Virtually Explore Japan & Its Summer Festivals

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Japan Map
  • Japan's Festivals

A Matsuri Map

No one knows for sure how many festivals take place in Japan over the course of the year, but estimates vary from 100,000 to 300,000—all of them unique reflections of the history and culture of the local area. Here, we introduce a selection of 20 of the most notable festivals from around the country. 

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Kyoto Tower
  • Virtual Tour

Kyoto Tower

Visit bustling Kyoto Station and click on the third image on the right of the page to view the city from atop Kyoto Tower.

Kyoto's Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri

The Gion Festival’s history began in the year 869 C.E.. The Emperor called for a goryō-e ritual to appease angry spirits. He believed the spirits were causing a deadly plague in Kyoto‘s sweltering midsummer.

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Gion Matsuri Lanterns

Following a severe plague that had struck the city of Kyoto in the ninth century, emperor Seiwa declared that the gods were in need of some attention. The emperor required the people of Kyoto to pay impressive respects to the resident gods of Yasaka Shrine, located in the well-known entertainment district of Gion.

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Gion Matsuri Parade

The Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival) is Kyoto’s biggest annual festival. It’s a multiday event that is equal parts religious observance and raucous street festival. Here, I’ll explain the best way to enjoy the festival.

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Yasaka Shinto Shrine

Festivals have been important to people since the Stone Age. Why do you think this is? Perhaps it is related to what is special about being human. Humans used to be called "animals that play" or "animals that use tools." If you think about it, however, you will realize that other animals "play" and "use tools," so these descriptions are no longer acceptable. The only "animals that have festivals," however, are people. Therefore, having festivals can be thought of as a uniquely "human" behavior.

View the Kyoto National Museum Exhibit.

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Kanzashi

Hana kanzashi (traditional Japanese flower-decorated ornamental hairpins) have seasonal flower motifs. Such hairpins, particularly those of high quality, have adorned the hair of Japanese women since the Nara period. They are associated with modern-day Kyoto—in particular with the maiko, or apprentice geisha, who live in Kyoto's geisha districts. New hana kanzashi are made when a maiko makes her debut. The maiko wear different hairpins each month. There are also hairpins specific for special events such as the Gion Festival. There are set designs for each geisha district and for the hairpins worn at dance performances held in the spring and the fall. Hairpins can also be chosen to match individual performances or costumes.

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Osaka's Tenjin Matsuri

Tenjin Festival

The Tenjin Matsuri is a sensational summer festival in Osaka full of rituals, dance and music and featuring a procession of portable shrines. The celebrations culminate in a dazzling fireworks display that lasts for an hour and a half. 

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Osaka Tourism: Tenjin Festival.

Tenjin Festival Fireworks

The Okawa River in the northwest of the Osaka Castle becomes the stage for the Osaka Tenjin-matsuri Festival in July annually known as one of the three largest in Japan. There will be a procession of 100 ships going down the river and the gorgeous fireworks going up at the same time.

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Sendai's Tanabata Matsuri

Sendai Tanabata Festival

An ancient legend of star-crossed lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi that predates the tale of Romeo and Juliet is the backstory to Tanabata.

The biggest Tanabata festival is held in early August in Sendai. People walk down the shopping arcades filled with huge, vividly colored handmade streamers in their finest summer kimono.

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Tanbata Colors

A castle town called "The City of Trees." The Tanabata-matsuri Festival attracts thousands of spectators each year.

Sendai City, situated in the center of Miyagi Prefecture, is the largest city in the Tohoku region. It has prospered as the capital of the Dates' fief since Date Masamune reigned over this district and built Aoba Castle at the beginning of the 17th century.

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Tanabata Lanterns

The Sendai Tanabata Festival in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). In Sendai, which follows the Edo-style Tanabata Festival, the festival was called “Tanabata-san”. Lord Date Masamune of the Sendai Clan wrote 8 poems related to Tanabata. These poems give a glimpse of the Tanabata Festival from that time.

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Tanabata Decorations

The yearly Sendai Tanabata Festival is known for its gorgeously decorated, handcrafted bamboo poles. On the morning of August 4, the day before the festival starts, many bamboo poles longer than 10 meters are gathered in the shopping districts of Sendai. The bamboo are chopped in the mountains and clipped to prepare them for the decorations.

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Yale Art Gallery | Naoko Matsubara

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