7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!

The Japanese word ‘matsuri’ is usually translated as ‘festival’ in English, though ‘celebration’ is a better sense of what matsuri mean to Japanese people. Many Japanese ‘festivals’ have roots in Chinese culture and were based on the Chinese lunar calendar. As Japan’s distinct culture evolved over the centuries, most of these old festivals took on their own unique character and eventually became set on dates according to the Gregorian calendar.

Matsuri are often very local festivals, sometimes associated with particular temples and shrines, or may be secular celebrations organised by local commercial guilds. There is often a parade, with decorated floats (dashi), often competing with each other for attention with beating drums, traditional dancers or pretty girls. Other matsuri are more widely celebrated, such as Hana Matsuri (flower festival), which celebrates ‘Buddha’s birthday on April 8th. As you can imagine, there are services and celebrations at Buddhist sites across the country and, as this coincides with the blooming of cherry blossoms from late March to early May, and the arrival of Spring, it is a very hopeful and colourful time. In fact, most Japanese will enjoy ‘hana-mi’ (blossom viewing) at this time, spreading mats under the cherry trees and enjoying food and drink with family, friends or colleagues.

Some matsuri are family celebrations. ‘Kodomo no Hi’ (children’s day) is a national holiday on May 5th where families raise carp banners (koinobori) to celebrate their children’s personalities and hopes for the future. This used to be known exclusively as ‘Tango no Sekku’ (boys’ day) but was changed by decree in 1948.However, ‘Hinamatsuri’ (girls’ day or doll festival) is still celebrated on and around March 3rd and families with female children display traditional ornamental dolls (hina-ningy?).

To go into detail on any one of our matsuri, is far beyond the scope of a short article. Suffice to say, we have a huge number and variety of matsuri, and on almost any day of the year, there will be a festival of some sort, somewhere in Japan!But for anyone planning a trip here, I’d like to suggest a few of our better known matsuri that occur at popular tourist destinations across Japan, details of which can easily be found on the web.



 

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!

 

1. Hokkaido Snow and Ice Festivals

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!Hokkaido Snow and Ice Festivals

On our northernmost island of Hokkaido, there are two notable winter matsuri: Sapporo Yuki-Matsuri (snow festival), famous for ice sculptures. It takes place for one week during February; Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival in Chitose features ice sculptures and a fireworks display, late January to mid February.

 

2. Tohoku Region Summer Matsuri

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!Tohoku Region Summer Matsuri

There are several well known summer festivals in the T?hoku region, including: Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, August 2-7; Kanto Matsuri in Akita, August 3-7; Hanagasa Matsuri in Yamagata, August 5-7; Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai, Miyagi, August 6-8.

 

3. Central Honshu and Tokyo

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!Sanja matsuri

Visitors to the Tokyo area will find festivals at various times of the year, including: Kawagoe Festival, Saitama, third Saturday and Sunday of October; Chichibu Night Festival in Saitama, December 2-3: Sanja Matsuri at Asakusa, Tokyo, third week of May; Kanda Matsuri, Tokyo, closest weekend to May 15.

 

4. Kyoto and Southern Honshu

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!Gion matsuri

Some of the biggest and most exciting festivals in Japan include: Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, July; Aoi Matsuri, Kyoto, May 15; Kishiwada Danjiri, Osaka Prefecture, September (first Saturday and Sunday after Respect for the Aged Day); Hadaka Matsuri in Okayama, February 20 (2016).

 

5. Shikoku

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!Kouchi Yosakoi matsuri

Awa Odori Dance Festival, in Tokushima, August 12-15; Yosakoi Matsuri, Kouchi, August 9-12.

 

6. Kyushu

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!Hakata Dontaku Matsuri

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, Fukuoka, July 1-15; Hakata Dontaku Matsuri, Fukuoka, May 3-4; Nagasaki Kunchi, October 7-9.

 

7. Cherry Blossom Festivals

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!Cherry Blossom Festivals

While the cherry blossoms last, there are festivals all over Japan with lanterns strung up in parks (koen) and many stalls selling food or souvenir items. Some of the best known places include: Mt. Yaedake in Okinawa, late January-mid February; Shiroyama Koen in Matsuyama, Ehime, early April; Kakuzan Koen in Tsuyama-city, Okayama, early-mid April; Jozan Koen Festival in Matsue, Shimane, late March-early April; Joshi Koen in Takato-machi, Ina, Nagano, early April.

 

Conclusion

Given the number of festivals in Japan, it is likely that wherever you visit, there will be a festival to enjoy, so please research your destination carefully before you travel. You may even decide to plan your visit to coincide with a particular festival or festival season! Certainly, experiencing a matsuri offers a rewarding insight into Japanese life that you will treasure.

 

7 Tips for Finding and Experiencing Matsuri!

1. Hokkaido Snow and Ice Festivals
2. Tohoku Region Summer Matsuri
3. Central Honshu and Tokyo
4. Kyoto and Southern Honshu
5. Shikoku
6. Kyushu
7. Cherry Blossom Festivals