-August

Nicknamed mizu-kake matsuri, or water-throwing festival, the event features the tradition of throwing purifying water at those carrying the shrine’s 120 mikoshi (portable shrines), during a parade through the streets of Tokyo.

HISTORY

Dating back to 1642, onlookers threw water to refresh both the bearers of the shrines and the kami (divine spirits) for whom the shrine is dedicated.

Don't miss

Tomioka Hachiman-gū, the shrine that hosts the festival, has the heaviest and most elaborate mikoshi. Decorated with gold and jewels, it weighs 4.5 tons and is usually on display at the shrine.

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Tokyo

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

July 27

Located at two spots along the Sumida River bank, this is the oldest fireworks festival in the world and today attracts more than one million visitors.

HISTORY

In 1733, the event was established as a way to lift the spirits of the Japanese, who had suffered a terrible famine the year before.

GOOD TO KNOW

20,000 hanabi (Japanese fireworks) are lit and launched from their respective locations toward one another. Ten major fireworks companies participate in the competition.

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OSAKA
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OSAKA

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

September 14-15; October 12-13

Located in the small city of Kishiwada in the Osaka prefecture, this high-energy festival is often compared to Pamplona’s running of the bulls. The main event challenges participants to race through winding roads carrying (and dancing atop) hand-carved floats (danjiri).

HISTORY

The Danjiri Matsuri (wooden float festival) first took place in 1703, when the Kishiwada Castle’s daimiyo (feudal lord) prayed to the Shinto gods for a rich harvest.

FOOD

Stalls serve up everything from ikayaki (grilled squid) to takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (cabbage pancakes).

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OSAKA

Tenjin Matsuri

July 24 and 25

Taking place along the Osaka Okawa River near the Temmangu Shrine, this “festival of the gods” began 1,000 years ago and is most famous for a land processional (featuring 3,000 performers in traditional imperial-court style dress), boat bonfires and firework displays

HISTORY

It is believed that the Osaka Temmangu god leaves his shrine every year to check on all of the shrine’s parishioners. They hold this festival to celebrate with him.

ATTIRE

During the festival parade, 3,000 performers dress in traditional attire from the eighth to the 12th centuries. Attendees often wear yukata (summer kimonos) and geta (wooden slippers).

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TOKYO

Mitama Matsuri festival

July 13–16

A celebration honoring ancestral souls, this popular festival features a stunning corridor of 30,000 glowing amber lanterns that illuminate the pathway to Yasukuni Shrine.

GOOD TO KNOW

Processions of mikoshi (portable shrines), traditional dance routines and theatrical performances pervade the city streets.

ATTIRE

Many attend wearing traditional summer-weight kimonos, or yukata. (For the ultimate summer selfie, pose in front of the wall of lanterns!)

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KYOTO
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KYOTO

Kyoto Gozan Okuribi

August 16

This Kyoto festival is the culminating event of the week-long Obon holiday in Japan, a time when households around Japan welcome back the spirits of their ancestors. The bonfires lit on this August evening are said to guide the spirits back to the heavens.

FIRE FACTS

The bonfires are lit in succession on top of the largest mountains surrounding Kyoto, each representing Japanese written characters, along with shapes of a boat and a gate.

Don’t miss

The stunning panoramic view of the festival from the city’s Funaokayama Park.