Japan’s Secret Festivals

From the traditional religious festivals, to winter illuminations, to summer fireworks, there are countless festivals in Japan! You can almost find some festival somewhere every weekend! Here we have a list of interesting and unique festivals!

Do you know any of them or have been to any? Let us know!

[Last updated 7 Jan 2015]


 

  • Sagicho Bonfire Festival (左義長祭り)
    Picture from http://www.geocities.jp/yaji_kita843/niko-niko/sub3-04-sagicho.html
    Picture from http://www.geocities.jp/yaji_kita843/niko-niko/sub3-04-sagicho.html

    Famous for: Traditional bonfire festival on the beach
    When: January
    Where: Kanagawa
    Every year around 14th Jan, a bonfire festival is held in on the beach in the town of Oiso, Kanagawa. The event includes huge bonfires on the beach, a ceremony where men clad in traditional loincloth will enter the cold sea water, and with the religious parade ending at the local shrine.

  • Chichibu Night Festival (秩父夜祭り)
    Picture from http://www.chichibu-matsuri.jp/
    Picture from http://www.chichibu-matsuri.jp/

    Famous for: Top three biggest float festivals in Japan
    When: December
    Where: Saitama

    The annual Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu Night Festival) is one of the three biggest float festivals in Japan! It features the Kasaboko floats, which are decorated with woodwork and weapons and each float weighs about 10-20 tonnes! In the daytime, the floats are transformed into make-shift stages where Kabuki plays are performed.
    However, the main highlight of the festival is when the floats are decorated with lanterns and paraded uphill by the performers. What a great feat to complete! The festival ends with a bang when the beautiful fireworks are set off into the night sky.

  • Oshiroi Matsuri (おしろい祭り)

Famous for: Unique festival where participants’ faces are smeared with a gooey white paint for good luck!
When: December
Where: Fukuoka

No, this isn’t a face-mask event or anything of that kind. The Oshiroi Matsuri in Fukuoka is definitely something different! Every year, a thick gooey white face paint is made from newly-harvested rice and then smeared on the locals’ faces for good blessings. They are now allowed to wash the paint off until they get home! It is said that one can predict next year’s harvest by how well the paint stays on his/her face!

This rather curious and comical festival happens in early December every year so be sure to catch it if you are in Fukuoka! It also seems like a good excuse for adults to play with flour!

  • Taimatsu Akashi Festival (松明あかし)
Photo from japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp/)
Photo from japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp

Famous for: One of Japan’s grandest fire festivals
When: November
Where: Sukagawa City, Fukushima

Taimatsu Akashi Festival – Have you ever seen anything as grand and powerful as this? This amazing fire festival commemorates the fallen samurai warriors of Sukagawa Castle from 400 years ago.

Every year, the taimatsu (torches, ranging from 6m to the 10m which weighs 3 tons) are paraded from Sukagawa City to Mt. Gorosan. At nightfall, the locals will climb the giant taimatsu without the use of any ladder to light the torch. Following which, the other taimatsu will be lit. That together with the powerful drumming of the Taimatsu-Daiko, forms one of Japan’s grandest fire festivals.

  • Onomichi Betcha Festival (ベッチャー祭り)
Photo from onomichi.main.jp/betcha
Photo from onomichi.main.jp/betcha

Famous for: Adults dressed in demons scaring the wits out of kids
When: November
Where: Onomichi Town, Hiroshima

The Onomichi Betcha Festival consists mainly of young men dressed as 3 demons and a lion, dancing to the beat of drums and bells, chasing and beating children with sticks. It is said that the “beating” will bless the children with good health and good blessing in the year ahead.
It sounds too bizarre, but if you are in Hiroshima between 1-3 Nov, it may be worth a look and watch the local children being “scared into good health”.

  • Takayama Autumn Festival (秋の高山祭)
Photo from Gifu Prefecture Tourism Federation

Famous for: One of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan
When: October
Where: Takayama, Gifu

The Takayama Autumn Festival is held annually on 9 and 10 Oct as a mark to start the winter preparations. It is also ranked as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan.

