experience summer matsuri this yearDanielle Hoffpauir | Community Writer
Japan is known for matsuri: innumerable, colorful, and often lively festivals. It’s a celebration of shrines, history, season changes, and more. Attending matsuri is one way to truly experience Japanese culture – soaking in significant traditions, flavorful food, living expressions passed through generations, and demonstrations including parades with decorated floats (dashi) or important traditions like rice harvesting. Ultimately, these events work to connect people to their heritage and each other in a display of ceremony and fun. Here are some handpicked matsuri we recommend checking out this summer.
Gion Matsuri – All July
This month-long jubilee has deep roots and origins back to 869 as a purification rite to save the city from the plague. At the time, the emperor dedicated 66 pikes and celebrations to be held at Yasaka Shrine to please the gods. Eventually, the festival morphed into an opportunity for wealthy citizens to flaunt their prosperity, and the floats became lavish and extravagant, which now makes for an entertaining and exuberant celebration to take part in. The floats of today are more than 20 meters tall and spectacles in themselves, undoubtedly one major highlight of the festival. Other events throughout the month include the purification of shrines, float construction, food and celebration at “Yoiyama” where guests can also preview the floats, Iwami Kagura.
Hakata Gion Yamakasa - July 1-15
Arguably one of the more thrilling festivals in Japan, this event is part extravagant parade, part race. The culmination of the celebration features the Oiyama, where men in traditional attire race yamakasa, or exuberantly decorated one-ton floats. These handcrafted creations are art pieces in themselves and displayed throughout the year for visitors. Ultimately honoring the Kushida-jinja Shrine, the race is a display of strength and poise as teams are not only judged on how quickly they complete the five-kilometer course, but also how lithe and gallant they appear as they carry their yamakasa. Which don’t forget, weighs in at one ton.
Yosakoi Festival – August 9-12
Acclaimed as one of the biggest traditional dance festivals in the country and a top ten largest festival in Japan, the Yosakoi Festival has been entertaining attendees since 1954. Dressed in vibrant attire and carrying “Naruko” sticks, dancers perform during two parades that wind through the city on August 10-11. This energetic expression of culture through movement culminates in a national dance competition where the very best compete. Can’t make it those dates? This lively tradition can be enjoyed every Sunday from May through July at the city’s central arcade, as well as, in front of JR Kochi Station every Sunday from August to December. There, you’ll find teams of Yosakoi dancers perform and share their energetic art form.
Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival – August 24
Known as one of the grandest displays of fireworks in the country, “ooh” and “ahh” at over 5,000 sparkling bursts of light over the Itsukushima Shrine’s torii gate. Each year features a different theme, with seven scenes that create a dazzling display of pyrotechnics. More than 300,000 people attend the celebration each year. Go early and enjoy the day exploring Miyajima before settling in for the show.