Japan offers a cultural experience like no other during its traditional festivals. The summer, especially, sees numerous festivals that promise an exciting insight into the faith and festivities of the land. Most festivals involve processions in which the Shinto deity is carried through the town in elaborately decorated palanquins. Various floats may accompany processions, in tune with the music rendered by drums and flutes. The festivals are grand, colourful and fascinating! Here are some festivals you shouldn’t miss, if you visit Japan this summer.
The Awa Odori is one of the most famous dance festivals in Japan. It is part of the Obon, which welcomes the spirits of the dead. Tokushima, in the Shikoku region comes alive between the 12th and 15th of August, with music and dance, when groups called ren perform a dance, also called Awa Odori. This “Dance of the Fools” dates back to over 400 years when a feudal lord threw an exuberant party to celebrate the completion of his new castle. This drunken dance became an annual event.
The four-day festival features various ren playing traditional musical instruments and performing choreographed dances. Various food and games stalls enhance the festival atmosphere and draw hoards of locals and tourists.
Also called the Star Festival, it commemorates the legend of the stars Altair and Vega, lovers, who had been separated by the Milky Way. They are allowed to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month each year, and this is celebrated as the Tanabata Festival. A popular custom involves writing down wishes on pieces of paper and hanging them on bamboo branches placed for this reason, hoping they come true. The vividly colourful Tanabata festival is celebrated across Japan in early July and August, the most famous being the ones at Sendai in August and in Hiratsuka in July.
Tokyo’s biggest festival takes place at the Sensoji Temple. The Sanja Matsuri is the annual festival of the Asakusa shrine, taking place in May. It features mikoshi parades and dancing.
The graceful Shirasagi-no Mai or “The White Heron Dance” is part of this festival, although this traditional dance also occurs in April and November. Dating back to the Heian Period, it involves a ceremonial parade, which includes eight dancers dressed beautifully like herons, three warriors, one pole carrier, one feeder and one parasol carrier. Nineteen musicians accompany this group. The three-day Sanja Matsuri attracts millions of visitors and enchants everyone who stops to enjoy the rich culture and heritage that this festival reflects.
This four-day long festival is held in Kagurazaka, Tokyo, around the end of July. The highlight of this festival is the Awa Odori dance, where twenty groups of trained musicians and dancers form a procession along the Kagurazaka-dori Street. The atmosphere is festive, with bright colours and food stalls.
Japan offers a wealth of colour and enjoyment through its numerous festivals, and summer is perhaps, the best time to enjoy them. Don’t miss them when you visit!
If you are planning a trip to Japan in the summer, do not hesitate to contact your luxury travel designer Mr. Isao Numano.