Like most festivals, the pride of this festival is in the yatai floats, which are crafted by local craftsmen. In the day, the floats are on display on the streets and may look ordinary. The floats of Takayama Festival are decorated with wooden puppets which are maneuvered to move and dance by expert puppeteers. The highlight of the festival is at nightfall, when the floats are paraded around town with lanterns, creating a spectacular scenery.

  • Kanuma Butsuke Autumn Festival(鹿沼ぶっつけ秋祭り)
Photo from www.buttsuke.com
Photo from http://www.buttsuke.com

Famous for: Lavish yatai floats
When: October
Where: Tochigi Prefecture

The Kanuma Butsuke Autumn Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Tochigi prefecture. In the day time, you can view the ornately-decorated wooden floats (known as yatai) at the Imamiya Shrine. During the evenings, these floats will be paraded around town with lit lanterns and traditional music.

The festival started in 1608 with prayers and ritual ceremonies to pray for rain during the drought season. Amazingly, today the festival still brings with it rainy weather!

  • Grand Festival of Sawara(佐原の大祭)
Photo from Katori City official website
Photo from Katori City official website

Famous for: Giant dolls up to 4m
When: July & October
Where: Sawara, Chiba

The small town of Sawara, near Narita city, comes to live every July and October for the “Grand Festival of Sawara”. Giant dolls measuring up to 4m are paraded around town on floats. The dolls are built by skilled craftsmen and usually represent some Japanese hero or Samurai warrior. As the floats are paraded through town, they are accompanied by musicians sitting on the floats playing traditional music and dancers performing next to the floats. In the evening, make sure to catch the spectacular view of these beautiful floats as their colorful lights are reflected in the Onogawa River.

  • Kawagoe Festival (川越祭り)
Photo taken when we visited Kawagoe Festival in Oct 2014!
Photo taken when we visited Kawagoe Festival in Oct 2014!

Famous for: Exquisite floats
When: October
Where: Kawagoe, Saitama

Have you ever been to Kawagoe, Saitama? Located only 30 mins by train from Tokyo, its streets are lined with historical Edo-style buildings, allowing visitors to travel back in time to the Edo period

On 18-19 Oct, the spectacular Kawagoe Festival will be held, with many exquisite traditional festival floats being paraded down the main street. The highlight is the “Hikkawase”, when the floats are performed with traditional music. If you are in Tokyo, take a day trip and catch this lively traditional event!

  • Naha Otsunahiki (那覇大綱挽まつり)
Photo from Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo from Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau

Famous for: Guinness Record Holding – Greatest Tug of War!
When: October
Where: Naha City, Okinawa

Join in this Guinness Record Holder event – Naha’s Otsunahiki, Giant Tug of War happening on every October! This is not your ordinary school sports day event. This straw rope is 200m long, with up to 15,000 participants joining in this competition! Part of Route 58 will actually be closed off for this unbelievable event! The event is held annually to pray for the prosperity of Okinawa and the good health of participants.

  • Arashiyama Ukai (嵐山鵜飼)
Photo from JNTO
Photo from JNTO

Famous for: Traditional cormorant fishing
When: Jul – Mid Sep
Where: Arashiyama, Kyoto

More of a summer activity than a festival, but still just as spectacular. Every summer, visitors can watch the demonstration of Ukai, a traditional fishing method in the river along Arashiyama, Kyoto. As the night falls, fishermen row their boats out quietly, each with a blazing fire to provide light. Each fishermen has a dozen of cormorant birds which are trained to dive and catch river fish. You can watch the action from the river banks or up close from a boat.

  • Takojima Kiriko Festival(蛸島キリコ祭り)
Photo from JNTO
Photo from JNTO

Famous for: Lavishly decorated Kirikos (giant lanterns)
When: Sep
Where: Takojima, Noto Peninsula

The Noto Peninsula is famous for its Kiriko Festivals, held all over the region from Jul to Sep every year. During these festivals, the locals parade the kiriko, a kind of giant lantern ranging from 4-15m.
Located on the far end of Noto Peninsula, the small town of Takojima has a kiriko festival with 200 years of history. The Kirikos of Takojima are easily the most beautiful in the region – lavishly decorated with gold leaves, lacquer and intricate engravings. This traditional festival is held every year on 10-11 September.

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